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Answering a Call of Our Time

Irene Woodard on the Highline in NYC, photo taken by Liza Mathews

Irene Woodard, member of the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York City, has been named a GreenFaith Fellow and will join the class of 2012 in the GreenFaith Fellowship Program. The Fellowship Program is the only comprehensive education and training program in the United States to prepare lay and ordained leaders from diverse religious traditions for environmental leadership. “We’re thrilled to welcome Irene to the Program,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith Executive Director. “This program will offer [her] the opportunity to become a well-trained leader in religious environmentalism,” said Harper. “[These leaders] will help create an environmentally just and sustainable world.”

I was one of the procrastinators in answering Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s request for response letters to The Letter of the Morning Sun. I missed the first deadline and the second one, and was touched when he announced that we could still send them in months later. Speaking with a fellow warrior one night, still putting off writing my answers, my friend said, “it helps to just write something, you’ll see.”

My friend Jim was right.

Taking the leap of mind onto paper brought my vision into view, and a long-held dream was further crystallized. This dream had to do with the care of the earth. I said I was going to apply for The GreenFaith Fellowship.

I applied and was accepted as one of 25 religious leaders to enter into an eighteen month comprehensive educational training program to prepare leaders from diverse religious traditions for environmental leadership.

What does that mean?

Yesterday, an email arrived from the Director of the program, Rev. Fletcher Harper, with links to our first homework assignment: 60 pages of academic reading to accomplish before our first four-day retreat in November, being held in Newark, New Jersey. It is an environmental justice retreat. There will be two others: the spirit retreat, to be held at the Garrison Institute in May, and the environmental stewardship retreat in Philadelphia, in November 2012. These retreats comprise the GreenFaith education along with attendance at webinars once a month, writing an ecoautobiography, and developing a project for our particular concentration in the world. I will be developing and proposing a plan to be implemented at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York City.

A little history about me…

At seventeen, I hiked over 300 miles in the west during the summer before my senior year in high school. The summer of ’69 was the summer of Woodstock, the first man on the moon, and for me – living out of a backpack under the stars for 9 weeks. I came back to my suburban home outside of New York City, vehement about the earth and the environment. Starting that September, I clipped articles and created a scrapbook about the environmental movements getting started.

My heroes were Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who I wrote to. The fiery seventeen year old that I was wrote to the Nobel prize winner Gyorgyi, imploring him not to be so pessimistic. The man in his seventies wrote back, and it turned out that he was not as pessimistic as I had understood. He wrote a kind letter.

Forty-two years later, after following a buddhist path, going through a marriage and then divorce, parenthood, a career as a green florist, I am now selling a house. As I have been cleaning things out, deciding what to keep and what to save, I came across the scrapbook I made so long ago. My scrapbook is full of articles, chronicling the beginning of the environmental movement, documenting the CO2 movement, the population explosion and more. Some of the answers have been found, and some answers are still unknown. I have been contemplating what I can do as a Shambhalian, and came to the conclusion that I needed to get more educated. I decided that I want to work with a larger community to ask these questions and search for answers. Thus my application to Greenfaith.

On September 1st, two days following my return from Dorje Denma Ling, where I was on the Scorpion Seal retreat, I was introducing myself on the webinar to the other GreenFaith fellows. I am the only Buddhist amongst Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our hearts are all in the same places. One by one I listened to others who want to be more proficient, others who felt it was the “call of our time”, and others who were as passionate and undereducated as I was in all this. It was very inspiring. We are a group of people that want to help the earth, help our congregations, communicate with each other and create a community dedicated to environmental leadership.

The Sakyong’s vision to bring Shambhala out beyond our centers inspired my applying to GreenFaith. And now here I am. The passionate mind of a seventeen year old takes the reins again, and my eighteen month journey has begun. Much of this journey will be in cyberspace, but we will meet in Newark, in Garrison, and in Philadelphia, involved with the multifaith spectrum of basic goodness. I’ll keep you posted on the journey as it unfolds.

To learn more about GreenFaith and the fellowship please go to www.greenfaith.org.

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12 responses to “ Answering a Call of Our Time ”
  1. Congratulations!! Look forward to meeting and chatting with you one day soon.

    KIKI SOSO

  2. Debra Arndorfer
    Nov 2, 2011
    Reply

    Dear Irene,

    Your mother, who I love very much, e-mailed this to me today. We have been great friends since our days drawing at the Art Student’s League with our beloved teacher Marshall. I remember well the day your mother came to class and told me Catherine was born. I have heard about you and your children and your lives for many years. I met you only once when your mother had her show in October 1988 in Nyack, but I feel like I have met you many times and have admired you for many reasons from afar. Like your mother I think you are amazing and a very special human being.

    I am so excited for you as you make, it sounds like, major changes in your life. You are following your pure, innocent, seventeen-year-old heart adding to it all of your years of experience and wisdom. I don’t think it gets better than that. Congratulations! I can’t wait to hear from your mom all about this new journey as it unfolds.

    The very best always,
    Debra

  3. Robin Shimel
    Nov 2, 2011
    Reply

    Hi Irene,
    Harriet forwarded this article to me and I join her and others in celebrating this important venture in your life and for others who benefit from the work that you help create. Your enthusiasm and commitment are wonderful to appreciate and I hope to join in whatever ways I can. Congratulations on your selection and congratulations to those who had the wisdom to select you for this assignment.
    With love and admiration,
    Robin

  4. this is wonderful!

  5. Emily Danies
    Nov 3, 2011
    Reply

    Irene, I am so thrilled for you. You manifest Shambhala vision and I know you will be of great benefit to all… this Fellowship is perfect for your generous heart, keen intellect, and great sense of humor! Hooray for you! Emily

  6. Leah Mermelstein
    Nov 3, 2011
    Reply

    Irene, a voice from the past wishing you well on this important new/old path!

  7. Ellen Fasano
    Nov 3, 2011
    Reply

    Irene, this sounds like a wonderful endeavor. What an inspiring story! I look forward to hearing about what you learn and want to share with the rest of us.

  8. Joan Beinart
    Nov 3, 2011
    Reply

    That’s really cool!!! That you’re actually doing what your heart and mind tell you to do…. inspiring, praiseworthy, singular. I think it’s great! Congratulations and best wishes on your new journey…..

    love,
    Joan

  9. Mildred Roach
    Nov 4, 2011
    Reply

    Cheers, Irene Woodward,
    Wise, compassionate being –
    The path continues

    Love, Mildred

  10. Jan Watson
    Nov 4, 2011
    Reply

    We always knew you were wonderful …and here you are proving it again!
    CTR would be happy too…
    Love Jan

  11. Harry Krivit
    Nov 4, 2011
    Reply

    What an awesome jouney you have had and it looks like you have dicovered the place you really are meant to be at. So it sounds like the real journey is just beginning. Looking forward to hearing what you learn along the way.
    Love Harry

  12. Rosemary Steinbaum
    Nov 5, 2011
    Reply

    Hi Irene,
    You write beautifully, and I am happy to know a little more of what your fellowship is about. Please update on your Newark-based inquiries, as it is our particular socio-religio-ecosystem. Continue to share what you learn on this critical journey. Greetings and good cheer along the way. Love, Rosemary


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