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Feb 11
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Touching the Earth, Sparking Sadness and Joy

photo by Irene Woodard

Este artículo ha sido traducido al español aqui.



“As midwest freezes and Australia burns, welcome to the age of weather extremes.” This was on the front page of the digital version of the New York Times yesterday. Next to it, a video looking at the polar vortex, explaining why Chicago will be as cold as the Arctic today. There is climate change.


In October…


A few months ago, on October 7th, I wrote a letter to 105 Shambhalians. These 105 were people who, over the last 7 years, I’ve either met in person or via email, who had expressed interest in the earth, climate, or asking, in regards to those two—what is happening in Shambhala? As the recipient of these inquiries, I felt responsible to “do something.” What directed me that night, to finally “do something”, and write the letter, was that the report from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was due that week. The IPCC was created in 1988 as the initiative of two United Nations organizations, The World Meteorological Organization, (WMO) and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) to provide a clear overview of the most recent scientific and socioeconomic information on climate science. Thousands of scientists world wide volunteer their efforts to the IPCC and there are over 190 countries as members. As expected, the messages in the IPCC report were sobering.  I felt that as Shambhalians, a move was not only necessary, but worse than that, I felt it would be negligent if I remained silent.


The good of the gap…


Between the Shambhala organization having its difficulties, a hiatus of the Shambhala Times, and the Shambhala Office of Social Engagement losing its funding, there was a gap. Without these two “places” existing, the alternative was to “be” without them. Previously, when I had something I wanted to share about climate, the earth, participation in GreenFaith, Interfaith Partners in Action for the Earth, as a fellow and Board member etc … I could share them in the Shambhala Times. In the gap of having no Times, the letter went out, and 40 out of the 105 people responded enthusiastically. With the assistance of Emily Takahashi and Richard Peisinger, who I had befriended at Scorpion Seal years ago, as earth buddies, David Takahashi, Emily’s husband who I met in Boulder at the first Shambhala Eco Symposium in 2016, and Christoph Schönherr, who I met in Germany in 2017 before at a multifaith sustainability initiative, a small mandala was formed. We five convened to lead what is now the Touching the Earth Collective. Essential here is that we are not alone: we are sharing the work, decisions, and friendship.


Photo by Richard Swaback

“Touching the Earth” has long been a name used by Shambhala environmentalists. But as an entity, collective, shared vision, presence, club, it has never had the right conditions to take root, to be a vibrant living thing. But due to the conditions in Shambhala and the state of the planet, there is now a Touching the Earth Collective, that exists in Shambhala as a google group with eighty people at present. Not all people post, not all people read the posts, but there is a humming…


Today, a post appeared about the Sunrise movement and The Green New Deal. There has been poetry, photographs from SMC, articles,  books recommended, pastel drawings, job postings. In early January,  Emily and David heard of this local action, copied just below, and brought it to the Boulder Shambhala Center, and then posted it to the Google Group.


January 10, 2019 –An 11th Hour Belling Tolling – Call for Climate Action is being organized by an ad hoc group of citizens and faith-based communities outside the First United Methodist Church of Boulder on January 11th at 11:00 A.M.  The bell will toll for 11 minutes, 11 seconds to raise awareness, warn of danger to Earth’s climate, and bring together activists committed to change the trajectory of rising global temperatures.  Boulder’s Shambhala Center will also sound their gong across the street. Members of the public are invited to gather up their bells, chimes, etc. and join in the gathering at First UMC, 1421 Spruce Street, at 10:45 A.M.  On the 11th day of each month, people will be organizing bell ringings as far and wide as possible. The action began on December 11th at 11:00A.M. on the steps of the Colorado Statehouse. ”  


The Washington DC Shambhala Center, inspired by the Collective and the Boulder Center, has initiated calls with the collective’s leadership about establishing an environmental sustainability initiative this year.


After three months of emails in the Touching The Earth Collective google group, there is a desire to meet, so two Zoom calls are slated for February 16 and February 24. We will see each other, hear each other, and find out who we are, and what we need and want to do. The range of the inner work at our centers, how to make our centers green,  and the advocacy and exploring is “all over the map,” so to speak. Integrating the teachings, taking walks, and protecting a forest in Germany may all be included in how we show up. Love of the teachings and care for the earth are inspiring expressions of wisdom. The online and in-person conversation has begun—the collective conversation about the earth, the climate, and as Shambhalians, what we are going to do, how we are going to be.


A week ago, this precious life…


Artwork by Christine Labich

Last week, poet Mary Oliver died. The much quoted line from her poem, The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” always renews me. I think it is the word “wild” that reminds me of my own animal passion, even at age 66, so much passion and the word “precious,” because also at 66 , know so well that I am in the old age part of living a life. So the brilliance of the situation has me aching to do something each day, to make a difference for this earth. With the Touching The Earth Collective, we have this freedom, wild and precious, at this time in Shambhala, as things are in flux. This crazy moment is filled with endless possibility that was always here, but now is very clearly available to us, to bring ourselves to ourselves and be of service to the earth and all its beings, tangible and not.


An invitation…


We are working towards having Touching the Earth take root. We have a shot, it is sustainable. We exist in cyberspace, which is no place. Some of us are friends, and we will stay friends, whether or not it takes root, we will still do the work and have a good time with each other. It doesn’t have to spark joy necessarily,  it only needs to resonate in our hearts, which actually may be sparking sadness. As David closes all his emails, “onward.”


With Sadness and Joy,

Touching the Earth,


Irene Woodard


If you would like to join the Touching the Earth Collective Google Group, please write to David Takahashi at: [email protected]. He will add your name.  And please consider coming onto the Zoom calls, February 16 and February 24, to get a feel for this Collective. It is a first step … welcome.


The author at the 2018 Parliament of World Religions in Toronto

Irene Woodard is a Senior Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and most recently was the Resident Director of Practice and Education at Sky Lake Shambhala Meditation and Retreat Center, a contemplative center for meditation, arts and community located in the Hudson Valley. A Director of Shambhala Training, she is a Kasung, or Dharma Protector, and former Board Member and Warrior of the New York Shambhala Center. Founder of the green floral business True Blooms, she is a practitioner of Kado, the Way of Flowers. She is a Board Member of GreenFaith, and a GreenFaith Fellow. Mother of Max and Catherine, she is a baker, poet, friend and committed to the care of the Earth.

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4 responses to “ Touching the Earth, Sparking Sadness and Joy ”
  1. Paul T. Wegener
    Feb 15, 2019

    Thank you for the post, Irene; sorry I did not realize your concern when I lived in NYC.
    It is nice to gather with other concerned people and demand someone do something.
    We can contribute as practitioners by helping ourselves and then others grasp how convenience and comfort are illusions that drive our addiction to energy, with the obvious result. Surrendering this addiction is just as difficult as other addictions, but people do succeed at sobriety. Energy sobriety is no different, it happens day by day. Rationalizations are endless.
    My own path emphasizes seeing my own hypocrisy, I am sure this echoes for all of us. Look forward to meeting you again virtually.
    All my best, Paul

  2. Tamara Sell
    Feb 15, 2019

    Thank you Irene. I appreciate your steadfastness on environmental issues, and encouragement to us all to come together. I look forward to joining in and seeing how we in Shambhala might contribute to waking up and healing our precious earth.

  3. Irene Woodard
    Feb 14, 2019

    Thanks Mark for your words.

    And for your wishes that Shambhala join with others and be a leader. As a representative of GreenFaith, I am on the steering committee of the People’s Climate Movement in NYC. The committee is filled with like minded groups, such as The Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, 350.org, Bronx Climate Justice North, WE ACT, just some. This multigenerational diverse group, is stronger together than if we were working alone. The group has organized itself with a rapid response team, and has calendar of planned events throughout 2019. Starting in early March 4, PCM is organizing a citywide ( New York )meeting about shaping of the Green New Deal, March 15, Student Strike modeled after the student Strikes in Europe. and more…

    Mark, thanks for joining the Touching the Earth Collective, and for your enthusiasm. See you soon!

  4. Mark Rasmuson
    Feb 12, 2019

    Dear Irene:

    It makes me very happy to see this article, just as I have been happy being part of the Touching the Earth Collective. Your invitation to climate action is something I have long hoped to see more of in the Shambhala community and I find it portentous appearing in the new Shambhala Times.

    2 years ago, I worked with the DC Shambhala Center and One Earth Sangha to help organize the Buddhist presence at the April People’s Climate Mobilization in Washington. Here’s part of what I wrote in a Shambhala Times article at the time.

    “My personal reasons for marching are several. To draw attention to the imminent and dire dangers of climate change to the planet that still get buried in the media and political discourse. To protest and resist Trump’s ruinous climate actions. To express solidarity with the broad coalition of PCM partners and objectives, including rights of indigenous people. And, as a Buddhist and Shambhalian, to promote the view that the earth is sacred and all life interconnected, and that we have a moral obligation to protect the planet for future generations.”

    2 years later the frightening contours of the climate crisis have become much more visible. But so, too, are the positive energies being mobilized to address it, epitomized by the joyful young Sunrise Movement. Let us add our own hearts and minds to theirs and make Shambhala a leader in facing this most important challenge of our lives.

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