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Apr 29
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Touching the Earth: Earth Day 2019

This year, Earth Day carried spiritual undertones. It fell on a Monday following two religious holidays: the Jewish Passover on Saturday and Easter on Sunday. A collective force has been gathering and gathering, and the cry is one that is starting to feel oceanic—these salty tears, this salty ocean. The rivers of books, articles, protests, strikes, and messages all seem to saying the same things, flowing into this ocean: The crisis is here.


An Invitation to the crisis

Things start small

On February 11, the Shambhala Times article “Touching the Earth, Sparking Sadness and Joy,”  presented the Touching the Earth Collective and its initial activities. Now, there are 125 members in the Collective. Since February, we’ve held two Zoom calls for people to see and hear each other. We have also taken feedback on, and rewritten the Mission, Vision and Values statement for the Collective. In honor of Earth Day, and to provide ourselves with a deadline, the statement is complete and was presented to the collective on Monday, April 22. Now we offer an open invitation to any or all that are interested in belonging to the Touching the Earth Collective. Everyone is invited: not only Shambhalians, but anyone who is drawn to the being a part of an active environmental group birthed in the sacred teachings of Shambhala. Instructions on being part of this Collective (a Google group) are included at the end of this article.

Zoom Calls

Two Zoom calls were held in February and offered an opportunity for many folks to join. The calls were led by the five members of the core team: myself, Richard Peisinger, Emily Takahashi, David Takahashi, and Christoph Schönherr. Following a welcome, we began by contemplating two quotes which were chosen by Christoph:


“If we apply the perspective of heaven, earth, and humanity to the situation in the world today, we begin to see that there is a connection between the social and the natural, or environmental, problems that we are facing. When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world–which is saying the same thing. Human beings destroy their ecology at the same time that they destroy one another. From that perspective, healing our society goes hand in hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal world. ” 

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior


“We’re here to engage with the difficult challenges that are given to us and to be able to embrace them with courage, with love, with happiness, with determination and with a vision. […] This is something that needs to be changed and it is going to be changed.  How exactly, we never know at the beginning.  But you’ve got to say this situation is unacceptable.  It is morally unacceptable.  It is financially stupid.  It is environmentally terrifying.  It is humanly unacceptable.  And we’re going to change this. […] Honestly in that moment, […] I don’t know exactly how we were gonna do it, but you just have to set the goal and then go at it and go at it with extreme and deep love for this planet, for all human beings on this planet […], particularly those who are not here yet.  They all deserve and have the right to a life with dignity and a life with happiness and with well-being.  And if we do not address climate change in a timely fashion, that’s not gonna happen.  So here we are.”

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)


We were surprised and delighted to have Gampo Abbey sangha sign in together. We ended the calls with several asks: first, that people contact someone who had been on the call and stay connected, and second, to post what they are up to individually or collectively in relation to climate and the Earth. And as Christine Figueres had said, “we don’t know exactly how we are going to do it, but you just have to set yourself a goal and then go at it.” So following the calls, the goal we set was to create the Mission, Vision and Values statement for the Collective.


Mission Vision and Values

Using a structure provided by a professional organizer, Caroline Murray, who I had met through GreenFaith, the core team set out to create the first draft of our statement. Richard made a gallant stroke, and this gave us something to build on, tear apart and build on again. It was posted to the collective for one week to receive comments and since then, we have taken another month to dismantle, contemplate, and rewrite it. Our deadline of Earth Day was met, and the draft was presented via to the Collective on April 22.


To the Moon

What next? This year is the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. Hearing Neil Armstrong discuss  the part he played in  the Apollo 11 mission, I was struck by his sheer persistence and humble qualities. When asked about how he felt stepping on the moon for the first time, he said, something like , we weren’t there to meditate, we were there to get this done, so we got on with it … Having set the goal of getting to the moon in such a short period of time, the scientists got on with their work. I am inspired by him, and that when he was asked about himself, he responded as “we”.


Student Strike for Climate, a March

Student Strike at Museum of Natural History, NYC

NYC Student Strike for Climate

Anyone who participated in one of the student strikes for climate on March 15th felt the sheer joy power and impatience of youth. The signs were hand made. The statements were heart felt. At an organizing meeting in NYC, the high schoolers asked for adult support. We were asked to be there, to walk with them. We marched from Columbus Circle to the Museum of Natural History. These strikes will continue: The next one slated for US and Canada is May 3.  The next International Student Strike for Climate is May 24. These type of actions are the “we” working together. And if you that is curious about marching, show up and see what it feels like. When I was 18, I participated in the first Earth Day in 1970, and here we are this week, 49 years later.


A shout out for a Shambhala Colleague

This year, David Takahashi became a GreenFaith Fellow. For his leadership project, he set up an April event in Denver to educate and inspire congregations to green their churches. He asked Bill McKibben to make a video to be shown at the day-long event. Bill made one, and it is a stunning and important 5-minute talk on the important place faith holds for the climate movement. To see the video, click here. Thank you David for being an example for asking for what matters.


The Crisis is Here

My dear friends, the crisis is here. Wherever we are drawn to act—as individuals or in the collective—let us be like Armstrong, and get on with it. We made it to the moon, we have this task with a finite amount of time too, let’s get on with it. Earth Day: a holy day, as Holy a day as any other, maybe more so. The crisis is now, our response is now, to do whatever we can do, get on with it …


If you would like to join the Collective, please contact David Takahashi and ask to see the Mission, Vision and Values statement. If you agree with it, please join the collective wisdom. We need it.

David’s email is [email protected].

The author at the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Photo credit Mary Campbell

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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1 response to “ Touching the Earth: Earth Day 2019 ”
  1. Thank you, thank you Irene, David and the Collective for your Bodhisattva Warrior activity in protecting the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the very life of this planet ♥️ TATAblisslove, AA

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