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Feb 11

Touching the Earth, Sparking Sadness and Joy

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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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