~Written by Bridgette O’Neill ~
Retreat Lead for The Mindfulness Network
When I received an email from Colette Power asking if the Mindfulness Network would consider offering a retreat that directly addresses the current environmental crisis, an immediate heartfelt ‘yes’ arose as a response. Of course this wasn’t my decision alone (and there were practicalities as well as agreements from others to secure) but this suggestion strongly resonated and felt so welcome.
Like many people, I have been waking up to the fragile situation we are in. The news about the ecological crisis is hard to avoid and surfaces in many forms. My thirteen year-old daughter has been on every school climate strike organized in our hometown of Brighton. At her school’s request, we have engaged with her in conversations about what commitments she can personally make to reduce harm to the environment; as a family, this is an ongoing enquiry for all of us. My husband has trained as a climate change teacher and we talk about how he is bringing this training into teacher education at the local university and what emotional support is needed for students and children in this work. My nine year-old daughter is very drawn to Greta Thunberg’s strength and fierce activism, finding her inspiring; she has also asked in a quiet voice “what will happen if we don’t do what Greta says, will I die soon?”.
Many moments of dilemma and uncertainty arise in my interactions with others in relation to our current situation. At a reunion with school friends that I haven’t seen for years, hesitancy arises in clearly conveying my reasons for not eating meat rather than letting my choice be laughed off through the affectionate view that I was always a bit weird. And how do I helpfully respond to a close friend who is equally concerned about the climate emergency but expresses the view that humans are inherently self-serving and destructive and so there is no point in trying to affect change? Or to an elderly relative who I sense feels great fear and guilt and states angrily that climate change is being exaggerated?
As I engage more and more with what is known and written about, my feelings can rollercoaster. At times, it all feels surreal and I am distant and disconnected and, at other times, overwhelmed and paralysed. A familiar dance of doubt and confidence in relation to practice occurs. Doubt that at best feels like a healthy questioning of how sitting on my cushion working with my inner experience can effect broader social change alongside deep confidence from experience in the power of mindfulness and compassion practices to enable me to stay open in the midst of difficulty, to see more clearly and to act in more helpful ways.
The more I engage with the context of climate emergency through reading and practice and listening to pioneers such as Joanna Macy and David Loy and senior meditation teachers who are engaging with the situation such as Jack Kornfield, Analayo and James Baraz and finding out more about direct action groups such as extinction rebellion, the more I feel a shift in my experience . From Tibetan Buddhism, I am familiar with the practice of contemplating the preciousness of my human birth, my one wild and precious life as Mary Oliver put it; this practice orients me over and over to really be present now, to treasure what is here knowing that it will pass. This sense of preciousness is naturally expanding more than ever before to include the sky, the trees, the sea, all aspects of the natural world and I am finding a natural unfolding of deep care and love that guides my actions with greater conviction and clarity than previously, although of course confusions, challenges and dilemmas remain.
With this orientation I am looking with fresh eyes at the activities of my life. Having spent many years working in mental health services engaged in work concerned with the social causes of distress and disturbance, my focus has narrowed in the last few years to focus solely on mindfulness and compassion trainings. I am keen to reconnect these two strands more and to engage with others around this question of the place of mindfulness practice in effecting broader socio-economic and ecological change. I’m also aware through my teaching and training that these themes are alive for many people and increasingly on mindfulness trainings I am asked how we might bring awareness of the ecological and socio-economic context into our work.
Our aspiration in offering a retreat focused on how we respond to the climate emergency is to create a safe and nurturing space where we can come into connection with our experience and with each other, sharing experiences and exploring how mindfulness and compassion practices along with community can support and inspire us to take compassionate action. I am very pleased to be working with Colette and with Julia Wallond who will both be bringing their years of experience of environmental engagement and activism as well a depth of mindfulness and retreat practice.
We would be delighted if you are inspired to join us for this retreat.