At a recent gathering of Colorado Springs' nascent "Earth Holder" community, the theme of power came up again and again — and not just because the coal-burning Martin Drake plant loomed so large to the south.
A growing number of people concerned about greenhouse gas emissions are taking a half-hour (or slightly more) each month to place their attention on climate change, and on their connections with each other and the Earth. The small community was organized last September by members of Sun Mountain Sangha, a local Buddhist community closely aligned with the teachings of the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. And at its heart is a desire to energize would-be activists for a challenge that at times seems both lonely and daunting.
"One of the major precepts of Buddhism is that there is cause and effect, and it happens at a personal level," explains Sandy Vanderstoep, an Earth Holders co-founder. "I have an opportunity to make an impact with what I say, what I do, how I act every day. That is very empowering."
At Climate Watch Vigils, participants support one another in trying to inspire personal and collective change. Amma Thanasanti, a nun in the Theravada Buddhist tradition who has been involved with the group from the beginning, says meditation addresses the root of today's climate-change quandary.
"The main problem we are dealing with is disconnection and a lack of awareness," Thanasanti says. "There's a direct connection between cultivating meditation and finding the strength to bring the tools that are needed, where they are needed, in order to reverse the problem."
On a recent Saturday morning, I joined the group of about 10 people, most of whom were in their 50s or older, at America the Beautiful Park. The day's guided meditation, "Touching of the Earth for Ecological Regeneration," focused on experiencing our bodies as being part of the Earth. We sat outside in the grass, with some touching the ground with their hands, others bowing in prostration.
"With heart and mind open," recited vigil leader Steve Berger, "I see clearly that the Earth and I are one body. With tenderness and love I bring my awareness to the suffering that is present in this collective body ..."
The guided meditation was followed by walking meditation and then sitting quietly, when we focused on the Drake plant and what a healthy alternative might look like. Afterward, some members shared their visions, and those who chose to join the follow-up discussion at The Coffee Exchange talked about environmental issues and endeavors close to their hearts. While this gathering is more of a support group than an activist one, most participants are involved with other environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club.
"It's easy to feel very isolated, and frustrated that there's not nearly enough happening," says Vanderstoep, who works at the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado. "It's hard to stay positive. What we really see is that those who join us in meditation are refueled by the meditation and the conversation."
Adds Berger, "The feeling most people had was that this practice we were doing in the park felt really good and recharged our batteries — something to renew that commitment and nurture the sense that we're not in this alone, that it's not insurmountable."
Berger says the Earth Holders plan to expand their repertoire of meditations and incorporate other practices into the vigil. It's worth noting that although the group was founded by Buddhist practitioners and uses meditation as a focus, those of all faiths and people with no religious affiliation are welcome.
Vanderstoep says the group simply is "looking to bring together people who have an affinity for taking action in what is a thoughtful, quiet and highly civilized way." The vigils, she assures, are "suitable for anyone who is concerned about the state of our planet."