Plenary for Association of Buddhist Care and Counseling
Stephanie Mines, Ph.D.
Copyright July 2020
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to John Freese for inviting me and honoring the trajectory of our relationship and the beauty of its fruition at this moment. I also want to bow to all my teachers from various traditions and lineages, some of whom are now my treasured ancestors whose blessings nourish me. In particular I bow to Thrangu Rinpoche who is thankfully still in the body and who entrusted me with both Tara and Medicine Buddha empowerments and whose yidam is Tara. Rinpoche also blessed me with the life changing Chenrezig retreat and empowerment that is a foundational imprint for my embodied purpose in this life. It illuminated everything on my path and the path itself.
I have multiple objectives in this presentation but I intend to weave them all into a coherent and stimulating rally for both Sacred Activism and Unprecedented Leadership. I want to define what I mean by these terms and use the examples of feminine leadership for both as well as igniting in everyone a sense of robust, pointed urgency, an alertness to how we are exquisitely poised right now as a global community. We are in the middle of the welcome disintegration of social and economic structures that are long overdue in their dissolution and which have clearly been dissolving for quite some time behind the horrifying masks of progress, colonialism and genocide. We are actually in what is, from the perspective of women, indigenous peoples, and the creatures of the earth, a post-apocalyptic era and we are on the brink, even in the midst of, the rise of the new world from the marginal territories of the survivors. I speak as a survivor. I speak as someone in whose veins flows the blood of the lost ones, the disappeared, and I speak as someone who knows what it means to carry a fragmented, broken nervous system in her body and as she who regenerated that nervous system with enormous devotion.
I would also like to address the responsibilities, as I see them, of Buddhist caregivers and, indeed all those privileged to identify themselves as counselors, chaplains and therapists. We are called to serve in a climate changing world with enormous health challenges that will only increase and take vociferous tolls, as they already are, on the most vulnerable who we are bound to protect.
The Definition of Sacred Activism
I speak of Sacred Activism as a woman who has engaged in and witnessed activism that was not sacred. I speak from the history of radical and violent political activism and the tortuous consequences of that involvement that I knew both from the police, the “authorities,” and from within the movement itself. Following the experience of its opposite, I come to a definition of Sacred Activism having earned its understanding. Sacred Activism is directed by clear spiritual guidance that is communicated somatically. This is the Sacred Activism that created Climate Change & Consciousness (www.cccearth.org).
Climate Change & Consciousness was initiated by a directive that arrived in my body on November 8, 2016. It played out quite precisely first in a momentous gathering a year and a half ago that ignited a commitment for more than 500 people to find their voices for our Living Earth. It continues as a global movement to fuel inner climate transformation and support indigenous initiatives on three continents. Originally led by people like Vandana Shiva, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Uncle Angaanagaq Angakkorsuaq, Bill McKibben, Charles Eisenstein, and Christiana Figueres and others, Climate Change & Consciousness has evolved into collective leadership which is, as Thich Nhat Hanh has indicated, the way the Buddha arrives now.
I would like to zero in on the somatic aspect of Sacred Activism. As a neuroscientist who has served severely traumatized and shocked people and communities for more than three decades I am acutely aware of the physiological ramifications of overwhelming stress. What I want to point out now is how the body repairs itself when the appropriate interventions are introduced. This repair process is the biological intent of our innate birthright of resilience. The subtle energy medicine I have incorporated into the TARA Approach (www.Tara-Approach.org) arises from Taoism and is nature based. It promotes not only healing but prompts, signals and turns on evolutionary potential. True resilience goes beyond recovery or restoration. It is the birthright of everyone, regardless of their spiritual discipline or practice.
I define and experience evolution as the capacity to meet the unknown with surprising innovation, fortitude and a competence that is based not on the ego but on alignment with the natural world. This evolution of the nervous system is a somatic experience and it is what initiates Sacred Activism.
To give insight into this definition of evolution I want to share some personal experiences that came from receiving the somatic guidance to be the vision holder of Climate Change & Consciousness. From virtually that day forward I was blessed to receive communication from Nature in surprising and stirring ways that are undeniable. It was as if a veil was lifted from my eyes and I was allowed into the inner kingdoms of plant communication, of the interplay of leaf and light. This was, as the original guidance, utterly sensory, and I say this as a student of sensory systems and the author of a book on sensory integration. This includes alterations in hearing as if someone had placed an implant in my ears so that I could understand the language of the birds. The guidance and my incapacity to refuse it evolved my consciousness. If I try to understand how this happened I can only attribute the evolution of my nervous system as the cause. Being a neuroscientist I am acutely aware of mind-body interplay and how shifts in the nervous system sequence new neurochemical interactions. Understanding in particular the way the somatosensory cortex, the motoric driver of behavior, reorganizes as a result of new synaptic firings, I could feel those delicate repatterned movements that brought me into direct relationship to the nonhuman realms. This continues to orient me and is my primary sanctuary.
The innate kinship between the feminine as the carrier of life and the forest, the natural world, the world of sensory intelligence, is one of the reasons why women have been identified by Project Drawdown as uniquely capable of making the difference to the future of the planet. If women are empowered to speak up and be heard; if young women are educated, if women lead in decision making; if women make the critical choices for families, for countries, for organizations, then Project Drawdown estimates that we, globally, are more likely to draw down carbon, to come to the zero carbon status that will save us from annihilating ourselves. This is why I have been led to empowering women as an expression of my climate activism. This is why I prioritize supporting women in removing the obstacles to their leadership and paving the way for them to fulfill their entelechy, their original brilliance, as leaders as soon as possible. This is an example of the union of Sacred Activism and Unprecedented Leadership.
I now come to the definition of Unprecedented Leadership. This is leadership that does not resemble anything you learn in leadership training. This is leadership that is unique to each individual. This is authentic leadership, entelechy speaking for itself. It is the organic flow of liberated consciousness. It is the voice of Interbeing. Here I would like to reference Joanna Macy who embodies both Sacred Activism and Unprecedented Leadership. Her fusion of systems thinking, Buddhism, and expressive therapies demonstrates everything I describe. Joanna Macy was inspired to deliver cutting edge expressive templates to unleash the energies of despair and alchemize them into activism for our Living Earth. She demonstrated that Sacred Activism is rooted in unity and connectedness and while she was coming from Buddhist teachings she was also following her woman’s heartbreak and making an offering to the Earth in the same way that a mother delivers a child.
Women know about dependent co-arising from the ecstatic miracle of birth. In fact one could date the colonialism of feminine wisdom in Western culture to the moment that birth was industrialized. Interbeing is indigenous to women and we see this in the leadership of Jacinda Ardern who took her stride as Prime Minister of New Zealand at the same time as she became a new mother and who is able to balance the priorities of human health appropriately alongside economic stability.
Unprecedented leadership looks like Jacinda Ardern; it looks like Joanna Macy. It looks like Vandana Shiva. It is compassion in action, articulate and aligned with the fecundity of the forest. It is unafraid of vulnerability and I have chosen to stand fully in it: emotional, curious, responsive, unpredictable and open-heartededly out of control. After years as a clinician (which was always an awkward moniker for me) attempting to match a patriarchal model I liberate myself completely, here and now, from that effort. I defy the juggernaut of suicide that is the extractive male directive and head into the forest of Sacred Feminine Activism and Unprecedented Leadership, wildly untying the ropes of colonialism even when they are swung by lasso artists in the environmental and spiritual communities.
Our Responsibility as Buddhists
From my perspective the responsibility of Buddhist caregivers, to use the phrase of John Lewis who made his last trip across the Edmund Pettus Bridge today, is “to cause necessary trouble.” I encourage Buddhist caregivers to support inner climate transformation, to awaken voices for our Living Earth. I encourage Buddhist caregivers to emphasize unity and a unified field of consciousness above specific Buddhist practices; to emphasize Interbeing as a somatic experience rather than a philosophical tenet; to speak in the languages that everyone can understand rather than in lingo known only to Buddhists, to advocate for Black Lives Matter, for Indigenous and Feminine Leadership and for the delivery of compassionate care in health and healing in community, including within the ranks of Buddhism itself. I call for Buddhist caregivers to listen to the collective voice, to promote somatic tracking, and to replace authoritarian patriarchal control with respect for the collaborative will. Most importantly I call on Buddhist caregivers to be Voices for Our Living Earth and to see this pandemic and our existential threat as the product of the brutal degradation of our Mother.
She is the Sacred Activist. She is the Unprecedented Leader we must listen to and follow and she is our kin; woven into the sinews of our bodies as a primordial force that speaks to us somatically. She is our homeland and at this moment of crisis and awakening she is our only healing, our only health.