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At some point near the middle of a three month retreat at Wangapeka last year, consciousness spit out the words 2020 A YEAR OF CLEAR VISION — no kidding, just like that, in caps! Politely refusing a bigger distraction, I wrote them down, got back to work. A few days before our formal “going home” day, Matthew and I suddenly found ourselves back in Nelson, delivered to the hospital by ambulance. Heart cavorting like a playful kitten, spiking blood pressure . . . hmmm. Mortality? Didn’t feel like it, but I really didn’t know. Seemed like an interesting space to investigate, but as the kindness and skill of the ED staff supported the body’s return to healthier rhythms, a new kind of force arose.
Integration takes some time after a longish retreat. One day I read those words again, and the whole project, like a scroll, rolled out in the mind. Then I started thinking about it, sharing with Matthew, and the potential in it carried us both along. We started collecting resource material. Shared the idea with the Wangapeka Program Committee. Started to write stuff down and finally sent a very raw, dense, proposal to the Wangapeka Board of Trustees. A colourful range of enthusiasms were expressed from palest blue to dayglo rainbow . . . but enthusiasms nonetheless!
We had our “Holy Shit! Now we have to do this” day. Our fellow elders made positive noises. Next was an invitation we hoped would bring forth others willing to be part of a collective that would design and manage the project. That felt really important: no team, no project. Meet the team, in our own words:
I was looking around to help somehow with the basic underlying needs of others and the world in a kind or supportive environment. The 2020 Clear Vision ideas sounded very real and much needed so it was a natural decision to join the 2020 team.
For some time now I have been noticing that whenever I hear some news about climate change or an extremely polarized political view, my default response is to stop listening or reading and do something else to distract myself so I don’t have to think about it.
Hearing about possible ideas for the 20/20 Clear Vision project, I realized this was something I
could engage with that could help me to look at my default response in a supportive way.
Still I hesitated. When I examine what’s going on, it feels like I am trying to hide from the reality of what’s happening in the world, as if in not acknowledging it, it won’t affect me. How daft is that?
So I put my hat in the ring; and that felt like a very big thing to do! I would be opening myself up to examining my default response, at the same time offering whatever experience and skills I have to help craft an environment in which to do just that.
Like many, I have tended to consider the effects of climate change to be something for the future, something that the powers that be, industry, science and eventually politicians, under pressure from voters, will avert. Fingers crossed they do it in time to avert disaster. But what if we fail? Civilizations have collapsed before, to say nothing of species.
The 20/20 project is an opportunity to deeply engage with the unavoidable truths of impermanence and uncertainty. We are heirs to marvellous teachings of wisdom and techniques of awakening which invite us to look directly into the face of our difficulties and find their causes. Our community contains great intelligence. I am excited by the possibilities the 20/20 project has to see that intelligence revealed.
I was drawn to the dharma through the realization that the things I was doing to try and feel better and make the world a better place weren’t working, and weren’t going to. I came to accept that the only site of change is myself (I’ll just avoid the self thing here). Practice can, on a good day with the wind blowing in the right direction, lead to tastes of equanimity, a deeply profound state of grace open to the world as it is. Recognizing how healthy this state is I have indulged in all the predictable strategies: try and make it last or come back; try to figure out what circumstances supported it and try and put these in place, and then despairing when circumstances do not allow; wishing that others have this experience and to support opportunities and resources for all. When this busy work exhausts or bores me I do have times of getting out of my own way, and this shift gives me a light dusting of somewhat ordinary equanimity. But I am left with the question – does Buddha dharma lead to being like Nero supposedly was, fiddling while Rome burns. Admittedly, trying to not add fuel to the fire, and wishing to support those who also feel drawn to learn to fiddle, and the sound of the fiddle being the wish that all beings are well, happy and free. BUT …
How do we engage in this world we live in? We are engaging anyway; it is easy to fill up our time, for our conversations and interactions with others to be about mundane matters. The Year of Clear Vision offers an opportunity to consciously commit some of our time and energy to exploring environmental and social issues as people engaged in or interested in dharma (I struggle to find a term that people may not reject, or not identify with, or feel excluded by – but this is the point of difference for this experiment). Many have shared their experience of the huge amount of anger they saw when involved in the peace movement. This anger may have provided the energy for action. Many of the environmental issues we face today provoke extreme anxiety, overwhelm, a sense of hopeless, of despair. People can become paralyzed or try to protect their emotional well-being by avoiding engagement. Can dharma practitioners access enough equanimity to keep us healthily engaged? Can we work around the uniquely Buddhist source of paralysis, when the energy and movement in a passionate conversation is suddenly drained by a seemingly ill-judged ill-timed comment about it all being emptiness anyway. Can we use the previously transformative group process with these topics? Will this be different than what already exists (I think it will). Come and see.
We are very sorry that Kathy’s work overload is affecting her health, and she has regretfully withdrawn from the Team. We hope that she will be able to participate more informally, because her intelligence, humour and unique view of the effect these issues are having on the most vulnerable people is invaluable.
Not sure that I am the slightest bit qualified to be a part of this illustrious team and also not yet sure in what way I can contribute. However here I am, probably as a result of selectively reading the brief, skimming past the bit about needing to have a strong practice, and seizing on the words “wanting to make a difference in the World”. The latter bit is my main qualification for the job. I am deeply concerned about many of the injustices happening in the World today, even though it seems that the World has been riddled with problems ever since we came down from the trees. I once read a lovely quote that went something like this: “The real question is not whether we are descended from the apes but when will we stop descending?”
I stumbled across the dharma in the early nineties and thought it was rather wonderful except for the early morning starts. Hence my somewhat embarrassing nickname “the beddha”. At the time I decided that horizontal meditation was the ideal posture any time before 10am, and was delighted to later discover that it was in fact a legitimate meditation posture. Easier said than done however, without snoring at least. Since then I have read lots of dharma books and been lucky enough to attend lots of retreats, all the while hoping that I could become enlightened without having to meditate very much. So far no such luck.
To paraphrase Joanna Macy:
Refusing to feel the pain of the world makes us stupid and half alive. The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is actually happening in the world.
This paragraph expresses precisely why I am engaged in inviting our dharma brothers and sisters to look deeply at what’s going on in the world. Employing our skills and wholesome motivation to meet together, listening deeply to our shared concerns for the state of our planet, our societies, and our relationships in the light of wisdom and compassion promises nothing but the opportunity to experience the promise of living fully in reality.
It’s a strange phenomenon that some ideas burble along under the radar and make themselves known when we hear ourselves say something that hadn’t been consciously thought! This happened to me while teaching a class in Vancouver in the late 90’s. “We may be a species too dangerous to the wellbeing of the whole planet to be allowed to continue.” What? Now,
20 years later, it seems pretty clear that we humans may be the first species to consciously face extinction.
Whether this happens or not, whatever the future looks like will benefit from our passion and determination for liberation for the benefit of all sentient beings, in the face of the enormous challenges of life on earth today. The Buddha’s great insight into interconnectedness is clear about the moment-to-moment power of wholesome intention and action.
We have learned so much about the grace and strength of conscious, collective action informed by this aspiration. Never has the imperative to go beyond addiction to the personal been more acute. To be part of sharing this, to contribute in some small way to creative, compassionate response seems a very natural offering. If not us, who? if not now, when?
This team is supported by close-knit circles here in Nelson, New Zealand, by the Elders and Board of Trustees of The Wangapeka Educational Trust and by all our personal networks of Dharma brothers and sisters, friends, family members and kindred spirits worldwide.
Here’s a simple overview of what this collective considers do-able, for now. We hope as momentum increases, that new ideas and energy will take us places we haven’t imagined yet.
AN OVERVIEW — WHAT IS THIS?
The 20/20 project is a year-long exploration focussed on what “clear vision” implies for dharma
practitioners and others, as well as centres like Wangapeka, in this rapidly changing world.
The disruption and uneasiness of changing climate, social instability, fundamentalism and political/economic reactivity affect all living beings now. As practitioners, we aspire to engage with these macro-patterns to inspire clear seeing and creative action, rather than succumbing to the paralysis of denial, blaming, fear or despair.
As supporters of dharma centres it is our responsibility to understand that existing methods of planning are not going to be sufficient to respond to the new causes and conditions that are being thrust upon us. If we learn to be open to all new and radical possibilities we may, through clear seeing, enable these oases of sanity to survive and meet the needs of practitioners in the future.
Developing clear vision implies willingness, on both a personal and collective level, to look deeply into what is, taking responsibility for our own responses. Sharing deeply with others creates a synergy from which aspiration, support, compassion, creativity, bravery and practical action flows.
Despite the ripening of past ignorant action, this planet’s beauty, potency and resilience continues to inspire. There are no fixed outcomes, and our timeframe is vast, like the universe that is our home.
For now, the project has two main objectives:
1. The Namgyal Legacy — An online, accessible archive of video events featuring teachers and community leaders fortunate enough to have received direct teaching and inspiration from Namgyal Rinpoche. Offering widely different expressions of dharma in addressing contemporary themes, these elders are the Namgyal Legacy, and demonstrate the multi- faceted, universalist basis of his transmission. This archive will help new generations of students appreciate the strength and flexibility of our foundation in meeting the challenges and conditions of their world.
Invitations to participate have been sent to 33 people who are either currently teaching Buddhadharma, or are strong catalysts for Dharma communities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Europe and Brazil. Positive responses have been received from over half of these, with a few others still considering their participation and a dozen others who have yet to respond.
Their offerings will be posted to a YouTube channel, with links available from our Year of Clear Vision website (currently under construction) and from the Wangapeka website. Our initial hope was to have at least one new offering each month in 2020. We are very grateful for the enthusiasm and willingness of these busy people, many of whom have indicated a willingness to provide more than we requested.
2. Community Sharing Circles — We hope to catalyze committed local groups in New Zealand and our international community to engage in monthly Circle process based on resource material supplied by the 20/20 team. Guidelines in how to use sharing circles skillfully (as meditations on generous listening and speaking spontaneously, with authenticity and respect) will be provided. Group feedback, insights and struggles will be encouraged, and posted via our website and other media. We’ll mentor these groups responsibly, based on 25 years experience of evolving this form.
Much of the resource material we have gathered is very challenging to be with. There’s quite a bit known about the mental health challenges that arise when people are faced with a deluge of bad news, particularly when there appears to be nothing an individual can do to make an impact. In today’s world there are so many issues — climate change, violent sectarian conflict, political upheaval and economic uncertainty — where the “powers that be” offer conflicting opinions and seem to demonstrate the same range of fight, freeze or flee responses as the rest of us!
On our team we’ve experienced the full range of reactivity. Rob McGowan, an esteemed Maori healer, spoke recently about a climate change conference he attended where everyone present had intelligent, helpful things to say, but the group as a whole was unable to listen respectfully to one another.
The wonderful work of Joanna Macey has, since the early ’80’s, been a source of inspiration for the importance of feeling deeply into and voicing our inner experiences and emotions in the face of unsolvable problems — such as the storage of nuclear waste, and now our rapidly changing environment. Since 2000, our communities in Canada and New Zealand have learned a lot from THE WAY OF COUNCIL by Jack Zimmerman and Virginia Coyle.
Freeing volatile or frozen emotion and energy allows us to maintain wholesome states of mind. Listening with the whole body to the experience of others, as a meditation on listening, expands our range of understanding, and sparks deep compassion. From the synergy of collective wisdom and compassion, surprising insights and creativity arise — far beyond what we as individuals might be capable of. Freeing ourselves of addiction to outcomes paradoxically allows for amazement.
3. Other Possibilities — The scope of this project will morph and grow organically, in response to the feelings and ideas it generates. If we can all learn willingness to go beyond our preconceptions and expectations, as open systems do, we will experience the emergence of newness and goodness that is unimaginable with our present data bank. We are paradoxically inspired, by a quote from Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche:
We cannot change the way the world is,
but by opening ourselves to the world as it is, we may find that gentleness, decency and bravery are available — not only to us
but to all human beings.
and by a statement made by Namgyal Rinpoche:
with extraordinary qualities of consciousness can change the future of the world.