In early April more than 60 sangha members gathered at the Monastery to explore the theme of this spring ango intensive, Being Born as the Earth. Throughout the three-day weekend, participants experienced their connection to the earth through many lenses. Gathering in the performance hall of the Sangha House, Shugen Sensei screened several short films made by the Pachamama Alliance and other groups that touch on the same themes being examined this spring: What is the state of the Earth at this point? What is our relationship to it as human beings, given that we are now the primary agents of change on the planet in many ways? And, where do we want to go from here?
After the film in each session, Shugen Sensei engaged the group with reflections and questions, often referring to Dogen’s fasicle Valley Sounds, Mountain Colors to deepen the dialogue and exploration. The lively discussions brought up many facets of the climate crisis and our role in it—daunting issues such as social justice, environmental justice, hope and fear, racism, and the struggle for empowerment of individuals and communities.
In smaller groups discussions participants explored their felt responses to the climate crisis in its many forms. What, if anything, keeps us from working on the problems we perceive as urgent? What gifts are uniquely ours to bring to the struggle? Meeting in smaller groups gave a chance for people to share in a more intimate setting and allowed everyone the opportunity to explore freely and contribute their voice.
The intensive also took participants out beyond the walls of the buildings, where we touched in with the great earth itself by fully engaging in art practice. Shugen Sensei and Hojin Osho enjoined us to really meet the world in all of its unexpected beauty. Shugen reminded us that “everything changes when you step off the path,” and so we fanned out over the foot of Tremper Mountain. People were climbing trees, clambering up the stream bed to Basho Pond, and sitting deep in the forest’s cycle of life and death. On two separate art assignments, we contemplated the things that we take for granted about the Earth, and then the qualities in us that we can offer to the world. After these contemplations, we created our art pieces and brought them back for display in the main house.
To cap off the weekend, the retreatants were joined by local sangha members for Sunday service and then the traditional ango hike up Tremper Mountain. The weather was quite fine, and touches of snow and plenty of water on the mountain made for a beautiful trip up and back. Hikers offered a liturgy service at the top, dedicated to these mountains and rivers that sustain us, and later met for delectable snacks back at the Monastery.
The words shared by many participants attested to this intensive as quite a moving experience. Looking straight at the state of the earth and the climate crisis takes deep and sustained courage, and allowing ourselves to really feel a deep connection to our planet in this time of such challenge and loss takes even more. To gather as a group and witness both the earth and ourselves is a beautiful thing, and the intensive offered a supportive container to do just that.