Western Psychology & Eastern Spirituality

Each of us who is dealing with all the burdensome climate facts, also ends up in all kinds of stressful thoughts, feelings, questions of meaning … Therefore, we have put together a few links here of people whose spiritual-psychological approach can be helpful – also for those of us who do not feel attached to a particular belief or approach.

Buddhist monks in Kathmandu strike for climate justice

Helpful impulses and talks

Jack Kornfield is an Author, Buddhist practitioner and one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West.

On his website you will find various texts, meditations and videos. Anyone who signs up for the newsletter receives helpful and inspiring impulses via e-mail. Here is a short excerpt from one of his talks, reminding us of our interdependence and togetherness:

Jack Kornfield: We are not alone

“One of the most difficult things about hard times is that we often feel that we are going through them alone. But we are not alone.

In fact, your life itself is only possible because of the thousands of generations before you, survivors who have carried the lamp of humanity through difficult times from one generation to another. Even Jesus had hard times, and Buddha did as well. At times they were hounded, threatened, physically attacked, and despised. Yet their gifts outshone all their difficulties. (…)

And now, as you read these words, feel yourself as part of the stream of humanity walking together, finding ways to carry the lamp of wisdom and courage and compassion through difficult times. (..)

We are not separate, we are interdependent.” Buddha

“Even the most independent human being was once a helpless infant cared for by others. With each breath we interbreathe carbon dioxide and oxygen with the maple and oak, the dogwood and redwood trees of our biosphere. Our daily nourishment joins us with the rhythms of bees, caterpillars, and rhizomes; it connects our body with the collaborative dance of myriad species of plants and animals.

Nothing is separate. Unless we understand this, we are split between caring for ourselves or caring for the troubles of the world.

“I arise in the morning,” wrote essayist E. B. White, “torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.”

A psychology of interdependence helps to solve this dilemma. Through the loving awareness of mindfulness and meditation we discover that the duality of inner and outer is false. We can hold all the beauty and the pain of life in our heart and breathe together with courage and compassion.”

Tara Brach: Radical acceptance

Tara Brach is a psychologist, author and teacher of (Buddhist) meditation. Her approach, like that of Jack Kornfield, is a combination of Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices. Tara Brach also offers many talks on her website and an email-newsletter. You can find a talk here (25 min.) about her way to a vegan diet – out of compassion towards the animals, but also in view of the importance of meat consumption reduction for climate change – undogmatic and inspiring. And a quote from her, an excerpt about her approach to deal with fear, which can also be helpful when dealing with climate anxiety.

Dealing with fear – and climate anxiety

“The emotion of fear often works overtime. Even when there is no immediate threat, our body may remain tight and on guard, our mind narrowed to focus on what might go wrong. When this happens, fear is no longer functioning to secure our survival. We are caught in the trance of fear and our moment-to-moment experience becomes bound in reactivity. We spend our time and energy defending our life rather than living it fully.”

Anger and pain in the face of climate injustice

In the context of the climate crisis, we face not only fear, but also anger, hatred and pain, as we deal with issues of climate injustice and see for instance people who are not benefiting from globalization but suffer from it.

In a short and very touching talk, Tara Brach describes her personal reaction to the recent attacks in America, as in El Paso (3 August 2019), where a fanatic killed at least 22 people and has injured 26 others, with the aim of ending an “invasion of Hispanic immigrants” in Texas – while the American President used the same pejorative and divisive language as the assassins, even during his visits to Dayton and El Paso. How to deal with this? And how to deal with our helplessness towards Mexican immigrant children, who cry at their first day of school when their parents are arrested and taken away from them, as if they were criminals?

How to deal with all these feelings, which arise in the face of these developments – including shame. “Anger is initiatory (and therefore is an intelligent emotion), but it is not transformative,” says Tara Brach, and what that means in this particular situation – without having a solution to the political issues – that is the subject of this talk.

“Darkness cannot drive our darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Martin Luther King

Thay Phap Luu: Meditation and “right action”

And here is the link to a Dharma talk by Thay Phap Luu (Plum Village) in July 2019, including how “awakening to non-fear in a climate crisis” is possible. This lecture is beneficial, even if you are not a student or follower of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Awakening to Non-Fear in a Climate Crisis | Dharma talk by Thay Phap Luu, 2019 07 25

Here is an excerpt from the Dharma talk (a longer text excerpt from the above linked talk, in which Thay Phap Luu also addresses the climate crisis, can be found here):

“In plum village we have cultivated the capacity to live in harmony. And harmony is not necessarily a quality we hear about in the news. We hear about people promoting democracy. People are promoting business. Promoting many kinds of ideologies in the world. But I can´t remember the last time I looked at the newspaper or a news website and I learned about a country that was living in harmony. Or a city where people are living in harmony. Somehow it is not very newsworthy. But the lived experience of being in harmony in a harmonious family, in a harmonious community, is very wonderful. And I think it should be at the top of the news.

Imagine if you open the newspaper and you could read about – at the very top – about a community that was living in harmony. Where people where listening to one another, people are smiling at one another. Every day. People are sharing. Sharing their material resources with another. People are discussing ideas with each other, coming to a consensus, imagine – imagine at the top of the New York Times: „Community in Ioha living in harmony!“  Or: „Community in Mississippi sitting down and listening to one another“ Once a week. Imagine … So , that is the kind of beloved community that we are trying to promote here in plum village.”

In the further course, Thay Phap Luu talks about mindfulness and the path to harmony – inner harmony as well as harmony with the world – and the dealing with “non-knowing”.

We don´t know what will happen in the future. (…) so use this moment wisely. 

And here another piece of the talk. (The rest of it, in which he also addresses the climate crisis, you can find here).

“I am a stuart of my own body and mind. I want to live in harmony with the earth. But I know that one ideology will never be enough to solve the problem of climate change, will never be enough to bring the climate into balance. If I am not in balance in myself, how could I ever expect to bring balance to the earth? And I look deeply every day with the eyes of non-self to see that this body is not me (…) in order to be able to see that mother earth is also not me. That we are not separate. And that the imbalance inside of me is not separated from the imbalance in mother earth, the imbalance of the climate. That is my practice. And I know that if the feeling of fear and anger overwhelms me, I will not be able to see that situation – it is because I want so see clearly, how serious the situation of suffering is, that I am taking care of my fear. I am taking care of my anger. It is because I want to act in a way that can bring peace and happyness to the situation. That is a way we can respond. That is the way we can practice.”