Home
Services and Rates
What is Eco-Chaplaincy?
Letters by Sarah Vekasi
Donate
Contact
e-mail me



 

Dearest friends,

            More than just the leaves are changing these days, and our leaves have gone from green to bright oranges and red.  Young people, older folks, and all of us in between are beginning to speak up in all sorts of ways. Do you know also about the Occupations of Wall Street in New York City and now all across America? I have been participating in the Occupy Asheville general assemblies throughout this past week, so I decided I wanted to write a letter to all of you about how eco-chaplaincy can and does work in these moments of mobilizing and change.

            Groups of people are mobilizing in cities and towns throughout America and holding general assemblies to discuss their relationship to living in these times of global crisis under the banner that ‘we are the 99%.’ Why? One reason I understand is a deep and vast need to connect, to be heard, to hear and break through the alienation and pervasive suffering permeating the times. The slogan “I am the 99%” follows up with “and so are you.” There are people all over America are posting photos on blogs, through news channels and facebook with a short hand-written story of their situation followed by “I am the 99%.” For example, “I began working when I was 13 years old and made $6.50/hour plus tips in 1992. Now, after four years of college, two years in a monastery, and three years in grad school I am under-employed through a non-profit I run, was paid $8.00/hour as a barista last year, and struggle to make ends meet. I am not sure I can ever have children since I don’t know how I would support them. I am the 99%.” How are you a part of the 99%?

I am not sure there is actually anyone out of that “99%.” Wealthy, poor, middle class, the radiation from Fukushima is everywhere, the water from Appalachia feeds half of the population of the US, and the decisions that have created the system now collapsing throughout the globe don’t seem to be exactly in anyone’s control. I know there are many conditions that have created the present situation, the student debt and unemployment, the massive deployments and lack of affordable health care, and still I am not in the business of pinpointing any exact cause because it seems a lot more like themes brought about by systemic greed, hatred and delusion to me.

I love that these protests did not begin with “demands” or a list of objectives, something the mainstream media is deriding and dismissing it for. There is brilliance to opening up a space which says, things aren’t right in my life, how about yours? What needs are not being met? What are the themes? What are the causes? There is a reason the occupations began on Wall Street in New York City, and a reason why rather than all flock there, we are standing up in our towns across the country to say the same thing – let’s have a conversation, what is it like for you being alive in this time of global crisis? These conversations, general assemblies, open forums seem to me to be an expression of active hope - a thread slowing sewing itself throughout the frayed seems of our society which says:

“…wait a minute – I am not alone – you are suffering too – whoa – your story has similar roots as mine with a different storyline – hmmm…..we are tired of being controlled by forces beyond our control, which seem to make choices based off greed, not our best interests, profits for the very few with the illusion that finite natural resources are somehow infinite. We are no longer willing to trade our creativity, intelligence, bodies, minds and hearts for a daily grind that is still not going anywhere. We are in debt, bankrupt, lost our homes, have been deployed too many times, need a job, sunk in student debt, and more. Mountaintops are being blown up in Appalachia and the valleys filled in so that coal can be sold in China and India while the water supply for half of the United States is irrevocably polluted. The political forces out there seem interested in maintaining some sort of status quo that has forgotten us – all of us, left wing, right wing, whatever.... It feels overwhelming. It makes me angry. I feel despair. Before I saw this mobilization I was overcome with cynism, depression, anxiety….etc.”

So these general assemblies are somewhat long and rambling meetings which use a lot of consensus jargon we often use in organizing here, a sort of sub-cultural lingo, with the intention of creating space for everyone to be heard. I don’t know how long the openness will continue, it is hard to sustain and I personally have plenty of doses of my own skepticism, yet I believe in  it too because I believe in the power of listening and the power of trusting solutions to arise from a collective, and I deeply believe in the intelligence in open systems which knows that there is room for everybody.  

            At the same time, this is a fragile and important moment to pay attention to because it could go oh so many ways, and seems to be going every which way at once. What is needed more than ever is open-mindedness, open-heartedness, and expansiveness. We have a choice when conditions get tough to get smaller and tighter or more open and flexible. One leads to a great unraveling into even more scarcity, alienation, isolation and tightness, and the other a great turning toward a more life affirming society. Which do you want? Before answering, think about this: which you are willing to help create?

I know that there is a great amount of anger out there, and for good reason. Despair, apathy, fear and cynicism too. Some say that captivating and cultivating “righteous anger” is the moving force for change, but I disagree. I know that it is a spark, a symbol of our need for justice, but not a spark that can sustain itself. Anger has an opposite, an enemy, and for many real and justified reasons. However, in order to truly sustain oneself, it is vital to find your vision and place your intention in something far greater than yourself and the specific injustices of the moment. In Buddhism, this often comes down to a great vow – for all beings to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering; in Christianity we hear about the greatest commandment of all –to love thy neighbor as oneself.

This is the key work of the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative: to help activists, organizers and people in all forms of environmental and social justice work synchronize our intentions with our actions. There is a lot of writing about it online at www.ecochaplaincy.net.  Eco-Chaplaincy comes out of the professionalism of chaplaincy, and offers support within movements, organizations, affinity groups, for individuals, etc.  There is an art to chaplaincy, like the specific training for psychologists or the medical professions, and that training can be applied in the streets, hollows and meeting halls, as well as in a hospital, prison, hospice, the military or anywhere else there are chaplains.

            Last night at the general assembly in Asheville, a man spoke from the “Spirituality and Support Group,” and then another man voiced his discontent with that group saying that, “this is political, not spiritual, there is no room for religion here.” My heart opened to him in my guess that the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious,’ probably carry all sorts of negativity for him with people not accepting him for who he is, or loving him as who he is. I am an eco-chaplain and not a minister or a dharma teacher for a reason – so that I can offer support for groups and individuals in the religious or secular language that makes them tic, not me. But I still have my own opinions about religion and work as a “religious leader,” so let me ask yall: “What is real religion honestly if not the practice of trying to work for our collective liberation, trying to love our neighbors as ourselves, forgive the best we can, keep trying, and working for the liberation of all beings?”

Tell me truly. I know that I write these letters to people on all sides of every political spectrum, so tell me – what could be more political than loving our neighbors as ourselves and working towards our collective liberation?

Here is what I know for sure. A movement based on anger cannot sustain itself. A movement based on fear cannot mobilize itself. A movement void of spirituality, or intention, is not a movement, just a cause or campaign. Only when there is a vision and an intention large enough to sustain many victories and many losses will it surpass the passion of the moment and carry forward lasting change.

This is the goal of eco-chaplaincy. To help activists, organizers, friends, neighbors, all of us to connect with a vision large enough it can sustain us through the ups and downs of our times so we can stay engaged in the world and not drown in anger, despair, fear, apathy, numbness, etc.

How? Eco-Chaplaincy is just like all chaplaincy: being present as best one can, offering active listening, mediation, conflict transformation, and spiritual and religious support. I love working as an eco-chaplain and love creating the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, and what I love even more is the thought that there are many thousands of people tonight who will sleep outside in cities throughout this country after participating in an ongoing dialogue about what needs are not being met in our country and the world at the moment, before jumping into “demands” with specific strategies of how to “fix”it.

Let’s all make ourselves more open to seeing one another and truly hearing one another. I am not so interested in hearing all the divergent and often polarizing strategies for how to fix things until there is a real conversation about what needs are not being met first. To do this, we have to listen, and we have to connect, and that is why I love that the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Your Street mobilizations are not based on a demand or demands, do not have a specific agenda or leaders – because it is a time for people to begin to connect, to listen, and see what needs we all share and what needs are not being met. From there, we can co-create solutions that will satisfy a real majority through consensus.

Maybe the process of connecting is itself the solution. The process is the product. Imagine!

Here are some more ways that I know how to participate in a Great Turning:

            Begin by exploring ourselves. Our anger. Our fear. Our apathy. Our grief. Normalize it, express it, release it, be in it, don’t just deny it. Ask, what is my story? What is your story? Go through it. We don’t have to stay there, and we won’t, we just cycle through. The way through is exactly that – through. Be willing to make mistakes, to forgive others for mistakes, and hold tight to integrity, honesty, traditional values like not killing or lying or stealing, etc. Let the personal be political, our unique spiritual practices reveal themself through our actions of body, speech and mind, our unique religious practices show through our love and care for one another.

            If you feel up to it, try this exercise out. Next time you find that you have the time, ask someone you don’t know, or maybe even someone you do know questions like:  

“What do you think about the condition of our world?”

 “How has the recession and financial meltdown affected you or your family?”

“What concerns do you have about the world these days?”  

And then don’t let the conversation just dwell in what is wrong, ask also:

“What is your favorite part about being alive during these uncertain times?

“Tell me about a place you love.”

There is a power in making yourself available for listening. There is so much need to be heard out there. I know because I listen for a living!

            If you really feel up for it, check out whatever general assembly is happening near you, or start one, or watch a live stream online.

As you all know, the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative runs through your donations. Thank you to those of you who have donated recently. If you are willing to chip in, please sign up to be a monthly donor or for a one time donation online at www.ecochaplaincy.net/html or through the mail at PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778.

I would love to listen more to you too. Truly. Call me for a listening session if you want, or call anyways because it is always great to connect.

 

Love and Solidarity,

Sarah

Back