Mindful Activism: From Anxiety to Agency (Episode #57)
Welcome to episode 57 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.In this episode, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino are joined by Clover Hogan, climate activist and founder of the Force of Nature NGO. Together, they discuss activism in times of emerging polycrisis, dealing with growing anxiety, empowering young activists, and turning despair into fuel for change in the climate movement (and beyond) – at both collective and individual levels.
Clover Hogan is a 24-year-old climate activist, researcher on eco-anxiety, and the founding Executive Director of Force of Nature – a youth non-profit mobilizing mindsets for climate action. She has worked alongside the world’s leading authorities on sustainability, consulted in the boardrooms of Fortune 50 companies, and helped students in more than 50 countries take action. Clover has taken the stage alongside global change-makers such as Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva, and interviewed the 14th Dalai Lama, while her TED Talk has been viewed almost two million times.
In addition, Clover shares about her first retreats in Plum Village (and why it is her favorite place on Earth) and how Thay’s teachings have impacted her activism; the pressure, as a teen activist, “to be optimistic and determined”; stepping out of her “bubble of climate privilege”; avenues to creating a regenerative organizational culture; the collective consciousness of the youth movement; lessons learnt from running Force of Nature; fear, disillusionment, and despair in the climate movement; working with intentionality; old practices for new activism; why a spiritual practice is essential; and much more.
Brother Phap Huu and Jo contribute leadership guidance from different perspectives; relevant stories from Thich Nhat Hanh’s own activism; teachings from Buddhism and Engaged Buddhism; advice about accessing the wisdom already inside us all; and mindful ways and practical tools for engaging with ‘the other side’ and showing up in a world in crisis – as an activist, but also in other roles.The episode ends with a guided meditation from the Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet online course produced by the Plum Village community.
Thank you for listening. Enjoy!
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:https://plumvillage.app/
And Global Optimism:https://globaloptimism.com/
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/
List of resources
The Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet online coursehttps://plumvillage.org/courses/zen-and-the-art-of-saving-the-planet
Dharma Talks: ‘True Love and the Four Noble Truths’https://plumvillage.org/library/dharma-talks/true-love-and-the-four-noble-truths
The Organic Happy Farmshttps://plumvillage.org/community/happy-farm
‘51 Mental Formations’https://plumvillage.org/transcriptions/51-mental-formation
Limited liability companies (LLCs)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limited_liability_company
The Stonewall uprisinghttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots
The civil rights movementhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_rights_movement
Dharma Talks: ‘Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels’ https://plumvillage.org/library/dharma-talks/taking-refuge-in-the-three-jewels-sr-chan-duc-spring-retreat-2018-05-20
‘The Pebble Meditation’https://plumvillage.org/articles/news/the-pebble-meditation
“Plum Village is what I want the world to look like. [Experiencing] that was really profound, because I hadn’t found that in a place or in a community. It felt like a distant utopian vision and, frankly, trying to reintegrate back into the world was quite difficult. The place itself is a lesson in what the world can look like and how we can show up for one another.”
“One of my favorite things about Plum Village is the deep ecology that supports the practice, and the feeling of interbeing and being interconnected with the abundance of life all around you. I never thought about the fact that, yes, the water in my cup of tea was once a cloud. It’s a very humbling thought.”
“Our practice in Plum Village is learning to reconnect to this simple action: we’re all creating a body, speech, and mind, and seeing its deep impact in the past, present, and future. And this is Engaged Buddhism.”
“All the wisdom is inside people. It’s not like Plum Village is here to give you wisdom. Plum Village is here to open up and share the wisdom it knows so that it can resonate like a tuning fork to one’s own wisdom; it’s only when we’re quiet that we can listen to the quiet voice of our wisdom.”
“In that pit of grief, I realized that I couldn’t perform these mental gymnastics of ‘Everything’s fine’, ‘We’re going to fix this’, ‘We’re going to save the world’, that kind of savior complex. We can’t change everything. And I realized that the only way that I could actually travel through those feelings and not be swallowed by them whole was to talk about them. So I started talking about this terror about the future. And other young people, in particular, started coming forward and saying, ‘Yeah, we’re feeling the same thing. We’re terrified, and we also feel powerless and we feel a lot of despair in response to this widespread denial.’ [Whereas,] people in positions of power, who have every resource and privilege at their disposal to take action in a big way, continue to greenwash and spend money on being seen to do the right thing rather than actually doing it. That has fueled a lot of despair and disillusionment in my generation.”
“A lot of young people feel really hopeless and, at the same time, a lot of people in positions of power are clinging on to this old system, this old way of being, which has created the climate crisis, which continues to perpetuate the climate crisis. This story of separation, this global economic system of extracting from nature, commodifying nature, exploiting people. They’re refusing, even as the climate crisis unfolds around us, to really wake up to it, and, critically, to hold space for the really heavy emotions that come with the realization of what we’ve done and the communities and people that we’ve chosen to sacrifice through our inaction.”
“Spiritual practice is not a nice-to-have, it’s essential. We can’t do this work without that foundation.”
“The Buddha said, ‘My teachings are not to be followed blindly. You have to come and taste it for yourself. You have to come and experience it for yourself.’”
“Love is a verb, right? So we have to learn to generate that love: a seed that we all have, the beginner’s mind, the mind of love.”
“As a monk and as leaders and as parents, as friends, sometimes our teacher says all we have to do is touch the seed of wisdom in others. Allow them to touch the love that already exists in them: the ability to be kind, the skillfulness that they can cultivate inside. And sometimes it’s not by words, it’s by action, by how we show up, by how we are present for others. Because that’s also education, that’s also transmission.”
“We think that by not saying anything, we’re not transmitting, but just by listening, you’re also transmitting space for the other person to see and hear themselves. And so, the power of presence is very real, and is not something that we have to wait 20 or 30 years to have; the wisdom of just one breath can be the thread to bring the mind home to the body, so that you can truly be there for yourself and for the ones around you. And by being present, you can offer so much space.”
“In the wake of [spending time in] Plum Village and trying to maintain the practices as much as possible, I am working with a lot more intentionality. I’m not saying yes to things from a place of scarcity or obligation; I’m saying yes to things where I genuinely feel I can contribute in a meaningful way.”
“We sometimes work with nine- and 10-year-olds who can very eloquently tell you why capitalism is a broken system. They can explain neoliberalism to you. They can explain why an LLC [limited liability company] shareholder model is not fit for purpose within business. These young people are so switched on, and, because they haven’t been around long enough to be indoctrinated into a lot of these systems, have the capacity to stand outside of them and to ask the question, ‘Why?’ Why do we have a globalized food system that is so disconnected, that exploits people? Why is it, when I go to the supermarket, everything is wrapped in plastic? Why is it that there are people experiencing homelessness in my street when there are entire apartment blocks going empty for investors? Why is it that we’ve failed to solve the climate crisis?”
“Asking ‘Why?’, and then following that up with ‘What if?’ – like, ‘What if we did things differently?’ Young people have that disruptive energy. And that’s why they have been the beating heart of every social justice and environmental movement, whether it’s the civil rights movement or the suffragettes or the Stonewall uprising. And so, helping young people to tend to that passion and realize what a super power it is, that’s how I can best show up.”
“Buddhism talks a lot about transforming suffering, and people think we only think about suffering. But that is a wrong perception. The balance and the nutriment that helps us is that we cultivate joy and happiness in our community. And this is real. And only by joy and happiness can we have enough well-being to take care of the loads of suffering.”
“To say ‘no’ can be a mantra. But ‘no’ with intention, not of ignoring and avoiding; ‘no’ when we know our limits, when we know, ‘If I do more, I’m just going to be angry and frustrated.’”
“When suffering is there, the other energy that we need to bring is light, love, and joy.”
“Instead of trying to run away from those emotions, or allowing them to ferment into despair, how do we turn them into the fuel that motivates us? How do we think about those emotions as the compass that tells us where we should be focusing our energy?”
“Being human isn’t some pursuit of just experiencing happiness, just experiencing joy. Your capacity to experience joy is a reflection of your capacity to experience suffering. And rather than trying to run away from those emotions, it’s about removing judgment from them.”
“How you are inside is what you create outside.”
“You can’t swim in the same river as the same person, because we’re always changing.”