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:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
The Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet online course
Dharma Talks: ‘True Love and the Four Noble Truths’
The Organic Happy Farms
‘51 Mental Formations’
Limited liability companies (LLCs)
The Stonewall uprising
The 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’
“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.”
Dear friends, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I’m Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
And I’m Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition.
And brother, today we are here with a very special guest, Clover Hogan, who is a very well known and rather wonderful youth activist. And we’re going to be talking about anxiety, actually. So we all have anxiety. But in this time of the emerging polycrisis, that sense of doom or sense of fear or anxiety is growing. And of course, we want to help people to go through these difficult times and to come out the other side feeling more empowered, more positive, and more able to respond to these difficult times.
The way out is in.
Hello, everyone. I’m Jo Confino.
And I’m Brother Phap Huu.
And as I say, we have Clover Hogan, who created an NGO called Force of Nature, which is here specifically to support young people who are seeking to turn the tide of climate change and to bring this world back to some form of sanity. So, Clover, do you want to just introduce yourself and say a bit about who you are and maybe also why you’re here today?
Oh, starting with the small questions.
My name is Clover Hogan. I’m a now 24 year old climate activist. I’m almost aging out of the youth movement, but I’m also the founder of Force of Nature. I’ve been engaged in climate since I was about 11 years old. I remember learning about the climate crisis through documentaries, sitting glued to my computer screen, staring at scenes of deforestation, of ocean pollution, of mass migration caused by the climate crisis, and perhaps most pointedly, graphs projected by Al Gore that showed how quickly we were damaging the Earth and how good we were at pretending otherwise. And I remember feeling a lot of grief and a lot of anger and anxiety, even if I didn’t have those words at the time. But maybe more than anything, I remember feeling really confused because I hadn’t learned about the climate and ecological crisis at school. I hadn’t seen it on the TV, when my parents watched the news, we didn’t talk about it at the dinner table. And so I remember questioning, you know, why are we facing this climate crisis and why are the adults in my life so good at sleepwalking, even as the science shows us that we’re hurtling toward this cliff of collapse? So that, for me, was my catalyst.
Wow. And so you’ve made the decision to work with other young people and support them. And it would just be helpful to understand when you are going through your work, when you’re reaching out to people, when you’re working with people and you’re running workshops and training people, what is it you’re seeing in the sort of collective sort of consciousness at the moment amongst young people? And we know, of course, that there’ll be a whole diversity of views, but when you see that sort of, when you bring that all together, how would you describe what you’re seeing, how people who are involved in this movement, who are aware of the situation and want to do something about it? What are you experiencing?
So, for the first few years of my activism, I clung on to these feelings of kind of hope and determination. And the more outspoken I was, the more a kind of caricature of myself I created of this like young person who’s very passionate. And I get invited to speak at things, and people would be like, you know, we want you to inspire us, you know, and give us hope for the future. And so I felt this enormous pressure as an activist throughout my teens to be optimistic and determined. And it was in November of 2019 where that all came crashing down. So it was during the fires back home in Australia. And every day I would wake up to the headlines, you know, 1 billion, 2 billion animals incinerated in this inferno. I would go on Instagram and see videos from my friends of them standing on the roofs of their homes, clinging to these hoses, trying to keep the flames and embers at bay. And like I am now crying, I was crying all the time, you know, like in the shower, on my way to work, on the underground in London, much to the dismay of British society. And I was going through these motions of grief because growing up, I grew up in a bubble of climate privilege. Right? Like, climate change was something that I read about in articles. It was something that I watched in documentaries. And for the first time, it was the reason why my friends and family were fleeing their homes. It had never felt so real and literally looking at those walls of flames I’d never felt so powerless and truly felt like, you know, maybe this is too big to solve, too insurmountable. And in that kind of pit of grief, I realized that I couldn’t perform these like mental gymnastics of everything’s fine, we’re going to fix this, we’re going to save the world, you know, that kind of like savior complex. We can 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. And so that’s what I started doing. I started talking about this fear, and not fear, but like terror about the future, but also about the inaction in the face of the climate crisis. And the more I started talking about it, the more 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, which, you know, isn’t just reflected in the society and culture around us, which numbs us in so many ways to the to the pain that we’re inflicting to ourselves and to the Earth, but is also most reflected in people in positions of power who have every resource, who have every privilege at their disposal to take action in a really big way and to continue to see greenwashing and more money spent being seen to do the right thing than actually doing it. That has fueled a lot of despair and disillusionment in my generation. So to answer your question, I took the scenic route there. But to answer your question, I think 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, you know, story of separation, this global economic system of extracting nature, commodifying nature, exploiting people, they’re continuing to cling on to that system and refusing, even as the climate crisis unfolds around us, to really wake up to the climate crisis 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.
Thank you, Clover. And, you know, we’re sitting in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Sitting Still hut in Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. And Thay’s teachings, as in Buddhism, are all about dealing with our suffering, not about avoiding. As you said, society has created a thousand ways to avoid our suffering. But the teachings are about how to go into our suffering and how to work with our suffering and to find ways out of our suffering, The Four Noble Truths. And you came to Plum Village for the first time last summer, and we’ve talked about this in other podcasts, but there was a retreat for climate leaders and activists, and you were one of the 30 who came. And now you’re back again for the Wake Up retreat, which has 700 young people who are spending the week in Plum Village. So it would be wonderful, actually, if you can just say, given all that grief, all that suffering, all that pain, that even now, you know, you’re sitting in a beautiful day in the south of France and it all looks fine, but you’re feeling this depth of emotion just coming up because it’s so heartfelt. And even in this moment, it can feel overwhelming. Tell us a bit about what happened when you were first here in Plum Village and how did Thay’s teachings have helped or if they have helped? And if so, how?
So we were not told anything before we came. So we went in with no expectations, which I think was a positive thing. But yeah, I was, you know, we received this email and it’s like, be here on this day at this time. And it’s like, when Christiana Figueres tells you to be somewhere, you go, you don’t ask questions. And I think coming in I wrestled with coming for a long time, actually, because I think as activists taking time off can feel very indulgent and it can surface a lot of feelings of guilt because we’re the most aware of how urgent the crisis is and so taking time for yourself, even for spiritual practice, can almost feel like at odds with what is needed. And yet, inevitably, so many of us work ourselves into this kind of state of burnout and exhaustion because we never stop. And it was really interesting timing for me when this invitation came, because it was the first time I’d kind of experienced like call-out culture in activism. So a week before I came, I talked about an event that I’d spoken at in the UK. And at this event there was a rather contentious political figure also speaking and merely by association, I received a lot of really hurtful messages from, you know, activists questioning me and telling me that my values are not in the right place and what am I doing? And I can’t actually call myself an activist and all of these things. And I’ve experienced a lot of trolling from like climate deniers and, you know, people who are maybe politically not aligned with me, but I never received those kind of messages from people within my movement, people who I consider my peers are kind of like in the same camp. And so I came here feeling very broken. And, yeah, really struggling with, well, what is my role? And frankly, if I can’t collaborate effectively with the people standing beside me, then how are we ever going to mobilize the millions upon millions of people that we need to to address the climate crisis? So that was the feeling that I entered into Plum Village with. And it became apparent really quickly that so many other people shared those same feelings. The kind of frustration at the infighting, the fact that any time you go to a climate conference like everyone has their silver bullet climate solution and they’ve perfected the elevator pitch of why this thing will solve the climate crisis and not the other thing, and a real awareness of the kind of pain and grief and inability to really hold space for those feelings. And I think a lot of the people at that event or at the retreat, rather, had kind of perfected the art of like switching off their climate emotions because it’s hard and it’s heavy and tending to yourself and tending to the suffering again can feel like a distraction almost. Which seems silly, like saying that now from this vantage point. But that’s how it felt at the time. And now I can say that Plum Village is truly my favorite place on Earth. I’d never been like, embraced into a community that felt so welcoming and so, like, safe and trusting and where I could really, really process a lot of those feelings without, like, fear of judgment. And even the very simple, like, Plum Village practice of sharing, and no one’s allowed to respond. I’d had this experience oftentimes, like particularly with the adults in my life of like trying to talk about some of these things and then trying to fix those feelings or, you know, tell me what I should do with them. And I think that’s why I’d become quite like, recalcitrant. And so, you know, having a space where you can just like put something in the circle and it’s like held in this community and that’s it. You don’t have to fix it. You’re just like tending to those feelings. That was a really profound experience for me. And my realization was having this kind of spiritual foundation, the spiritual practice is not a nice to have, it’s essential. You know, we can’t do this work without that foundation. And frankly, and part of the reason why we’re failing to genuinely respond to the climate crisis is because we’re recreating many of the same systems and patterns that created the crisis, you know, systems of disconnection and separation, of not seeing the humanity in one another. This othering and like division. And so we need to try something different and not something new, because these are very old practices. But we need a different approach. And so since coming to Plum Village that first time, I’ve been roping as many young people as possible into Plum Village.
So that’s why there are 700 people.
Well, a lot of our young people have participated in the online retreat Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, which I highly recommend, which you can do from the comfort of your own home. But we’ve also been, you know, doing what we can to fund young people from around the world to come to Plum Village and experience it for themselves, because it is really transformative, especially when you’re feeling that depletion and exhaustion.
Thank you. And when you talk about the experience of being here and the sort of community and people being held and being able to share without having to have a response. Were there any particular teachings that you received here that helped you to, you know, one of the things I think that Plum Village allows people is to see the world with or to see themselves and then the world with fresh eyes, to change their maybe their view of the way they see the world, which then changes their thoughts and their speech and then their actions. So a lot of Plum Village is about changing, changing one’s way of seeing the world. Were there any particular teachings or things that you heard here that help you to maybe see the same view you were seeing before, but from a different perspective?
So many. I think the first thing I would say is that oftentimes as climate communicators, we spent a lot of time articulating the problem and we spend a lot of time and energy saying, you know, this is what’s not working. This is the crisis. This is what will happen if we don’t take action. And oftentimes we forget to pause and think about, well, what are we actually working toward? What is the world that we want to create? And where are there pockets of the future already in the present? And for me, Plum Village is that place, it is that future, you know, from the respect with which everyone, you know, treats one another, but also the simple practice of like treading lightly on the Earth, like walking meditation was really profound for me, to be honest I struggle to sit still a little bit, but like really thinking about, yeah, your footprint and how you connect to nature around you. And even the fact that, you know, there is the Happy Farm here and you can genuinely… this sounds so… sorry, but you can genuinely like taste the love in every bite. Like you can taste the kind of like nurturing and nourishment. Plum Village for me is like what I want the world to look like. And so from that starting point, that was really profound because I hadn’t found that in a place or in a community. It felt like this kind of like distant utopian vision and frankly, like trying to reintegrate back into the world was quite difficult. I was like, Oh, I just want to stay. So the place itself is such a lesson in what the world can look like and how we can show up for one another. In terms of the Dharma teachings, so much. I think for one, this idea of… Oftentimes we kind of like hold on to these emotions and I think particularly like as climate activists, when we don’t see certain feelings reflected in the world around us, when we don’t see that shared anxiety or anger or grief, it almost feels like we need to like hold on to those emotions even more tightly and carry the burden of them. And so it was very powerful for me to learn how to simply greet those emotions and not try to suppress them, which has definitely been my approach in the past. And also, you know, exploring what are the stories that kind of encapsulate those emotions that we might be inadvertently feeding that are inhibiting our ability to, you know, sustain ourselves and sustain our activism and also, you know, connect with other people. And so trying to dismantle some of those stories that I’d been clinging on to around like, yeah, like the world is run by bad people and like, people in business are bad. You know, a lot of this like othering, like really examining some of those stories created the space for me to realize that, like the climate crisis is a symptom of these broken systems and you can separate out the individuals within those systems from the systems themselves that, you know, suppress us and that make us all kind of like complicit in the climate crisis. And finally, I think just like the practice of breathing, something we do every day that we take for granted. And I’ve always felt my anxiety, like in my chest. And so just the very simple practice of observing your breathing has been really, really impactful whether it’s before I walk into a boardroom with a bunch of old white men in suits, or it’s going up onto a stage or yeah, just doing anything that can bring up that kind of fear, like learning to breathe through it and feel rooted to the ground and the earth. Okay, I have one more: seeing the cloud in the cup of tea. One of my favorite things about Plum Village is like the deep ecology that supports the practice and this feeling of like interbeing and being interconnected with the abundance of life all around you. I never thought the fact that, yes, the water that goes into my cup of tea was once a cloud. It’s a very humbling thought. Yeah.
Brother Pha Huu, so you are the future in the present moment. How wonderful. So how does that feel, how does it feel to just hear that from Clover about how Plum Village has impacted her? Because, of course, Plum Village exists, the monks and the nuns take this vow in order to create exactly the conditions for people like Clover to come to Plum Village and to experience. So how does that feel for you just to hear that?
I think gratitude comes first for the founder, our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and his… Being in Plum Village, like what Clover shared, it’s a code created from all of the mud that he went through. Right? All of the suffering that he experienced during the war, the division, also seeing the hatred in humankind. Humankind, but we’re not kind. And as a spiritual community, which we have been exploring in this podcast, is not woo woo, but is like really is about connecting. It’s about being down to earth and having a place to truly experience it for yourself, it’s the most important thing. And the Buddha always said, My teachings are not to just be followed blindly. You have to come and taste it for yourself. You have to come and experience it for yourself. So looking back at my own journey, like, that is exactly what it was, like… And this was in 1996, when Plum Village was much more rural, even poorer than today, like… And it’s not about the infrastructure, but it’s about the energy that is cultivated in the community that is around and the kindness, the love, like what Clover shared, that hospitality is not a theory here. Actually, if you don’t have those and if you’re not interested in cultivating those qualities, it’s almost like you don’t fit in Plum Village. You, I think you would kind of feel a little bit as an outcast in a way, but maybe… then it becomes a mirror. Just like, wow, this is what I’ve been lacking in my life all this time. So hearing that the present is here, the future is here, I’m very grateful and I’m happy to be a part of this legacy. And I’m happy that I made this decision to become a monk and to follow this path. And the climate movement, in a way, Thay was a climate activist for a very long time. He spoke about deep ecology, about the interbeing of all aspects in life. You know, when we eat food, we read the contemplation. This food is a gift of the whole universe, the Earth, the sky, numerous living beings, hard work and loving work. So even as a vegetarian, as a vegan, we know that there’s also numerous living beings involved and nothing is separated. So by eating and having this insight already, you’re engaged in deep ecology because suddenly you can take care of your greed. And that’s one of the contemplations, to learn to eat with moderation. And there’s a simple practice about eating, but if we learn to be moderate in the way we consume just food, that has a deep impact on how we can also look at our consumption in materialistic world, like what we wear, what we think is our comfort, what we think will make us feel happier. It’s a deep contemplation. And our practice in in Plum Village is learning to reconnect to this simple action that 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. And this is, I would also say, activism, because if we are acting not for oneself, then that is also deep spirituality. And I think what many of the friends who come to Plum Village, what they encounter is, the realization is that if I don’t have the insight of connection, then how can I work for a better world? Because if we’re not connected to the nature that we are learning to protect, we are learning to regenerate, to heal and allow others to wake up from. If we can’t do that, it’s very hard for others to see us and to follow in our footsteps. And that’s why I think, for myself, what’s really important and I think for all of the retreatants, I hope, like when we give teachings as monastics, we’re not talking down to people, but we’re just like it’s a shared experience, the shared insight that has been transmitted from generations. This ancient wisdom, but spoken in a newer language so that it is very applicable to what is happening in the here and now, which is also ancient wisdom, which is like we always have to come back to the present moment. And so, you know, like this retreat right now that we have 700 people is a deep joy. Like I gave the first talk and just sitting in the hall and being surrounded by hundreds of young people that want to have a new way of seeing, a new way of being and generate love in themselves, because this retreat is called love in action. And here love is a verb, right? So we have to learn to generate that love that is a seed that we all have, the beginner’s mind, the mind of love. And a part of life in society, like you shared, Jo, we found a thousand ways to run away from suffering, and we found a thousand ways to bury our deep love of connection. And this is where Plum Village retreat helps us just slowly unpack the gems that are already existing in every human being, and community is so important. Our teacher has always shared that in any community, not just spiritual, we have to invest in the brotherhood, the sisterhood, the sibling hood, because without these bonds, then we will still feel so separated. And that is why for us also in Plum Village, we do learn to share everything. Like, even if you are a leader, a CEO, or a farmer, we’re all lining up for and you are all getting muesli in the morning. And it’s this unlearning of like… those of us who are more special, and so on, those of us who are not worthy enough, because we’re all coming with different complexes. And I’ve discovered no matter who we become in this world, we’re always going to carry some complexes. And it’s so important to have a space to just recognize and smile to the complexes. And so the retreats and the lifestyle that we have devoted ourselves to is actually when we do a retreat, it’s not much work besides just gearing up for cooking for 700 people and rooming, but this is our life. Like we’re just like, Hey, okay, join us, wake up at a little bit earlier, enjoy some silent sitting, we’re all going to be a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s good for us. It’s just like medicine. Sometimes the bitter medicine is very good for us, and that stillness is what we are also offering to a lot of people so that they can also reflect themselves on what is coming up in their present moment, through body, speech and mind, emotions, feelings, and also just resting. So needed today.
Thank you, brother. And I just wanted to talk a bit about something you just raised briefly there about, you know, finding this sort of almost the diamonds in ourselves, the diamond, the nuggets of gold within ourselves, because a lot of people who have anxiety or these complex… often feel powerless and often feel they’re subject to, but they don’t have power themselves. One of the things I’ve noticed in the Plum Village retreats and also sort of when I coach people, is that actually 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, that actually it’s only when we’re quiet that we can listen to the quiet voice of our wisdom. And when we’re constantly busy and noisy, we can’t hear that. So it’d be nice for you to maybe just to talk a little bit about, you know, the wisdom that is deep inside of us already. That is not Plum Village actually giving people wisdom. You can’t give people wisdom. As you said earlier, Thay said you can’t sort of… you can transmit something, but you can’t tell someone how to be, they have to find it for themselves. So I’m just wondering how that sense of how Plum Village can empower people to find their own inner wisdom.
You know, this is the insight of the Buddha, he’s a revolutionist because he wanted to help his society, which was India, the little kingdom that he was a part of during that time. As a society in India, there’s just so much discrimination from the caste system, and that is a deep suffering, discrimination. The moment you’re born, like we are already put into a bucket, whether we’re worthy or unworthy because we are born and we can’t choose who’s our parents, right? And so the Buddha insight was, But we’re all the same in terms of we all have suffering, we all have happiness, we all bleed red, all of our tears are salty, and we’re sharing this land together, this planet together. And this insight is the key for us to slowly… I’m not the discrimination that is in all of us. And this has been transmitted from generation to generation and from society also. And, when coming to spirituality, it is like listening to a podcast, a teaching, the deepest way of listening is to be open and to see the words like rain and touching the soil, the mind soil, or the store soil, the store consciousness that has all of these insights that are contained in seeds and we all have them in our tradition, 51 Mental Formation. Seeds of love, seeds of care, seeds of happiness, and also negative seeds or seeds that can create suffering like anger, fear, anxiety. But also these seeds allow wisdoms to manifest, because the fear can tell us what it is that is allowing us to feel so crippled. So it can be a bell of mindfulness to go deeper and understand the root of our suffering. So in Buddhism, our practice is not to choose and pick what we only want to be associated with, but is to learn to embrace the whole and to smile to every seed that is present in us. And the journey begins within, because that’s the safest place to learn to love for oneself, to care for oneself, as well as when we learn to see ourselves and understand ourselves, that’s also an opportunity to be more compassionate to others. Because if we’re not perfect, we can slowly allow ourselves to be less judgmental and less harsh on others also. So these insights of like touching the wisdom within is to also empower each and every one of us, that we all have Buddha nature, and Buddha means awakening. We all have the seed of awakening. And as a monk and as leaders and as parents, as teachers, 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 exists already 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 being present for others. Because that’s also education, that’s also transmission. And I think, for myself, like having the ability to listen is a deep art and is a transmission also. We think that by not saying anything, we’re not transmitting, but actually just by listening, you’re also transmitting space for the other person to see themselves, to hear themselves. And so for us, the power of presence is very real and is not something that we have to wait 20 years, 30 years to have, but just by one breath, the wisdom of the breath can be the thread to bringing the mind home to the body so that you can truly be there for yourself, to truly be there for the ones that are around you. And by being present, you can offer so much space. And that space for me is also love, is also communication. So there’s so much to unpacked in coming home to oneself. And this is why we have so many episodes on The Way Out Is In.
So many facets to explore. Clover, I want to pick up two threads that Brother Phap Huu just brought up. One is about showing up. How… that if we are a leader in some form, and you’re a leader in some form, that how you are showing up differently or how you want to show up and how that is having an impact in the people around you. And then the second part is so that’s the personal. Then in terms of, as Phap Huu says the, you know, the collective wisdom, how you are working with young people who are feeling anxious and feeling overwhelmed, feeling maybe a sense of doom or whatever, how are you working with those people to help them to feel empowered, not to help them, but to give them the opportunity to feel empowered that they can make a difference, that and how they act in these difficult times. So maybe first start with yourself. You know, what are you learning about how you show up and how you can show up?
Quick anecdote, or story. So COP26 in Glasgow, I had the unique opportunity of addressing world leaders on the main stage and I gave a very impassioned speech that reached a lot of people online and, you know, got lots of nice messages of support. But what people didn’t really see is what was happening behind the scenes, and behind the scenes I had taken maybe six cold and flu tablets to get me through that one engagement because it was the sixth stage I had spoken on that day. I was mentally and emotionally and physically exhausted and everything was coming from this place of urgency. And coming out of COP, I lost my voice for about a month. I couldn’t speak. I was really, really ill. And it took me a few months to recover, let alone to feel energized and enthusiastic about my work again. So that for me was quite a turning point where I realized that this is simply unsustainable. And in many ways that kind of burnout also made me resent the very thing that I love. I’ve, you know, activism has been my life for a long time. I love communicating. I love connecting with people. I love feeling that I can, you know, particularly help other young people maybe avoid the heartbreak or mistakes that, you know, I’ve made in my own journey. And so it was a very sad day to no longer feel that spark of love and joy. So I think in the wake of, you know, Plum Village and trying to maintain the practices as best 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 like I can contribute in a meaningful way. Even the simple act of like no longer multitasking, I’d kind of perfected the art of genuinely being on a live like panel on Zoom and answering emails in the background, which sounds terrible, but I think I lost like a lot of integrity on a really personal level. I felt like there was no longer kind of integrity in what I was saying. I almost felt like I was performing or yeah, I was like I was doing the rehearsed soundbites. It was very mindless. So in the wake of Plum Village, in response to your question how I’m showing up, with a lot more presence and really reflecting on what is nurturing to me and how can I nurture the people around me. And frankly, that means like going to fewer conferences surrounded by people in suits because there’s a lot of emotional labor that goes into kind of being in those spaces and a lot more time working with our community of young people, going into schools. At Force of Nature we run our flagship program is called Anxiety to Agency. And so we, you know, teach young people about climate anxiety, about climate psychology. And it’s funny because a lot of it, you know, echoes many of the teachings around, you know, Plum Village, which is learning how to tend to those emotions, you know, respond to them without judgment. And then really critically thinking about, you know, those feelings are evidence of our humanity. Right? When we feel anxiety, it’s this internal alarm bell that tells us something is really wrong. And so instead of trying to run away from those emotions or allowing them to almost, like, 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? So we take young people through those programs and then we run trainings with them as well around like how to engage with decision makers in business and policy, how to do public speaking, like how to communicate, and also how to facilitate these programs. So all the programs we run at Force of Nature are run by the very young people who’ve gone through our programs. So it’s very circular, it’s very communal, it’s, you know, giving back to the same community that you’ve also taken energy from. So it’s yeah, what I get to do is such a gift and I realize that genuinely to like, keep my sanity, I have to engage with these communities of young people. I think one, because I feel very held by that community. I see the same feelings reflected back at me. And two, because I’m so inspired by the creativity and ingenuity of young people. Like we, you know, work with sometimes like nine and ten year olds who can very eloquently tell you why capitalism is like a broken system. They can explain neoliberalism to you. They can explain why an LLC shareholder model is not, you know, fit for purpose within business. Like, these young people are so switched on, but they also, because they haven’t been around long enough to maybe be indoctrinated into a lot of these systems, they also have the capacity to stand outside of them and to ask the question why? Why do we have a food system that is so globalized, 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? You know, why is it that we’ve failed to solve the climate crisis? Right? We’re approaching COP 28. That’s 28 years of failed negotiations. So that capacity to question why, and then follow that up with the question of what if, like, what if we did things differently? For me, there is a natural propensity for young people to have that kind of like disruptive energy and to be challengers. And that’s why young people 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 often that hurt, but realize what a super power is for me, that’s how I can best show up.
And a question actually for both of you, because sometimes when you offer something like this and the way Plum Village offers this, you know, in a sense of refuge, and you both offer refuge of one sort, that that you become a lightning rod for people in pain. So I imagine, Clover, you know, Force of Nature is known for climate… helping people with climate anxiety. So you attract people who have deep anxiety. And they’re like cries for help, aren’t they? They’re like people… It’s like, I can imagine, it’s like seeing thousands of people in the water drowning who are asking to be taken out, you know, to be saved from the water. And for Plum Village on an even bigger scale, it’s, you know, your place that is here to relieve suffering. So people bring their suffering and want you to relieve their suffering. And I’m just wondering… Actually, Phap Huu, I’ll bring this to you first and then hear from Clover about how is it possible to work with so much suffering and not be overwhelmed with it, but to be able to deeply be present, to listen to the suffering, to feel it fully and not to be drowned by it?
I find my joy in the simple things. And that is true. We, Buddhism talks a lot about transforming suffering, and people think we only think about suffering. And that is a wrong perception. And the balance and the nutriment that helps us is we cultivate a lot of joy and happiness in our community. And this is really real. And only by joy and happiness can we have enough well-being to take care of the loads of suffering that comes. But also what we offer, I don’t think we package our community or our retreat like a fix, and we did a sharing on that. And what is so important that we always bring people to is to be alive again. And to be alive, to feel, to discover and to reconnect back to, first of all, their capacity of touching joy and happiness. And the joy and the happiness of being alive, the joy and happiness of being with the breath. And the environment here is very supportive. So having the time and space to just sit under a tree. There’s a Wake up-er, who, I’ve known her since she was three years old and she’s 18 now. And I asked her, how was your retreat? She’s like, I just am so happy to be with nature. And she’s like, already that for me, I feel is enough, but then you have everything else that comes with it. So the creation of how we are also caring for ourselves gives us the ability to take care of the difficulty, the suffering that comes also from within. And then compassion is one of our energies that we cultivate on a daily basis. And compassion has the foundation of understanding. And when we speak about mindfulness is always mindfulness of suffering first and foremost. Because when we suffer and we know how to suffer, we can suffer less. It’s like when we’re injured, and we know that we’re injured, we will know how to care for our injury. Then we don’t injure ourselves anymore. So it’s the same. But most of us, well, because of our system, our society, we have so many techniques and ways of running away from suffering and even in the looking for well-being, if we’re unskillful, it’s also a running away. And that’s why coming to our practice, this is when we say we do have to talk about suffering and we have to learn to identify and to recognize that we do have suffering inside of us. And it’s okay. It’s okay to have suffering. Buddhism and our practice, when we talk about happiness, it’s not about the extinction of suffering, then we can be happy. But it’s recognizing that even amidst the suffering that we are experiencing, there are moments and there are times in 24 hours that we do have the ability to reconnect to the wonders of life, the wonders of life within us, the wonders of life around us, and just remembering that we have those that care and love for us. That’s a gratitude. So taking care of our happiness, our teacher sometimes explained it like before you’re going to suffering, before going to surgery, you got to be well enough, you have to be strong enough. So on a daily basis, our practice, meditation, our way of being is to always bring that well-being into presence. It’s not just a thought, but making it a reality. And that can be very simple. Like we’re at Thay’s hut. He has a wonderful deck. And many people just come to just sit on the deck and just to look at the scenery, or even they can feel the calmness, the stillness that has been cultivated here, that has been engraved into the hut, the trees, even the air around here. And I’m not sharing this for myself, but I hear it from a lot of people who have come and sat at the hut. So that mindfulness of learning that we have to also bring attention to the happiness and joy that we need to cultivate in our daily life is what gives us the foundation to embrace and handle suffering. And learning to say no, to say no can be a mantra. But no with intention, not of ignoring and avoiding. But no, when we know our limits, when we know if I do more, I’m just going to be angry. I’m just gonna be frustrated. And in my own practice, when I get annoyed, that’s when I’m overwhelmed. I think normally I don’t get annoyed so easily. But when I am doing so much and I don’t have enough space for myself and just a little thing can trigger me, that’s my mindfulness bell, that’s my moment of like, Oh, wow, something as simple as that is making me very upset and it’s making me anxious, it’s making me maybe having violent thought. Right? That’s when we have to be mindful. And that’s when we say, Oh, I need to take care of my well-being. I need some vitamins. And what may that be? That can be with good company, good friends, that can be enjoying a cup of tea, going for a walk, or just allowing yourself to know that you are having these emotions. As simple as that. Our teacher always advertised total relaxation. How important it is to know to just lay there and do nothing. And you can take the energy from the embrace of the earth. Even though we may not be on the grass, we can be on our sofa or on the floor in our house, but just feel the weight of the body. Learning to surrender so that we can rest. And nature teaches us that the animals, when they are hurt, they know how to rest. We’ve forgotten that art of resting. And the capacity to hold is also, collectively. I feel the only way that Plum Village can do what it does is because we do it not by one cell, but many cells of this body. And only by then can the body maybe be having pain on the left arm, but the other body is still functional. And to have that interbeing, don’t look for just full well-being, but we can still be active when there is ill being. And this is the the art of mindful living and the art of suffering. And our teacher, you know, has shared that when suffering is there, the other energy that we need to bring is light, is love, is joy. And that’s why, you know, in the Wake up retreat yesterday, we had a bonfire where we sang around the fire, we danced… And it’s maybe for those who it’s first time to a Buddhist monastery, they might be like, what the heck is going on? But this is so fun. It was almost tribal at one moment, I was I was feeling like, I was feeling like… there was a little moment, I mean, what is going on? Even for myself as a Buddhist monk, as an abbot, I’m like, okay, this is happening. But, you know, for centuries, this is what connected us. In the Upper Hamlet, for the bonfire, because we had three yesterday, Lower Hamlet and then in Son Ha. There was one moment all, all the practitioners, they joined arms into two lines and we were just singing to a few lines and going with the beat and somebody guided us in steps. And at first, like I heard laughter because some was like, This is so hippy, or This is so, I would never do this in my corporate world. You know? But then the genuine this is what it is to be alive. This is what it is to be so connected and to let go of our idea of what is being. And so all of the… We try to weave the joy into the daily life and to not forget it. And that is meditation.
And brother, so last night I was sitting with my wife, Paz, in our garden, and suddenly we heard all this singing. And I thought, What is going? This, you know, this quiet where we never hear, you just hear the birds singing, there was all this singing going on, and we were looking in the direction and I thought, Wow, that’s coming from Plum Village. But I haven’t heard that level of sound. It was like, because there’s no barriers here, the sound travels so clearly, so we could hear every word of what was being sung. So I think you… I saw all the wildlife fleeing.
We know, we gave them a break.
A lot of time this overwhelm, you know, because one of the things I’ve learned about Plum Village and also from psychologists is that it’s very helpful to know the root of what’s causing that overwhelm, because often for a lot of people I know it’s feeling not good enough, is feeling that I’m not good enough, and therefore I have to sacrifice myself or I have to overwork to prove, try to prove that I’m not good enough. And the more we work, the more we realize, actually, that doesn’t help us to feel more good enough. And then we get resentful, frustrated, so we don’t just get resentful and frustrated with other people. We also get resentful and frustrated with ourselves. So one of the things I think that Plum Village really helps is say, you know, when it’s right view, what is our view of ourself? And if we believe we’re not good enough, then we’re constantly trying to cover up for that or to make amends for that. Clover, I noticed you were writing down when I said not feeling good enough, you started writing notes.
Yes, that is me in a nutshell.
Which part? The writing part, or the not good enough part?
Definitely the not good enough.
But Clover, just, you know, just reflecting on what Phap Huu was saying, but also your own experience of working with young people about and also yourself. Because of course, if we’re, if we’re able to deal with our own sense of suffering, then we support all the people around us. It’s not just us. It’s not just you dealing with your suffering that allows you to do, but every person you work with, if their suffering is relieved and they’re able to handle it better, they then are able to impact their friends, their community, their workplaces. But just from a, again, just a personal perspective, what does it feel like just to be in the, you know, you could be doing any job in the world and you just happen to be in a job where you’re constantly dealing with people’s anxiety. You know, that can be quite a difficult place. And I’m just wondering, is that difficult or and if so, how do you work with it?
I’d say the feeling of responsibility is challenging. There can be this feeling that, you know, if I take a day off, then I’m letting someone down or, you know, even if, you know, I get messages on Instagram of young people who might be really in the depths of suffering, you know, experiencing suicidal ideation, and there’s always that pressure of like, oh, what if I don’t, you know, respond to that person? But that was really the purpose of creating Force of Nature. It’s a very selfish project because I wanted to create an organization and a movement of young people, you know, tending to one another. And, you know, I love what you were saying earlier, Brother Phap Huu, around, you know, not kind of having these like hierarchies within Plum Village. And, you know, I love that here. It doesn’t feel like you’re being lectured to ever. It’s like, how do we, you know, all tap into this kind of shared or collective wisdom? And that’s what it feels like within Force of Nature as well. Like our facilitators have been students and continue to be students. And, you know, it’s very much this feeling of being able to, you know, give back. And so it came from a selfish place of like, I can’t carry this by myself. I want to carry this with other young people. And so as much as the responsibility can be difficult, even the simplicity of like, how are we going to pay everyone, you know, in the team? And making sure there’s funding coming through and the admin and logistics that, you know, Plum Village also has to deal with all the time. That can be heavy, but it’s… I’m able to carry it because I’m not carrying it alone. And I’ve also learned the importance of teachers. And in a moment of transparency here, Jo is my coach and he also coaches the Force of Nature leadership team. And it’s so powerful having, not to toot your horn too much, Jo, because it’s gonna go straight to your head…
We’ve got plenty of time. This is the advert…
But it is very powerful having someone like yourself who understands the organization and is so good at holding that container and not trying to offer the solutions on a silver platter, but really guiding us to, you know, what we know to be true. That has been really profound because, to your point around, you know, working with lots of anxious people, naturally the Force of Nature team were very anxious people. You know, we’re, you know, we’ve come together in this shared anxiety about the state of the world. But it’s remembering that the flipside of that is, you know, this expression of love. And that’s the side of eco anxiety that often isn’t talked about is we feel this way because we have this deep connection to the Earth and we have this deep connection to one another and one another’s suffering. And with that, you know, the anxiety and frustration and anger might be what catalyzed us to action, but the things that sustain our activism are, you know, the joy and the community and the connection. And that was another really profound teaching for me. The first time I came to Plum Village was it’s not like you have to get rid of your suffering to experience the joy and happiness, you can hold both of those things in the same breath. And yesterday, the Wake Up retreat really felt like emblematic of that. Like we had this really beautiful sharing circle where a number of us, myself included, were, you know, crying and feeling that pain and the sadness. And then 5 seconds later, kind of like breaking out into maybe slightly hysterical laughter and then ending the day, you know, hands joined, singing and dancing and celebrating one another. And, you know, it’s realizing that that is what it is to be human. You know, being human isn’t some pursuit of just experiencing happiness, just experiencing joy. Like 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. And so that is something I’ve learned here in Plum Village, and it’s something that I’ve also learned from you, Jo, working with you.
Well, just to return the compliment, because actually one of the things, one of the Plum Village practices is about watering the positive seeds. We’re often stuck in the negative and what’s wrong. And we’re not so good at showing gratitude and showing what is going right. And my experience of Force of Nature is just the extraordinary commitment and dedication and love that you all show. And what a lot of people, it’s a bit like an iceberg, you know, that people might see Force of Nature as just, you know, you showing up and doing the trainings and giving talks and doing your own podcast series. But actually young people have set up the organization, you run the legal stage, you do the fundraising, you do the HR, you do the hiring, you do… I mean, basically you do the strategy, the visioning, the implementation, the sort of reworking of what’s going right, what’s going wrong, you know, that whole part of the iceberg that’s never seen. It’s that you do all of that, as very young people without years of experience, without having gone through that process in a corporate first or with other bigger organizations that you’re coming together as a group of young people and creating this and doing it consciously. And maybe actually that would be good to talk a bit about how you run as an organization. Because it’s not hierarchical, there’s hierarchy, because there’s functions and responsibilities, but actually how you listen to each other and how you’re maybe working differently, because we talk a lot about that, about how you are inside is what you create outside. So maybe share a bit about how you are trying to… or not trying to, how you are creating a culture that is actually regenerative.
I think by my experience, personal experience of burnout has also been reflected in the organization. And I think we’ve reached these moments where we’ve all been incredibly depleted and recognized as a team that we can’t keep going in this direction. And so there are some very practical things that I can talk about. So for one, we introduced a four day workweek, which is excellent. I highly recommend. You know, part of the challenge as activist, it almost feels like our entire identities can become activism. And you do need boundaries. You do need moments to switch off. And you also have conversations that don’t circle around the climate crisis and to connect on different levels and from different perspectives. And, you know, for us, the four day workweek was, yeah, how do we build more rest into the week? But also like, how do we really encourage team to, you know, have lives outside of work, outside of activism because it’s really hard and that it’s not a 9 to 5 for any of us. Right? We already struggle to switch off for, you know, reasons we’ve talked about, the feelings of guilt and responsibility. So we’ve really tried to create a container to encourage people in the same way there are lazy days here at Plum Village to simply just rest. We also are very vocal about our needs. So when we start any call or, you know, team meeting at Force of Nature, the first question is, you know, what does everyone need for this to be a productive call? You know? And sometimes it’s simply saying, Hey, I’m feeling really tired today, and if I’m a little bit short, it’s nothing personal. I’m just like feeling really depleted right now. You know, or someone else might say, you know, actually, I need to switch my camera off. Or someone else might say, you know, I’m actually feeling really exhausted, I need to take a mental health day. Right? And no questions asked. If you need a mental health day, you need a mental health day. So it’s really embracing like open communication with one another, having a lot of transparency. And also that trust comes from the kind of like discipline of having boundaries. That’s one of the things that, you know, again, I love about Plum Village is the schedule, honestly, like, which is kind of surprising, but I think is, you know, someone who carries a lot of responsibility and has to make a lot of decisions within my organization, like having the simplicity of like this is when we wake up, this is when we show up, you know, this is what we practice, is really beautiful. And it’s the same at Force of Nature, like, you know, we have relationships outside of work, but we don’t message one another outside of working hours if it’s work related. We have different communication channels like we message on WhatsApp if it’s personal, and it stays on Slack, if it’s, you know, professional. Right? So I think having those clear delineations and lines again really helps us to show up for one another. So it’s an ongoing practice. And I think also when it comes to decision making, you know, we do have a leadership team, but every major strategic decision, any decision that’s going to affect the whole team goes to the team for a vote. Right? So we have worked really hard to create this kind of flat structure where it isn’t, surprise, surprise, a benevolent dictator at the top kind of saying this is how we’re going to do things. It’s very much recognizing that like Force of Nature, in its spirit, wants to be an expression of the young people who make up our community. And that’s only possible if the young people in our community have an equal voice and are able to equally contribute. And next year we’re going to also be introducing our own youth advisory board. So we’re already a team of young people, but we’re like, Well, actually we should have advisors who are young people as well. Jo is also one of our advisors, at Force of Nature.
I’m very young at heart.
So we have this amazing group, which Jo is part of, called the Pollinators, who are our, sorry Jo, quote unquote elders who help guide the organization. And we also want to bring in, you know, a complementary group of young people who can keep us in check. Who can advise on accessibility, who can advise on, you know, lived experience that might not reflect our own. So that we can… When we say we’re serving young people, we’re genuinely doing everything we can to do that.
So, Brother Phap Huu, I think we got a nun in the making here. I think the new abbess of Lower Hamlet is sitting before us.
Don’t tell her boyfriend…
I honestly had this conversation with him last time I came back from Plum Village. I was like, If it wasn’t for you…
He better behave himself.
Call it the force of plum trees…
Right. One last thing that’s on my mind that I’d like to explore, and you raised it at the beginning, Clover, you said, you know, how do you bring Plum Village home in the sense of the practices? And there was a major retreat, brother, a couple of months ago in Canada, in Hollyhock Retreat Center for Climate leaders and activists run by and facilitated by Plum Village. And there was a follow up Zoom call which I facilitated of, this is two months on, of just allowing everyone to come and connect and share. And the strongest thing was when I was in Plum Village, I felt this, this, this. And now I’ve been traveling all the time and I went home to my young kids and I found it really, really hard to maintain the practice. And I think that’s true beyond Plum Village for any retreat or any conference where people around personal development in the setting, it feels like perfect and we feel that anything is possible. And then we go home and almost real life comes back and we find it very difficult to maintain anything. So it would good just maybe to share a bit about that. And Clover, I know, particularly for you, I remember we had, on the retreat you were in last summer, there was a… We had a circle at the end of, you know, commitments. So what did people want to commit to that they felt that they wanted to get home and continue. And some people did one very simple thing, like it was someone said, Well, when I’m sitting around the dinner table with my children, I’m going to give them my full attention, not process all the projects in the back. But Clover Hogan, God bless her, and all who sail with her, came out with a sort of a list of ten things. Everything from I’m going to convince my parents to move next door to Plum Village, so I got a place to stay and I can come more often, to I’m not going to multitask anymore. And you’ve mentioned that one, but it would be quite good to just get a flavor… We don’t have to go through all ten because that could take forever, but a flavor of what the commitments you made were and what you found easy or difficult. You know, what you did take home and what you were able to maintain. You’ve talked in some ways about how the teachings landed with you, but I’m talking about your personal commitments at that moment.
Yeah, I was maybe a little audacious with my to do list, my commitments. I love a list, so a list is always helpful. I think I need to revisit it. But I mean, frankly, I think the kind of reintegration was difficult, and I think that’s true of like anything that we place a lot of expectation on. Right? And it was a really, really genuinely transformative experience for me. And I was like, this is it. This is a turning point. Everything’s going to get better from here on. And it almost felt like the universe is conspiring against me that on my route home, it was like, I missed my train and then something else went wrong and then I couldn’t get into the house and it was, you know, thing after thing. And I was like, Oh, okay, deep breathing, you know, testing the patience. So there is some things that were really challenging because, you know, when you’re here, you’re surrounded by, you know, the noble silence, the mindful eating, and then you’re kind of like thrust back into your normal life. And it takes so much more kind of like mental resilience to try and maintain a lot of those things when you aren’t supported by other people who are kind of following the practice. So, you know, I announced to my boyfriend, all right, we’re going to do silent eating. And he’s like, What? And so he took that as a challenge to, like, make me break, like, see if you could, like, crack me up and laugh while I was eating and I was, you know. So there’s definitely a little tension to begin with, but there was certain things that I found really helpful. Like simply, one of the things I committed to is not multitasking. You know, there is here we have like service meditation. So, you know, placing a lot of like intentionality on, you know, even washing the dishes or doing the chores, like the mundane things that I would usually like stick a podcast on or watch Netflix or something just to, like, avoid being in the present moment. And I’ve stopped doing that. So now, you know, when I’m cooking dinner or I’m folding laundry, I’m, you know, practicing my breathing. I’m trying to be very present. And so those little things, I found much more kind of like attainable. And then I think also just recognizing, like when I came back, I voiced to my friend that I was kind of struggling. I was like, I’ve had this incredible experience and frankly, all I want to do is just go back. I’m like, I want to run away from the friction, intention, my problems and like, just go back to Plum Village. And she said, Well, you know, there’s this expression, you know, be in the world, but not of it. And it’s this idea that, yes, you go into retreat and you have these experiences, but then it’s also your role to go back into the world and to continue practicing. And to the point earlier, it’s not about this kind of escapism. It’s how do you do the practice in the absence of seeing that, you know, in the world around you? And so that for me has definitely been a test. But yeah, something that I try to work on every day. And so far, my parents are coming over in September to look at property around Plum Village. So I would say that’s not quite ticked off just yet.
It’s in process, yes. Yeah.
And, Brother Phap Huu, anything to add to that? Because it’s something I imagine most people experience, as Clover said, there’s this place of tranquility, of peace, of quiet, of contemplation, of consciousness and mindfulness that everyone is here, it’s an intentional community that is held and then people go back to their lives. I know that one of the things you suggest is people do one thing, rather than ten things. I mean, Clover can clearly do ten things even if she’s doing one linearly and not multitasking them. But anything to add to what Clover said?
I would say that to remember that you can be mindful. I think people forget that they can be mindful when they are outside of Plum Village and after a retreat, because we’ve experienced it, and it’s real. Like what we experience in Plum Village, like the mundane thing, like washing our bowls, helping clean the toilets, doing the garden, etc. And our way of introducing meditation and introducing mindfulness is to see that actually by making a cup of tea, it can be a real act of connection. And just to remember that spirituality doesn’t belong in a monastery or in retreat, it can be helpful because we are, as humans, like we like to put things in baskets and then we forget… Like our dualism is really strongly. We just like to divide. And oh, they are like that because like this, I can’t be like that because… And here, like we said, we have all seeds. So remember that it is possible, but it may not look like when you’re in Plum Village or in retreat. For example, we travel a lot as monastics to go and give retreats and I used to get really anxious when they start to call for boarding because it’s collective consciousness. Everybody is just eager to be at the front. And the main purpose is we’re all going to be on the airplane.
And we have assigned seats.
And we have assigned seats. And since we already did our boarding, check in, they’re not going to leave us until we’re like maybe 2 hours late or one hour late. So it’s like in those moments, for me, I’m lining up, but I have a huge smile because I’m so free at this moment. There are people, Oh, you want to go first? Go ahead. You know, because we’re all going to be on the airplane. We’re all going to get our seat. It’s… We forget the aspect of community even in that moment. And there was one time like I just always had this smile. So this one person was like, You are a happy person. And I’m like, Yeah, you know? And I said, You can be happy too. I think it was quite challenging for this person, but like, for myself, like when I go home, I’m in a very different environment. I’m not with practitioners or long term practitioners. My parents do have a route in the practice too, but it’s also just to be free from our view of what is practice. That is quite important. That’s what I would like to add to this and be creative. That’s why our teacher always says it’s the art of mindful living. And so when we go back to our walk of life, just look for the nuggets in your day that can really allow you to be you, to be connected, to have a moment that you can smile, a smile to a cup of tea, a smile to waiting in line. Or even when you’re at the bus. I’m always attentive like, who’s coming in? Who’s coming now? If they need the seat. You know, for me, that’s practice. I’m still cultivating kindness. I’m cultivating awareness. So I’ve helped people put up their luggage, you know, just like these simple things that we think it should be human nature in a way to help for each other. But you would, I’ve been so surprised at how selfish everyone is. And for me, this is where spirituality becomes a way of life. And it doesn’t have a label because I’m a Buddhist and I’m doing this for you, and please remember that. You know, it’s just like this is where it should trickle into every breath, every action. And another message and aspiration is to keep building communities, sanghas of practice. And I hope Force of Nature can also establish like that. And I think you already are doing that because I hear in the sharing. But it’s that refuge where it’s not about the work, but is the refuge about connection. Just having a place to come together and to sit, to check in, do a weather report like how’s everybody doing? You can do a lightning round. And that, these little things just to hear each other is really important. And I think one of the power of a retreat is you’re not alone. It’s this collective energy that is being cultivated together. And so our deepest aspiration, why we do all these retreats is to empower every individual so that they can bring this collective energy and this mindfulness energy and manifest it into where they are, into their community, their society, and as our deepest aspiration for the climate communities also. And I think it already happened when we see each other at events, but we all have a shared experience of retreat. We’ve learned something more deeper about ourself. Suddenly there’s a deeper relationship and the relationship is not just work. So community has so many layers and a spiritual practice is always held within people. You know, Plum Village, Thay, our teacher, always speaks about the sangha as a jewel. There’s a three jewels in Buddhism, and a lot of tradition speaks about the Buddha as the first jewel, because of course, he’s the one that became enlightened and taught all of us and so on. And then the Dharma, which is the spoken words, is the wisdom that has been transmitted. But for our teacher, he said, the real jewel is the sangha, is the people that are still practicing because that makes the Buddha still alive and that makes the Dharma still alive. The Buddha is not somebody of the past, is that Buddha nature that is still here. The Dharma is not in a textbook that we all bow to, that we look and we put it in the museum and we just like, you know, just pay respect to it. But it’s important that it’s a living Dharma. So the community for us is what embodies these other two jewels. And that’s why the sangha for us is a jewel. When people come together, when people sit together, cultivate something so beautiful together, it can be very simple, but it’s so profound. And so our deepest aspiration is to have a multitude of practice centers, a multitude of Force of Nature, of force of awakenings, and that’s why Wake Up was born in 2008. Our teacher saw that he needed the young people with him because the young people who he started his Engaged Buddhism with from the root of the war. And this is not neglecting the elders, the seniors, those who have been here before us, but they’re already here. But it’s also just to remember and to empower and let the youth know that this is a very good investment for their individual well-being, their suffering, as well as to co-create the future we want to see by not planning, but by being. And then from the being, you know, we have Clover, we have many others, youth leaders and young business leaders, influencers and so on, all walks of life, artists, actors and so on to then bring this awakening into their daily life and then let it trickle into the different parts of the world. And as a monk, you know, as Plum Village, we are like the source of energy. When you are forgetting or you feel that you need a break, you need to stop. This is what a retreat is for. And I had a very wonderful conversation yesterday. One of the young girl who I’ve known for two years, she said, Brother, this year I’m coming with… and I don’t have the beginner’s mind. I don’t have the wow factor anymore. Is something wrong with me? I said, No, you just need a rest and you can only come to a retreat for the first time. And our practice is not to be attached to those moments, but to remember that those moments are gems that have given us wisdom to come back to this practice. And so just to remember that the practice is a continuous journey, and it’s to meet us at every state of mind or state of being that we’re in and not to run after the same feeling that we had in the first retreat or the second retreat, but to begin again, begin anew again in this retreat because we’re ever changing. In Zen, we always say, you can’t swim in the same river as the same person because we’re always changing. So the river is always flowing and so that water is already different. And we are already different also. So the river and us are also new, but we are also still the nature of water and still the nature of being. So these are like the nuggets that we would always like to encourage those who leave the retreat or those who are continuing the practice to just remember that first, yes, we can be mindful. It is possible. Number two, don’t be attached to the view of what a practice is. And number three, do find that community, even if it’s one or two persons, it doesn’t have to be 700 people. And then remember that the retreats are always going on and be open to yourself also. And this for me, has supported my own journey because without openness, then I can become so attached. Right? Like now, coming back to the question of like, how do I feel when it’s such a refuge for so many people? And I can only say that because this is a real living community that has hope and love and real genuine care for each other, and that has been embedded and it’s a living thing. And that’s why I’m still here. And I think this is why so many people can feel that just when they arrive. And it does take time, though, to surrender and kind of like to slowly let yourself sink into. And we can do this not just in a retreat like Plum Village, but I believe in an organization like Force of Nature or in many other workplaces or communities, we can embody these elements because that’s what helps us feel so connected.
Beautifully spoken, brother, thank you. Clover, we are going to end in a moment. But I know you had any… Is there anything you wanted to ask Brother Phap Huu that would not only be of value to yourself, but maybe of any other young people or anyone who is listening. So is anything that’s really deep on your mind that you think, Oh God, I don’t want to leave this room and not ask that one question.
Well, on the theme of lists, I wrote a long list of questions.
Which we did….
But I will say I actually think we answered a few of them over the course of this conversation. One question in the wake of Plum Village and that first experience, I think I’ve been able to heal a lot of the divisions that I felt within like youth activism and in some of my own relationships. But the challenge I continue to come up against is engaging with what in activism we might quote unquote, call the other side. So, you know, engaging with people in, you know, disproportionate kind of seats of power. And we’ve seen these kind of interactions play out, whether it was, you know, Lauren, climate activist, you know, on stage at Countdown, going up against the CEO of Shell and, you know, asking these very difficult questions. I was with a group of young people recently, very young people, like nine through 15 years old who, yeah, interrogated a number of CEOs and corporations and said, you know, how do you look your children in the eyes, what you’re doing? Which I think is often the power of youth, is that ability to cut through and speak from such a place of, you know, humanity, which is often void in these kind of like corporate boardrooms or even within places like COP, they feel very sanitized. It’s almost like they want us to forget about the very, you know, problems that we’re talking about. You know, outside of those kind of interactions which can feel deeply uncomfortable both for, you know, the person on the receiving end of that interrogation and also for the young people who are having to do that kind of emotional labor and going into these spaces. I guess the question on my mind is how do we engage in a way that holds both the compassion and seeing the, you know, humanity and interbeing and seeing ourselves in one another? How do we hold that with the accountability and the fact that in many instances, the people in these seats of power have had every opportunity to act and to show up with courage at a time when it feels like, yes, maybe we could have had more peaceful negotiations, you know, 30 years ago, and now we’re kind of under this ticking clock, this countdown, the climate crisis. How do we engage? How do we choose to show up? And how do we hold space for those feelings that, at least for me personally, can feel very conflicting?
That’s a deep question. I think that’s for another podcast. But no, but I think I can try my best to to put it in the [the footnotes of…] in a teapot. I think you, I would say there’s a lot of insight already in what you shared and what you asked. And everything that we should feel, like the anger, the frustration, it’s valid. It’s valid, as human beings, when we see others do harm and not care, it’s only natural for us to have feelings because I think if we don’t, then we’re also becoming quite disconnected and greedy and so on. So how to show up and how to come and meet these people, first of all, is we have to prepare ourselves. Like, I would say, have a few mantras that you bring with you. Like, that person is still somebody who needs love, for example. I use this a lot. I enter into conversations where, because of the practice, I’ve learned to identify my anger, I’ve learned to identify my frustration. And in this moment, I don’t say, Wait, I got a practice with it and then I’m going to come back. So that’s my training already, that’s what I’ve been investing for so many years. But in these moments when we are there and present, our way of speaking, our way of looking, our attitude, for me is really important. For me is what I would like to encourage, what kind of energies that we are bringing in that moment. We can have anger, but do not let that anger overtake us because we can invite another energy up. Mindfulness of anger is a different energy already. Suddenly you’re tender, you’re softer, because you can bring in the fierce clarity to ask the question, to prove, to invite them to see the truth. There’s a way to invite somebody to see the real truth. And we don’t lose our ethics. We don’t lose what we stand for. And I speak of it for humanity. I’m not speaking it for individualism. And suddenly that also has a power of collectiveness. And very fortunately, we have… In the process there’s an aspiration to do a deeper documentary on Thay’s life. And we’ve been able to find a few images and footage of him speaking about the war. And we can hear him say that if you asked me what Vietnam wants, Thay would say, Vietnam wants the killing to stop, the bombing to cease because we suffer so much. But in that moment when he’s speaking, he’s speaking for the whole. He’s bringing people to the collective level. So the intention of letting them see the suffering as a collective, I think is very powerful. And normally people feel attack and they shut down right away. And what I’ve learned is I see you, I hear you, but I want you to have, I would like for you to hear and see my experience. So I’ve learned to not come in and saying you’re wrong and this is what is. Because suddenly they shut off right away. So a skillfulness, but on a spiritual side is the cultivation and the preparation. When we know we need to be at these conferences or at these meetings, at these roundtable discussion, the preparation for it is important. Allow yourself to arrive into your stability, your freshness, your still water that is clear, and the space. And if possible, be with those who can support you around you. And that’s why our teacher never traveled alone. Even if he went to the United Nations, he said, I don’t come unless you allow me to bring my community, whether it is ten, whether it’s five, whether it’s 30. Because that also shows and he’s trying to change the narrative that is one person to change the world. It is one person to have impact, but it’s all of us. So this is also what I would like to sow the seed into movement of negotiation, of looking deeply together, not as one, but as many. And our teacher’s real… He did had really big ambition. He stopped going to conferences because he saw that actually people are more angry than the peace that they’re talking about. And all the discussions were just notions, but the reality is nobody’s actually doing it. And that’s why he invested so much in retreats, because retreat is where we learn about it together and we apply it all together. And he did had this wish that maybe one day Plum Village or other centers that are connected to Plum Village can hold a three day retreat before negotiation, allowing people to first be human, to know why we are working towards the world that we want to see because we need to experience it. It’s not just ideas. So that for me is something that my teacher has talked about and in some way I feel there’s a responsibility as his continuation of like, how can this also become a real fruit for many organization. And in the last retreat there was one organization that reached out to us and said they are very serious about bringing a few monastics to lead their team into at least two or three days of practice before they get into their annual meetings and so on. And to feel that connection and to remember why we are doing what we’re doing. But back to your question, it’s also okay to have the feelings that we feel, we’re not trying to suppress, and the intention what we’re bringing to is to help them wake up. That’s where I would always touch base on when I go to retreats, you know, we’re not here for us to become famous or to become well known, but it’s just like we’re just here to allow people to wake up and that intention becomes very authentic in our way of showing up. And so just to contemplate on that and reflect that, and as you grow, share it back to us and how you do it. And so we can also experience that in our work at the collective awakening. And so find a few foundations, a few mantras, or even sometimes I would have like a pebble in my pocket that would help me just feel something, you know, just to be reminded. Because we have pebble meditation that represents elements like flower fresh, mountain solid, water stillness, and space freedom. And so all of these, we all can have this hidden support that can be there. And the preparation, I would say give yourself… the hour before, don’t go through all the notes because you’ve done it already. Trust yourself, give yourself the time and space to just be. Whether it is walking, meditation, resting, drinking a cup of tea, and then trust yourself. And the mantra You are enough in order to know that you’re not alone. And the second aspect is, now that you’ve been in Plum Village, you have a whole community with you. And sometime borrow us. There’s many times I borrow my brothers, my sisters. I borrow my teacher, I borrow the whole ancestral lineage that have been there before me. And I don’t feel alone. And Thay has said this so many times, Thay feels is not him giving the talk, but it is the collective wisdom that has come together for him to just pass that message. And suddenly it’s also not personal. Same source of energy.
Good question. Beautiful answer. So, Clover, thank you so much for… This is lazy day, so this is day, I think, four of the retreat. So thank you for not being so lazy and for joining us this morning, Brother, thank you for your wisdom, as always. And…
And thank you, Jo.
It’s a pleasure. And also Nick, who is here, doing the sound recording.
And dear friends, let us, enjoy a guided meditation so that we can all come back to our breathing. And this guided meditation has been recorded for our online retreat, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet.
This is a guided meditation on the virtues of the Earth.
Breathing in, I am aware this is an inbreath. Breathing out, I am aware this is an outbreath. Inbreath. Outbreath. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the Earth as a living, breathing organism. Breathing out, I smile to the wonder of the Earth. Earth, living and breathing. Smiling in wonder. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the stability of the Earth. Breathing out, I admire the perseverance, equanimity, and endurance of the Earth in the face of calamities. Stability of Earth, perseverance, equanimity and forbearance. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the creativity of the Earth. Breathing out, I admire an infinite wonder of sounds, color, vegetation and life forms. Creativity of the Earth, infinite wonders. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the nondiscrimination of the Earth. Breathing out, I admire the capacity of the Earth to welcome back and bring to life again all forms of life. Nondiscrimination of Earth, welcoming back and bringing to life again and again. Breathing in, I take refuge in the virtues of the Earth, in her patience, stability, creativity and nondiscrimination. Breathing out, I’m in touch with the qualities of patience, stability, creativity and nondiscrimination within myself. The virtues of the Earth, virtues within myself. Breathing in, I see myself as a child of the Earth. Breathing out, the Earth and I are breathing as one. Child of the Earth, breathing as one.
You can find all of our previous episodes of our podcast on the Plum Village App, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and all other podcast platforms. If you like what you’re listening to, then please subscribe to The Way Out Is In. And also if you fancy, it would be lovely if you could leave a review so that others can also see how they can maybe benefit from listening.
And you can also find all previous guided meditation in the On the Go section of the Plum Village App. This podcast is co-produced by Global Optimism and the Plum Village App with support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you feel inspired to support the podcast moving forward, please visit TNHF.org/donate. And we want to thank all of our friends and collaborators. Clay, a.k.a. The Podfather, our co-producer; Cata, the founder of the Plum Village App; Joe, our audio editing; Anca, our show notes and publishing; jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels. Nick, Brother Niem Thung, Maarten, our sound engineers.