Welcome to episode 54 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.
This week, we bring you a very special joint episode of The Way Out Is In and fellow podcast Outrage + Optimism, which explores the stories behind climate change headlines. From the peace and tranquility of the International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino speak with Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana Figueres, a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, was one of the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, and is a valued member of the Plum Village Sangha. Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016, she is also the co-founder of Global Optimism, co-host of Outrage + Optimism, and co-author of the bestselling The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.
Tom Rivett-Carnac is a political strategist, author, and podcaster who has spent more than 20 years working to address the climate and ecological crises. He is also a Founding Partner of Global Optimism, co-host of the podcast Outrage + Optimism, and co-author of The Future We Choose.
Listeners of both podcasts are invited to join an intimate and deep conversation which covers the spiritual elements missing from the climate movement; moving beyond linear timelines into exponential transformation; how to develop the power within ourselves to drive change; non-attachment to views; listening without judgment; what happens when we all stop; and much more. Plus, what is spiritual power and how can it support us?
So bring your tea to the table and let the radical collaboration begin.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit)
The Four Dharma Seals of Plum Village
The B Team
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet
Music for Difficult Times: Awakening the Heart of Compassion by Brother Phap Linh
The Way Out Is In: ‘Being the Change We Want to See in the World: A Conversation with Christiana Figueres (Episode #21)’
The Way Out Is In: ‘Benefitting from a Spiritual Practice: In Conversation with Tom Rivett-Carnac (Episode #37)’
The Way Out Is In: ‘Bringing the Ultimate Dimension Down to Earth (Episode #40)’
“Recognizing our own presence is already a power.”
“The linearity of time is something that those of us who work on climate change live with on a daily basis. We have an alarm clock that is with us all the time because we have very clear timelines. We know that by 2100, we absolutely must have guaranteed that we do not go over 1.5 degrees [Celsius]. We know that in order to get there, we have to be at net zero by 2050. We know that in order to get to net zero by 2050, we have to be at one half of global emissions by 2030. And we know that to be at half emissions by 2030, we have to reduce yearly by 7%. So we take time and we pull it into our current experience and we derive mathematically, we derive then the implications of time upon our work. And so it is not surprising that those of us who work on climate change have a huge anxiety about time.”
“Time and space, we have to be attentive and mindful of them, but we can also be free from them, because this present moment that we’re living deeply is the seed that we need to plant for the future.”
“Some of our transformation and actions of today, we may not see them until two, three, or five generations later – but nothing is lost. And that is the insight. And I believe it’s the truth of karma. The word karma, for us, is not what you hear in music: ‘What comes around, goes around,’ ‘Do better’… Yes, do better, but karma is much more profound than that. The actions of today, we don’t see them. Some of it, we will experience right away; we experience the transformation right away. But there are deeper transformations that need time for ripening.”
“Love has no frontier, it goes on forever.”
“There’s no way to find common ground without respecting and understanding the differences, because then you don’t see what’s common.”
“You can be a different person in how you show up.”
“When you are able to live in the present moment, the right action emerges out of that space, out of that ultimate dimension that you are able to inhabit. If you can stay there and can trust that the best way to prepare for the future is to be in the present moment when it comes – rather than spend all of your time in your head trying to plan it out and think it through, which I think a lot of people get stuck in. Then, when that moment comes, what’s needed is there.”
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God” – Aeschylus.
I would be very intrigued to explore how do we hybridize the two introductions?
Hello and welcome to The Way Out Is In.
That would be fun. How do we hybrid the two?
How do we hybridize them?
How does yours start?
Hello, and welcome to Outrage and Optimism. And then we just…
I’m Tom Carnac…
And then today we speak about…
I think it would be hilarious to say hello and welcome to, and then you go with your voice.
Outrage and Optimism.
No, the way out is in.
And then you say, and Outrage and Optimism.
Hello and welcome to… He have the thumbs up.
Okay, let’s try again.
Hello and welcome to…
The Way Out Is In.
I’m Christiana Figueres.
No, no, outrage…
We know who you are, we’ve done that bit.
What is important is all the phones that are on the table should be on airplane mode.
Let’s try again.
We’re gonna send all these to Clay. He’ll have fun with these.
Hello and welcome to…
The way out is in.
And outrage and optimism.
So dear listeners, what’s going on here? This is a first. So this is a first because we are sitting in Plum Village doing a joint recording of Outrage and Optimism and The Way Out Is In. And let’s see who we have in the room.
Hi, I am Brother Pha Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk.
I’m Christiana Figueres.
I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.
And I am Jo Confino. And this is, as I say, a historic first. We should have a fanfare playing because we have been sort of partners. We have been doing guest episodes with each other. Christiana and Tom have been supporting the Way Out Is In podcast. And Christiana and Tom are here, in Plum Village. We’ve just completed a retreat and we are sitting around this very modest small kitchen table of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in Upper Hamlet, in the monks’ residence, and in his hut, which is called Sitting Still Hut. And we are doing a special recording because the four of us are all together. So, Christiana and Tom, let’s talk about why you’re here this week and what’s been going on. Christiana?
Tom always goes first.
No, no, no. The first thing I was gonna say is it is an enormous pleasure and privilege to be back here with you. Lovely to see you both. And I’m a huge fan of your podcast. I love the way that you record them together, but I do not like the fact that it’s 6:00 in the morning and we had to get here soon after dawn to record this podcast. So you clearly have more of a work ethic at The Way Out Is In than at Outrage and Optimism.
Yes, but Tom, you will see the sunrise.
Dawn will come.
Dawn will come, eventually. You may be able to slightly hear the birds tweeting and singing in the background. Christiana, let’s go first with you. What have you been doing? What we’ve been doing this week?
What have we been doing? Yes. And it’s a very large we. This week we have jointly, collectively, the whole of, the whooole of Plum Village and our Global Optimism, we have been hosting a very special retreat. It was quite unique first because it was much shorter than we usually do and that we were comfortable with doing. And because it was quite different to the retreats we usually do around the climate challenge, in that we usually bring a rather large number of people together who come from different organizations, different viewpoints, different worldviews, different approaches, attached to different solutions, very often completely diametrically opposed. And Plum Village does its magic with these people. And we can talk about the magic, but this time it was actually quite different. This time the initiative came from the B Team, from Halla, the CEO of the B Team, who after having been here last year as an individual, said, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, this is way too good to keep it to myself. I want to bring my entire staff and the group of leaders. So she negotiated the unnegotiable with Plum Village, which was to reserve this time for that retreat. And then we asked if we could bring part of our Global Optimism team in, and we ended up having four or five organizations, all of whom have worked together, are working together or will work together on the climate challenge and how do we address it. So there was very little difference of approaches. We’re all in a collaborative mode. We’re all focused on highlighting the positive stories that are emerging from the different efforts. And it was quite unique. It was quite unique in precisely in having people who are already collaborating, but taking them to a much deeper place within themselves and from there, a much deeper space for collaboration in the near future.
Thank you. And Tom, a lot of people come to Plum Village or the climate retreats of Plum Village feeling very guilty at taking any time off. They think they should be sort of at their desk, getting on with it, trying to, you know, save the planet, trying to get change to happen and working flat out. But after being here, we see them go through real transformations and a real recognition that they need to start looking after themselves in order to care for the world. And I’m just wondering if you just want to reflect firstly on how the time has been for you personally, but actually what have you seen? Because actually everyone has talked about going through some form of transformation.
So I think a couple of observations from these few days, and it has only been a few days, which is amazing. And that’s sort of obvious, but to me, interesting insights. One is that transformation happens, and that sounds simple, but we arrived here a few days ago, everybody feeling somewhat stressed, a little nervous, not quite sure what this is going to be. And a few days later, you see lots of examples and a sort of a strangely almost consistent experience of people finding something in themselves from this experience that kind of slightly breaks them open, but also opens up this vista of possibility in their lives. And that’s incredibly hopeful. It’s just been a few days and you see a range of people with a very different perspective on their lives. And one thing that I’ve witnessed is that we feel very stuck in the climate movement. We feel like we don’t know what to do now. We feel like the challenges are so big. We feel a sense of rising panic. And to witness a group of 30, 40 people arrive with that collective feeling, I’m very familiar with being with people with that feeling, I identified very quickly. And to stop, to feel, to allow the spaciousness to penetrate them and then to leave with a different energy about themselves really reawakens my sense of how transformation is possible in this world and that that comes from a different place to where we think it comes from. It doesn’t come from the construction of very clever, a very clever ideological view that then is applied to a worldly problem. It comes from a pause out of which what is needed now arrives. So that leaves me with a sense of calm and deeper peace myself, but also a real sense of the possibility of transformation in the world.
Thank you, Tom. So, Phap Huu, you have thousands of people coming to Plum Village every year seeking refuge, seeking to, wanting to see the world with fresh eyes, wanting to deal with aspects of their suffering, wanting to change their lives in some way. As Tom says, there’s some magic, you have some magic dust. Well, what is it about Plum Village that allows people to come back home to themselves in order to then, when they leave, to feel refreshed, to feel that they maybe have more agency and more ability to lead their lives in the way they want rather than being victims of their lives?
I think first is the individual willing to come to Plum Village, willing to be embraced by the unknown. And I think that is part of the spiritual journey, is to step out of our comfort zone. But the support that you get in Plum Village is a living community of practice. And I do believe that everyone who arrives can feel the peace that has been cultivated for over 41 years in Plum Village. And then we take them on a journey. And it’s an invitation. We never force anyone into the practice. And our invitation is always to connect to oneself. Going inwards, like the name of the podcast, the Way Out Is In, and telling them that you do have the capacity to touch stillness inside of you, to be aware of what is happening in your body, what you need to care for, and then to recognize your non stop thinking radio station. And it can be scary, the silence that we do offer, particularly in the evening. Because it seems like, what am I doing here? When there’s silence, we have this habit of trying to achieve something because this culture that has been established in our times is so strong and so profound that we get to meet our own habits. So our invitation and our journey is inviting people inwards to, number one, know that they have the seed of mindfulness and it’s not woo woo, it’s not something that you only accomplish after 10, 20 years of practice, but you can touch the practice right away. And in the orientation that we offered in this retreat, we did recognize everyone’s a little bit of unease and also maybe discomfort with just being so still. But once we do invite everybody to come back to the breath and connect to the body, the face, the shoulders, the hands, the legs, and you can feel the collective energy of the whole community of practitioners, even though they are very new. But everybody is settling in and there is this element where we have to surrender to our self. It’s not something outside of us. The practice is actually really is the here and now, it’s the body, it’s the mind, it’s the spirit that we all have, and that we, in the teachings, we guide them inwards first, taking care of oneself is crucial. And it may sound selfish because like what Tom just mentioned, like, there’s so much to do, there’s so much to care for. But how can we care for it if we’re so depleted? How can we do if we have no energy? Where is that fuel? Where’s that love coming from? Then we’re just taking energy of anger, frustration, and we’re working from that base. And that’s also very destructive for oneself. So our insight in Buddhism is to do and to care for oneself is already action in order for us to have strength and courage and clarity to act. And we also really prepared the retreat. Food is a very important element. So we, in Plum Village, are offering from the spiritual food as well as the nourishing edible foods and the cuisines… Not only the food tastes delicious, but the heart of pure love. And I think you can taste the love. Yeah.
Christiana, for those listeners who may not know, do you want to just talk about how you became engaged, briefly, with how you came into contact with Plum Village? And also, why do you think it’s important? You are now supporting Plum Village in creating sort of retreats around the world for…
Sorry, Plum Village is now supporting the climate communities. It’s the other way around.
I always know that Christiana is going to get it precise. But why are you helping to create these retreats? What do you think that they can achieve?
I recently realized that I have been aspiring to learn the teachings of our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh for ten years now. And I was surprised to go, wow, ten years. I was surprised because usually after practicing something for ten years, there’s a certain degree of mastery that you would expect from yourself and that’s clearly not what I see in Christiana. So I was humbled to go like, Oh boy, what have I done in these ten years? But yes, it was at the end of 2013 that I discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and I did not come here first, to Plum Village in France, I went first to the monastery in Germany that was closer to where I was living and working in Bonn, and it was quite wonderfully convenient for me that it was a 45 minute ride from where I lived. So I was able to go with a certain degree of frequency to be nourished and to be, honestly, to be supported, to be transformed, to be invited to embrace my personal pain and transform it into beautiful capacity and agency to see the blossoms that can blossom with a well fermented soil or the lotuses that bloom in thick mud. And I took those lessons to my job at the time, at the head of the Climate Convention, without preaching to anyone, because I thought that would be totally inappropriate. But just, yeah, Brother Phap Huu, to quote you, trying in my little simple starter way to bring the power of presence to my work. And I think with good results.
And by supporting the monastics in bringing this work to the wider movement, what is your hope? What’s your aspiration for doing that? What do you think could potentially happen by reaching many, many people who are sort of acting?
Well, again, at the cost of correcting you, my dear friend Jo, it’s not me who’s supporting the monastics. I don’t think they need any support, actually. No, it’s actually quite simple. The thought process is very simple. If the teachings of the Plum Village tradition were as helpful to me in 2013 and since then, then the question arises, can they also be helpful to others who are in the same boat, who are also struggling and facing the daunting challenge of addressing climate in a timely fashion? And just note to self, I would like to talk about time, when the time is ripe. And so, as Brother Phap Huu says, This is an invitation, it’s an inquiry, it’s an experiment. It’s an experiment to offer these teachings to those in the more intimate group that we work directly with, Tom and I, but also to the broader community, because we understand that it takes all of us. This is not something that one or two people or organizations or viewpoints can actually address. It really takes everyone, and it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to have the same approach or the same view, but the experiment is, can we wake up to a different way of being as we do our job? So it’s not an attempt to change anybody’s approach. It’s not an attempt to change anybody’s viewpoint on how climate ought to be addressed. It is just offering a window into a deeper and a higher, at the same time, a deeper and a higher space within ourselves that then facilitates a different approach to the work that we do on a daily basis. And the experiment is, does that then allow us to work, and I hesitate to use the word, but to work with more impact? Because the fact is that we know that despite all efforts, all goodwill, all burnouts that we have, because people are working so hard, we’re not getting to where we ought to get. And so the question is, so can we do it differently? Can we do it differently without burnout and from a different internal space that then takes us to different results?
And Tom, just picking up that point from Christiana that a lot of people in the climate movement and beyond put so much energy outside of themselves and leads to business burnout, often unhappiness, difficulties at home because they’re trying to juggle everything. What do you see as the benefit of focusing inside? Because some people will see it as self-indulgent. We don’t have time to look after ourselves. We need to act now. What… How can it support people? And, as Christiana said, help people to be more effective if they are genuinely taking time to look inwards.
So one of the things that I have observed, and others as well, that’s happening at the moment is that as the crisis that we’re facing becomes more serious and as it shows up in the world in a more consistent way, we’re now seeing all kinds of manifestations of extreme weather and the societal impacts and the resultant anxiety that comes from that is incredibly widespread, as everybody who’s listening to this podcast knows. People who are working on this issue are concluding that they need to go big on whatever they were doing before. And that comes from a place of love, and it comes from a place of wanting to try to solve this issue while we can. But if you think about it, if you have a community of people who are collectively addressing a problem from different perspectives and they all go big on what they’re doing, then what happens is everyone drifts away from each other. What had been small differences become magnified and become bigger differences in the context of an accelerating emergency. And we now see that the climate movement is beginning to sort of break apart just at the moment when it needs to come together and have a collective moment of unity and an acceptance that different pathways to the same outcome are needed based on people’s personalities, based on people’s how they want to engage in the world. And to do that, we need to just pause for a second and we need to step back and we need to say this isn’t collectively working, everybody just going harder and harder at their individual bit. We need to have a sense of coming together so that the whole, everyone’s work is building on each other and leading to a greater sense of an outcome. And that’s very worldly, that’s not to do with personal transformation, but personal transformation, I have come to believe is fundamentally necessary to enable us to get to that collective point. And I would just build on what Christiana said with one example of how Christiana led in the UNF triple C. So I joined Christiana there for the last few years, and this is, I think, a watering of seeds of connection between people in the organization…
And just for people who may not know what is the UNFCCC.
Thank you, it’s the United Nations Climate Convention that Christiana led that…
That is so funny because people on our podcast would know that.
So this is one of the challenges of the hybridization.
And those in ours would know all about spiritual transformation.
This is a good exercise.
This crossover is delightful. Carry on. Sorry, Tom.
This is just an example of the sort of the watering of seeds of connection that enable people to feel fed. And it’s just on a slightly different level, but I walked in one morning to the floor that we worked on and that was maybe 30 or 40 people who worked on that floor, a lot of people who did administrative tasks that were fairly thankless, that existed inside the system. And Christiana had purchased over the weekend chocolate stilettos for all the women who worked on the floor. And she had positioned them along the floor in front of people’s offices. And there was a big sign that said, Ladies, thank you for letting me walk a mile in your shoes. This is just an average Wednesday when you came. And you saw just how that lit people up, that someone was seeing them as a person and valuing what they did and bringing them in. And that to me was a watering a seed of transformation.
So this is our sort of introduction in a sense, to what we’re going to be talking about, and flows into what we’re going to be talking about. And Phap Huu, you started the retreat by talking about developing our spiritual powers. And often in society, you know, people are looking to exercise power to find power in order to drive change and often forget that there’s actually how do you develop the power within yourself in order to drive change. So it might be useful to, you know, and Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book called The Art of Power, and in it he talks about the fact that it’s very easy to be hooked out by becoming powerful with fame, sex, money, power, you know, all these things that you feel can hook us out if we don’t know how to handle power well. It’s a very attractive force. It helps us to feel more of ourselves, and it’s like driving a very, very fast car. If you haven’t been trained in it, you can easily crash because you don’t know how to handle the power of the car. So it’d be lovely to sort of maybe just talk a little bit about what do you mean by spiritual power and how can it support us?
What I’ve learned through offering all of these retreats and being with everyone, allowing us to recognize our own presence is already a power. And a lot of friends and folks feel powerless because of the situation of the world. And everybody is asking themselves, how do I support? How do I help? And sometimes in our… in the view of the world right now, it’s like everybody wants a platform, everybody needs verification and they need to give a speech or they have to do something in order to get an article. And then you feel like you’re playing a part in the movement or in the change that we want to see. But for us, actually, everybody by living deeply and profoundly with a new way of being, a new way of seeing, a seeing of interbeing, which comes from the base of understanding and love, which is the first power we speak about in Buddhism. The capacity to look deeply, whether is looking deeply at oneself, understanding our own suffering, understanding our own habits, understanding that every action that we are producing, the three karmas, our thoughts. What are we cultivating in our minds? What are we feeding our own mind and the collective mind? So this already everybody is involved, whether you are a farmer, whether you are a journalist, an actor, and so on. We’re all contributing to the world. So the power to understand oneself and the power to see that every thought it’s action already and is a continuation, that is power and that is empowering to oneself. As somebody who lives in a monastery, I’ve also asked that question in myself, was like, what do I have to offer? And what I realized, what I can always offer is a presence of mindfulness. We call it true presence, meaning when I am speaking with someone I offer them my mind, my body, my soul, my presence. And I can listen deeply. I can hear what is being said, but I can also hear what is being unsaid. And that was with mindfulness of observation. I study a lot on the body, my own body. So I think I can read people’s openness and their discomfort and their unwillingness, but also I can see their own growth in the practice just by seeing how they are with their own body, particularly as an individual and as a collective. And very interestingly, this retreat, what I observed, which is more different than other retreats, is the other retreats that we offer throughout the year, everybody comes with their own aspiration of signing up, so there’s this own will. But this retreat was going as a team and as a collective push by the CEO or the leaders of the group. But there was like an awe, and oh, we’re going to Plum Village, we’re going to a spiritual place, but there was fear there. And I felt in my own understanding of the group, I was more skillful in my language. Like normally we use the word Dharma sharing family. The word family is use without apology in Plum Village, because we do see humanity as a family. And the insight is everyone feels lonely. Loneliness is our modern sickness is a deep hole within everyone’s heart. And if we don’t come from a family that is supportive, that distance is very profound. But for us, spirituality is also a family. So our retreat is to create Dharma families or a harmony that people can tap into. And I felt, when I first introduced it, there was a little bit of discomfort, I would say, and that was my own observation. So I just used the word circle first, but then my mindfulness, my understanding, okay, these friends need a little bit of more ease, more time for them to feel at ease, to feel comfortable. And in the second day, the word family, I threw it out more strongly. And then I can hear also in the group everyone say Dear family. Some were still dear friends, dear circle. But it’s happening. They are allowing themselves to open up. So the power of understanding is very, very profound because for us, understanding is love. And the other quality that we recognize is that we all have views, views about ourselves, views about how the world should be, how we all should be acting. And that view itself can be supportive. That view, even though it can be correct, but sometimes it can be an obstacle. So another power that we speak of in our spiritual practice, in our spiritual growth is the power of letting go, the power to cut through affliction, because views can definitely be afflictions, can be barriers for collaboration, for listening, and in the power of presence that we talk about, it has to come with listening. Listening here it’s not just our ears, listening with our whole body. When we are in discussion, when we are in dialog, most of the time we’re just listening with our minds and our judgment. The moment somebody say something, you are already judging. You’re not listening. You’re not hearing where they’re coming from. Our mind is just That’s right, that’s wrong. So therefore, communication is already blocked because there’s no openness. So our training is to let go of our views, let go of our self. We all have a self. And in Buddhism it teaches us that we’re also made of non-self element. Let us take our example of all of us in this room. We all have teachings, we all have wisdom, we have insight, but we also have ignorance. But where did all of this insight come from? It’s not our self. The insight from our teacher, the insight of the suffering that we see, the insights that we hear from the indigenous leaders, our mentors, our wise elders from generation to generation. So we can also say that we’re made of non-self element, but we always forget this when we come to a room, we’re coming just with our ego, our views and our self. And therefore communication is very hard. So if we learn to let go of that, expand our self, touch the interbeing of the circle, communication is very deeply profound. When somebody shares from suffering and they start to cry and you really are practicing non-self, it’s impossible not to have compassion. It’s impossible not to feel their feelings. But we, in our times, particularly in leadership, have this narration about what it means to be a leader is to be very solid… solidity is here is not in terms of Buddhism teachings, but solid here is like no emotions. I’m here, but I have my own views and I will offer what I feel is right and wrong. And it comes out very… I think is very ignorant actually. And coming into our practice, letting go is to learn to unlearn what we’ve learned, to learn again, because we’re always growing, we’re always learning. And that is the heart of Zen is to always be open, to see in order to understand. And the third element of our power is to forgive, forgiveness. We want to collaborate. We want to join hands. We all have shortcomings. We’ve always said something that maybe we can regret. And most of the time we stick that label on that person and we stay with that image of that person. And our teacher once told a sister, and she shared this in the retreat. In this moment, you are a new person. How wonderful is that? Just that insight. We are a new person every day. Do we see the ones we work with a new person? Do we see the ones that we’re trying to work with as a new person, or do we even give them an opportunity to be a new person? These sharings, this conference that we come together, I would like to add, as a spiritual practitioner, what is missing is the spiritual dimension of allowing us to see the non-self in each other, to see then the non-you element, and can we offer that non them elements to them in order to help each other to have a more deeper understanding. But to arrive there, we have to start with the listening. And that’s why we spent two days on just listening, listening to oneself, and then the second day listening to others. And when we invite you to listen to others, be mindful of your own mind and your own thinking. And every time you have a judgment, smile to it and you say, I smile to you, but in this moment I am offering my true presence to what the person is sharing and what they are not sharing. And that is very supportive. And these three elements we all can generate in us. We all can cultivate the power of understanding, the power of letting go and the power to forgive. I believe if we just practiced these three qualities, there would be profound transformation.
Thank you, Brother Phap Huu. Tom, I just wanted to, you know, let’s talk about this. Because one of the things Phap Huu, underneath this is to talk about creating space, isn’t it? Creating a space to deeply listen, to have understanding, to concentrate, to have insight needs space at a moment where people feel they don’t have space. And I’m just wondering, how do you feel that people, let’s say, in the climate movement can create space for themselves because it looks as though they’re being squeezed from all directions. And one of the things I noticed on the retreat in the circle, the family circle, that Phap Huu, I was sitting with, that Phap Huu was facilitating there were a number of people who said, I’m really, really busy and I believe I love busyness. And after two, actually, after one day and then after two days, what they were saying is actually I realize the thing I’ve been most enjoying here is that I realized I’m not enjoying being busy, I’m enjoying being quiet, I’m enjoying space, I’m enjoying being with nature. And so there seems to be this sort of, in a sense, the sense that people feel have got into a pattern of busyness and feel actually that is who they are and that is how they prosper. They actually think that’s… If I get things done, I’m doing lots of things, then I’m being effective. And it was just extraordinary to watch that sense of when they stopped, they realized, actually, I really like silence. I really like just sitting by a tree. Can you just talk about a little bit maybe also for yourself? Because I mean, this is something that, you know, you have.. You’re very, very busy, you’ve got lots of projects, lots of things you’re trying to manage. What is the importance of space in a practical application?
Well, I think one of the challenges is that the world reaffirms and you get stuck into a system from which you kind of can’t come up for air. So because everybody is so busy and everybody has created a culture of busyness which provides some kind of affirmation, sense of progress, sense of achievement. And I think that’s particularly intense in the climate movement, but I think it’s a problem in the world in general. It’s very difficult to engage partially in that because it’s, I mean, I noticed it for myself. Once I go back into the world, you start sending emails, you start sending whatsapps again, you get the flood back, you then feel you need to respond to those. When you respond to those, another flood comes back and before you know it, every single available moment has been absorbed by this activity that has been created by this collective sense. So it’s very difficult to come out with an intention and follow through on that intention and maintain the space that you want to maintain. And I think actually a lot of our problems flow from that, because when there is no space, when you’re so restricted, you feel it in your body. You feel, I know I’ve had this sometimes at busy times, I can’t breathe. And I mean, right now, my hands go to my chest. That feeling is quite familiar. The value of moving beyond that I feel is that you’re not then destined to just repeat the patterns that you’ve established because while you are trapped in that, you tend to just play out habitual behaviors and ways of being that don’t embrace what Phap Huu just described, which is the relief of putting that down. And one of the things that sort of broken my heart when I’ve been here has been a couple of people have spoken about coming here and seeing space has made them reflect on who they are in their personal relationships, and particularly because it sort of strikes me deeply because of where I am in my life, the kinds of parents that they are, and that actually that busyness, that a strange thing can happen where you get into working on climate because you’re concerned, you have compassion for future generations, you then end up very concerned about the situation we’re in, in the world. You work harder, you get busy, your personal relationships deteriorate, you become a worse parent. And so you end up sort of creating the thing that you’re trying to avoid in your own personal life, because you’re then acting without awareness of what you’re doing. So I’ve been obviously aware of this for some time, including when I came here last year with my daughter and the sense of spaciousness that that reintroduced. And I’ve tried since then to put into practice the deliberate creating of space and not allowing those things to come in. And there are some practical things that you can do. Time in nature is essential, whatever it is, going out and spending a few minutes each day, several times a day, regular touch points I found, has been important. And very practically not having your devices with you the whole time I think is the key to so much because that’s what drives our sense of inescapability. My wife and I bought this very practical thing, but a lockable box with a timer on it, and it sounds pathetic that we need such a thing, but you put your devices in a lockable box, you set it for 12 hours, you can’t get it out again without breaking the box. And it’s amazing how much space that actually provides. You can’t access your devices for a while and you’re like, Oh, thank God for that. And so the world would just have to carry on without it for a limited period. So those are just sort of few examples of how the implications of not having space and some little threads I’ve been following about how to bring it back.
And Tom, one of the sisters who gave a talk, Sister True Deducation, gave that example, she said that there are people who may be putting their heart and soul into saving a forest but don’t have time to take their children into a forest, to enjoy a forest. And in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Art of Power, he talks about actually the most important thing first is to take care of yourself and your family and to take care of your happiness. And when you take care of those, then you act in the world. But if, as you say, your family is suffering because you’re trying to save things, then actually what are you creating for future generations?
Christiana, anything you want to add to that? And also, I’m Phap Huu talked very much about deep listening, and I know this has been core to your practice and in my memory, when you talked about the lessons, what you learned from the first time you went to the monastery in Germany is about that practice and how you took that into the negotiations for the Paris climate talks.
Yes, but before I can add to…
Yeah, no, that’s what I was asking. I thought you might want to add something first.
Because I think there are two factors that we let boxes in. One is space. And Tom has done a beautiful job of describing the anxiety that comes from restricted space, which is in our head. The other is time.
We’ve got to the right moment.
And they’re both intimately related and I have been very curious during this retreat, Phap Huu, about time, because we have been saying for years that it is I don’t know if impossible, but at least not advisable, let’s say, to evoke the kind of awakening and the kind of transformation that we would like to offer to our friends and colleagues and community members, that we can’t do that if we do a retreat that is any less than six days, five days. And it’s been sort of a golden rule that we have held to, right? I don’t know how often we have discussed this… very often. And for many different reasons, causes and conditions, we did a three day retreat this time. And we haven’t been able to discuss this and we should have a little chat about this, but my sense is that the cracking open that we would like to invite people to explore did occur in those three days. And so to me, the question that arises is, Huh, how interesting that we imposed on ourselves a specific sense of time and that we got attached to a number that we thought was necessary. And by doing that, we gave the linearity of time a huge reality. The linearity of time is something that those of us who work on climate change live with on a daily basis. We have, you know, an alarm clock that is with us all the time because we have very clear timelines. We know that by 2100, we absolutely must have guaranteed that we do not go over 1.5 degrees. We know that in order to get there, we have to be at net zero by 2050. We know that in order to get to net zero by 2050, we have to be at one half of global emissions by 2030. And we know that to be at half emissions by 2030, we have to reduce yearly by 7%. So we take time and we pull it into our current experience and we derive mathematically, we derive then the implications of time upon our work. And so it is not surprising that those of us who work on climate change have this huge anxiety about time. It is not surprising that when people come here they feel this incredible guilt about taking X number of days off, quote unquote off. It is not surprising that when we’re finishing a retreat, people are getting very anxious about the implications of not having responded to emails over X number of days. It’s very, I’m just really intrigued by this linearity of time that is given to us, on the one hand by climate science, but that we then intake for our daily lives and for our work. And what this three day retreat evokes for me is a question about that. Is time, with respect to the potential transformation that we’re all capable of, that the agency that we have, is time really linear? I’m just wondering. I don’t have an answer, but it strikes me that there could be a very interesting parallel between the fact that many of the technologies that are being developed to address climate change we know that those technologies are coming onto the market, affecting not just manufacturing and sales, but affecting flows and eventually affecting stocks because, you know, in a counter linear way, because they’re on an exponential path. And I’ve been wondering, so what does exponential mean? Exponential means that we break the relationship between change and time, that we actually get more change, more transformation over the same space of time and now I want to put time into quotation marks. That’s what exponential means, that it’s not linear, it’s not gradual, but rather that technologies are now going up the S-curve, meaning we’re getting more change over the same space of time. And I’ve been wondering, is that not what we saw this week? Is that not what we have been experiencing that we don’t need a certain predetermined length of time as we understand it normally. We don’t need a certain number, magical number of days to open our hearts and to realize that we can touch a very deep part of ourselves and hence walk out into the world with a different approach, with a different way of seeing, with a different way of thinking, with a different way of acting. I was actually in awe, frankly, of the power of transformation that we witnessed over three days, and I would say was nothing less than a tectonic shift. For most people, not everyone, but for most people, a tectonic shift. And so I’m just really curious about this. And I’m just wondering, Huh, so is it that we’re seeing, for lack of a better word, exponential change in technologies, but we can also match that with exponential change in ourselves. And that relieves for me the ticking clock. Because the ticking clock obeys a different sense of time. And I’m just curious, I’m, you know, I’m just like, Hmm… So this is not a statement at all, it is just more a set of questions and, you know, and an inquiry that I’m having with myself and that I would like to share and get all of you to do your input, because time is such a slave driver in the soul of those who work on climate change. We always are working against time. And so have we opened a tiny little window that would give us a relief from that slave driver?
Thank you, Christiana. And we’ll turn to Phap Huu for the answer to that. But..
But I just have a couple of thoughts because it’s a fascinating question. And in my own experience, it’s possible in a very short amount of time to have an epiphany. In the right conditions we can have a deep, because for me, an epiphany is this cracking where we understand something so meaningful and deep that touches our heart so deeply that it goes through our egos defenses, and it touches something that we can’t then forget because we know the truth of it. And even though the ego will try and come and take it away and say, well, it was just because you were in Plum Village and actually was it really real? And did I really feel that? It can’t take that away because it speaks to us so deeply. So we can have an epiphany very quickly. But then the issue is how do we maintain…
Because what happened… Because what happens is we will find, because we have such strong patterns of behavior, that it’s a bit like stretching a rubber band. You can stretch the rubber band, but the rubber band wants to go back to its form. And so an epiphany, suddenly this huge stretching of the rubber band, but then there’s this pull of gravity to come back to how it was. So… And I think that’s where community comes in. And I think that’s one of the things we’ve been talking about at this retreat with these three, four, five organizations that were here that work together, that had leadership here, so there’s an opportunity to change. So how do we support this going forward? Because it doesn’t need then another three days every few months to maintain it, but it needs to be maintained and supported. And you know, that’s the way I see it. If Phap Huu was sitting here on his own, he would not be the Phap Huu we know because he is made up of the community elements that support him and help him and when he goes astray reminds him. So I think there’s a sense of we can have the opening, but how do we then look after ourselves?
Have I gone astray? Have I gone astray recently that I need to know…
Yes, yes, we’ll talk about it afterwards.
Well, I think before I share, I want to ask Tom, because, Tom, you came late.
I was keeping that quiet.
Now we just outed him.
One whole day.
And you missed three Dharma talks?
Yeah. Including yours.
But you’re getting it now.
You see that somebody was counting.
But for you, how was it? Because, like I also experienced and saw Christiana saw, which was there was transformation even for those who arrived late. But I think what was unique is, and now I’ll come to it in my own understanding and my own sharing of all of the conditions for transformation, but what did you feel coming into a collective like this?
So I felt a change as I walked in the opening. Right? As I came into your car park and then walked from there to the tree. And I’ve obviously had a certain amount of experience of this way of seeing the world. So the familiarity of the energy of the place sort of felt like it infused me. And I felt like I remembered something within 20 yards of walking in. And I was with three people who’d never been here before. And I would also say that I saw a subtle but distinct change in them. Now, what I don’t know is, was that because of this place and what it is and who Thay was and who you all are and the energy that’s been grown here, or was it the process that was already unfolding that they wrapped into that quite quickly? And I would say that their experience of this has not been any less than others who were here for the whole time. So they had a two day experience.
Please don’t say we’re going to do this in two days now… Now I’m getting uncomfortable.
Give it half an hour and get on with stuff.
So I don’t know the answer to your exponential question, but, as you know, someone else also came for one day. And he came and was part of our Dharma circle. And I would also say and, you know, you don’t want to sort of pass judgment on the profundity of somebody’s experience compared to somebody else. But there was also, I would say, an awakening and a recognition of what was happening in that time. So I love your question about collapsing time, and I think that I fully agree with you that that’s what exponential changes and that can happen inside us. And one of the things we’ve learned here is that change happens on multiple levels. It happens in the historical world and it happens inside ourselves on more of an ultimate dimension. And Jo’s question around how do the two interact in a manner that sustains change is something that I’ve been also reflecting on. So now we can have the answer from Phap Huu.
Come on, Phap Huu.
Yeah, hand it over.
The concept of time is manmade, the idea of it. If we are to remove that view, letting go, we can recognize that there’s only one moment for us to be alive, and that is the present moment. And that is the core teaching of Buddhism, how to live deeply, profoundly in the present moment with everything that exists in us and around us. But that teaching is not stuck in just the present moment because the present moment embraces the past as well as it is the ingredient for the future. The future is not yet here. All of our calculation, all of our studies is projecting something. And we know that we’re always constantly moving and changing, and the studies are always moving and changing depending on all the conditions that are happening in the world in the exact moment of now. Of course, in saying this, it doesn’t mean like we don’t like science, we don’t… A lot of us, we love to read the research in order to know and to have responsibility. Information can be very enlightening. It can help us wake up, but information can also be a huge trap. And coming into this retreat, recognizing that we only have three full days of practice, three and a half, because arrival day was orientation, and I believe already the journey to Plum Village is already day one. You’re letting go, you’re encountering your fear. What the heck am I going to do at a monastery? Will I even be able to sit still? And all that fear is already the retreat. And then coming into the car park, you know, seeing the space, recognizing people have a new way of being here is the retreat. And coming to your observation, Christiana, I remember our teacher, Thay, every time he offered a retreat, he always said this, I believe there’s always transformation in retreat, even if it’s three days, five days or seven days or three months. But there’s always transformation when we all learn to be authentic with ourselves. And that authenticity is the reality that we get to be who we are. And that already is the shift, that is the transformation, that is the unmasking of all of the views, all of the projection we put on ourselves, all the projection society puts on ourself, all the achieving, all of the egos, all of that is pulling us away from this deep present moment. Buddhism, like Brother Spirit shared in the retreat, Brother Phap Linh, it contradicts itself in the teachings, but it’s a skillful way of allowing us to understand reality. We do have the reality of the historical, which is we all are of the nature to get sick. We’re all of the nature to grow old. We are all of the nature to die. We’re all of the nature to say goodbye to the ones that we love most dearly. But what is our continuation? What we stand on is our karma, our actions, our thoughts of speech and of bodily action, our behaviors, our habits. Those all bear our signature and that transcend time. And we, history, the Buddha, his actions, his teachings, his way of looking has transcended time. We are still learning from that, that’s a living insight that still lives on today. So I see that time is supporting, it’s our reality. But if we live in the ultimate of the teachings of Buddhism, in the spiritual dimension, we are transcending time, meaning we are touching the past, the present and the future in this moment. And I believe that the shift and the understanding that we all experience, there was a degree of all of us coming to the ultimate dimension profoundly. And collectively it increases that understanding. And I think there was liberation. There were moments of letting go collectively. But at the same time, it was very empowering to the present moment, understanding the suffering. And in yesterday’s Q&A, question and answer, somebody asked like, how do we bring in the divide? Those who have to work with the divide? What is the power for deep listening? And my first reaction in my mind was whenever there’s suffering, that is an opportunity. Whenever there’s differences, that is suffering, there is an opportunity. And so bringing in everyone to touch the suffering of each other, that is also the ultimate. That is also the scene of generation of suffering, which is time, which is the past, but at the same time the opportunity to connect, to listen. That is already transformation of the future, that is allowing us to transcend the differences. This is where the spiritual dimension that we are living, and it dances through the thread of historical and ultimate. This is what we are offering to everyone in the world, and this is where we feel is the key for us to truly enact on the change we need. Because the spiritual dimension is not woo, woo, is not a devotion, is not a belief, but the spiritual dimension is for us to touch reality. How is it possible for us to care for something that we don’t understand? That’s why in our retreat we had one night called Silence in Nature, because we do know all of our friends who work for protecting the environment, caring for the nature, caring for the forests, have barely spent time to listen to the earth, have listened to the trees, have even listened to the sounds of the birds. Do we understand what we are caring for? And this is why it seems like coming to a retreat is giving ourselves time and not doing something else. For me, that’s a wrong view. And that is a very capitalist view. Time is money, so we’re doing nothing. We’re not offering anything. And this is where I love Thay. And Thay says, sit there and do nothing because that is already doing. That is for all the busy people, that’s for all the ones who are running after a mission and running after an idea of success. But our life is so short. If we don’t live deeply these moments, at the end of our life, on our memorial wall or page or website or whatever it may be…
Tombstone. People won’t remember what actually we’ve achieved, but what we really remember is how we live, especially the ones who we are close to. So I think this observation that you’ve had, Christiana, is also I’ve meditated on this a lot, on time, the flow of time. And what I have arrived to is living deeply in the present moment is the key. And the Buddha has said you can live happily in the present moment. And this word happily, when people hear this and all of us on the podcast, we’re hearing this, we’re thinking about, but only if I do this, I’m happy. If only after we’ve accomplished this, then we’re happy. But the Buddha said, No, no, every moment, no matter what it is, you can have the ability to live happily in that present moment, even amidst suffering. And I think what for me, I want to always offer is this spiritual strength that we can have. Many have said we’re already passed a tipping point. We are going to see immense suffering. We are already witnessing and seeing the suffering in different parts of the world. And we can panic. We can be frustrated. We can be angry. And yes, we have the right to be angry. We have the right to feel sadness. We have the right to be in pain. But it is also our responsibility in the present moment, with mindfulness, with concentration and with insight to recognize but I can still live deeply this moment. I can come together as a community and hold this pain together. But we can still also sit and look deeply together and to embrace each other in order to have strength. And to have collective insight in order to move forward. So for us, the historical and the ultimate, we have to dance between the two. We can’t live just in the ultimate because then we’re not really living the historical, which is this physical body, this physical world. But we cannot be ignorant in thinking that it’s just this physical world that we should care for, because the ultimate tells us that there is so much more than just me and you. And somebody shared in our circle, which was very profound, it is because we suffer so profoundly we’re extracting from ourselves and because we are extracting from ourselves, we have the thought and the idea that to cover up this loneliness and this suffering, we will extract from this planet to serve our own ego and serve our own greed and pride and desire. So I think, what I felt is, in the three days, there was transformation. But if we give it two more days, deeper transformation.
I don’t ignore any transformation, but transformation is never the end. It’s never…
It’s just the beginning. The mindful breath that you experienced is just the beginning. And that is why what I’ve learned in this retreat and in the next retreat I will share in the orientation is to not get caught in the idea of success, even in the practice, in the stillness that we experience. It’s just the beginning. And not to be attached to also this transformation because we need so much more transformation. And once we leave Plum Village, the storm of frustration, of anxiety, of fear, of anger will come. And that’s why I believe what Plum Village offers is the space. But believe me, the space to cultivate it is not simple. There’s a lot going on in the monastery. There’s a lot of transformation within the ones holding the space that we’re continuously cultivating. So time and space, we have to be attentive and mindful of it, but we can also be free from it, because this present moment that we’re living deeply is the seed that we need to plant for the future. And what I love what Sister True Dedication said yesterday. Some of our transformation and actions of today, we may not see it in two, three or five generation later, but nothing is lost. And that is the insight. And I believe it’s the truth of karma. The word karma for us is not what you hear in music, what comes around goes around, ta da da, do better. Yes, do better, but karma is much more profound than that. The actions of today, we don’t see it. Some of it we will experience right away. We experience the transformation right away. But there are deeper transformations that need time for ripening.
Thank you, brother. Beautifully spoken. And you were talking about that evening where we went out to nature to listen to Mother Earth, and just to share one thing that when I was walking alongside the trees and what I heard was that a tree can’t be rushed. But if a tree wants to grow higher very quickly and not take care of the roots, it will topple over, that it has a natural life. And if you try to rush it, it will court disaster so that the tree needs the depth of roots in order to grow high. And in order to grow high, it needs to, you know, and vice versa. So that sense of this is a natural journey through life and to recognize it’s a path and there’s no destination. And in one of our The Way Out Is In, recently there was a… one of the episodes was an interview I did with Thich Nhat Hanh ten years ago, and he talks, he said if I were to live for another 100 years, I would continue to learn. He said Love has no frontier, that it goes on forever. And he said he could take one of his calligraphies, he talked about the Dharma seal, the first Dharma seal of Plum Village, I have arrived, I am home. He said, you could just take that one phrase, and you could go ever more deeply into it. So I think there’s a sense that, as you say, we can have a breakthrough which shows us the path, and then we need to walk that path. And that path will go on endlessly. Christiana, I just want to… you may want to say, have a response. And also I want to come back to the deep listening, because that was one of the, it’s one of the core practices of Plum Village, one of the things that I think helps so much in breaching division and judgment is to listen deeply and openly, to unlearn what we learn in order to learn again. And I know it’s been fundamentally important to your work. And I just wonder if there’s anything you’d, apart from any response to Phap Huu, whether there’s something…
You don’t give up, right? You asked a question. You want it to be answered.
You see my pattern is a journalist, I’m not going to let you avoid…
And you didn’t even make a note of it or anything. It’s like in your head.
I also have the next question. So beware. But is there something you’d like to share about?
Well, I have spoken about it publicly quite a bit, So let me just do a quick recap here. And the piece that was very helpful to me about deep listening is one of the pieces that Phap Huu has reminded us is the listening without judgment, which was quite a learning for me because I come from a country that was not given any fossil fuel resources. In fact, we don’t have any resources under earth. We don’t have any metals, we don’t have any minerals, we don’t have any fossil fuels, nothing. All our resources are above ground, very beautiful nature. And I also come from a country, Costa Rica, that has always had very progressive policy on all environmental issues. So you can imagine… And I had been a negotiator for Costa Rica in the Climate Convention for many years. So I was honestly very attached to that worldview that that is what we should do, that we should not extract, that we should protect our natural resources. And I had negotiated and I had literally fought, because that’s the word that would describe it, I had fought for that position multilaterally. Then when I was asked to go to the United Nations as the head of the negotiations, I was put in a bind because the moment that you go to head up that negotiation, you can no longer be attached to your national position. You have to be open to all positions and understand that they all come to the table in equal standing. And I remember that I knew that that was going to be so difficult for me that I invented my own little ceremony. And I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had been, well, not the same person, but the same position, always the delegation of Costa Rica responds always to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I asked the minister at the time whether I could come to the ministry and do a little ceremony, which he thought was a little bit woo woo, but it was really necessary for me to do that in order to let go of that position. And I took my flag and folded it, my Costa Rican flag folded it, and gave it to him and asked him, Will you hold it until I come back? Because he needs to continue to stay in the position of the country, but I need to let it go. And so I was gone for six years. And it was very important to me that I do that little ceremony, because when you lead an effort that is a multilateral effort where every country has not only the right but the responsibility to bring their historical conditions, their particular natural resources that they didn’t ask for, that they just inherited from their ancestors, their economic point and economic development, their vision for their sustainable future, all of that ends up in their particular point of view on climate or on biodiversity or on any other international issue. And my responsibility was to be equally open to every single country, no matter what their position was, and to not judge from a Costa Rican point of view that others had a different point of view. So it’s a very different responsibility if you’re representing a country or if you’re heading a multilateral process. And so the training to listen deeply and nonjudgmental, that’s the piece, right, is first having taking the time and space, because we’re not talking about time and space, taking the time, making the time and space to listen to every government, in this case, put forward not just their position but what is behind the position. That was always the interesting thing to me. What is behind it? I know what your position is because I’ve read your documents. Thank you very much. But what is behind that? And sometimes it is said and sometimes it is not said. And then to be able to map out what is another mappa mundi, which is not just the geographies of countries, but the interests of countries, and have that complexity and hold that complexity without judgment, understanding that everyone does come from a very different history, a very different set of conditions that they had not asked for, but that they’re living in the present moment, and that those differences can and have to be respected. And at the same time that in respecting those differences, there is always the possibility of common ground. And so those two things need to come together. There’s no way that you can find common ground without respecting and understanding the differences, because then you don’t see what’s common. So you have to be able to see all of those with equal respect in the understanding of the historical moment that they’re in and then begin to see what emerges as common ground. So I guess as a trained anthropologist, I would have walked in that direction anyway, but I do now, post factum, see that a as a trained anthropologist and then as a student of Thay, those two things came together beautifully for me because Thay’s teachings deepened what I knew as an anthropologist, which is the respect of cultures, the respect of diversity. But then to do it in a non, in a truly internally non-judgmental way is the piece that I learned from Thay.
Thank you, Christiana. And what’s so interesting is what you said was exactly the same as Phap Huu. It’s…
Two Zen masters in the making. A Zen mistress and a Zen master.
You can swap jobs for few months.
But in a sense you both talked about listening to what’s not being said. And to be able to listen to what’s not being said it needs space, but it also needs awareness. And awareness needs to be the awareness of self first and then the awareness of that space, because you can’t hear what’s not being said if your mind is busy with judgment or if are sort of not having awareness and not giving it time, it does take those things. Tom, we’re going to go into one last part, but before that, anything you want to add about that sense of deep listening and how that makes a difference? Because you are in many, many spaces, like Christiana, and in many different not just different spaces, but different areas of space. You know, you’ll be in different sectors of business, you’ll be with foundations, you will be NGOs, will be with business, you’ll be with politicians, etc., etc.. Are you, firstly, are you seeing much deep listening in those spaces at the moment? And also are you, how are you able within those spaces to help to generate that?
So I think that one of the things that I’ve observed over the years and I’ve observed it both in myself and I’ve observed it in others who’ve gone to these different meetings and in these contexts is you can be a different person in how you show up. And I’m sure if you are Brother Phap Huu, then that is more consistent. But for many of us it’s quite random. You might have a day where you’re feeling present and confident and able to have space and listen. And other days when you come in full of anxiety, full of thoughts. And much of that is also to do with your level of confidence in the conversation. So most of us go into these discussions with a fixed idea of what we want to achieve. We don’t really listen to the other person. We go in trying to push that agenda and that ideological view of what is necessary that we are often very tightly attached to. The conversation is merely a method for us to deploy that and try to win that argument of ideas. And it’s not a very effective way to live, apart from anything else, people aren’t often persuaded by that. If you go in and say, I’m going to try and tell this oil and gas CEO that they are wrong, or I’m going to tell this NGO that they are unrealistic, you go in with your perspective and they will fight it with their own ideological view and you get stuck. And the conversation is very frustrating and it’s very fruitless often. And then at times I’ve both been in the place myself and I’ve witnessed in others where you can show up slightly differently with more space, with more presence, and allow what emerges out of that space to guide what you do. And I thought about this a lot when you talked, brother, about living in the present moment, because I think a lot of people feel a lot of anxiety. They won’t know what to do. They wouldn’t know how to advance their agenda. But the experience, of course, is that when you are able to live in the present moment, the right action emerges out of that space, out of that ultimate dimension that you are able to inhabit. If you can stay there and you can trust that the best way to prepare for the future is to be in the present moment when it comes, rather than to spend all of your time in your head trying to plan it out and think it through, which I think a lot of people get stuck in. Then when that moment comes, what’s needed is there. I remember when I was younger, I think it was at school, someone played a recording of Robert Kennedy’s remarks on the assassination of Martin Luther King. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard them, but I would really recommend listeners to hear this. This was half an hour after Martin Luther King was assassinated and Robert Kennedy had to stand on the back of a pickup truck and speak to 5000 people who had gathered. And this is a time when racial divisions in the United States were incredibly prevalent, real riots and breakdown of society were possible. And he had no time to prepare what he was going to say. And what you heard was somebody who was able to draw out of the ultimate dimension exactly what those people needed to hear. And he reflected back to them the shared choice. He said, we have a choice now. We can go down the road of racial division and hatred or we can come together and try to understand. And I remember he quoted Aeschylus, I mean, it makes you weep for the quality of leadership in the world at the moment, he said, Even in our sleep, suffering fools drop by drop upon the heart until against our will and by the awful grace of God comes wisdom. This amazing calling that came out of this moment of space that was recognized and by the end he was able to transform, he used the power of that moment to transform the energy and people left with a sense of spaciousness. Now, that can’t be done through an intellectual process, there has to be trust and space and confidence in that ultimate dimension.
Thank you, Tom. And Phap Huu, just coming back to that sense, often people, and is very strong in the teachings of Thay, that intellect and our knowledge gets in the way of insight, it actually blocks insight. And this is what I hear Tom talking about. But can you just tell us a little bit about that sense of, you know, and Thay talks about it in Buddhism, and in the Art of Power, he talks about, you know, there are lots of people who have Ph.Ds in Buddhist studies who don’t know how to practice because the knowledge of the practice gets in the way of the actual practice. So can you just speak a little bit about what Tom was saying as well from a Plum Village perspective?
I’m going to be very Zen.
That means to say nothing.
No more knowledge. We should end the podcast right now. This image always help me. We have a teapot that I used for Thay for many years…
Which is on the kitchen table in front of us.
Is on the kitchen table, and cups. We all have to learn to empty our cups in order to receive and to allow others to also pour their insights in. And by doing that, we also have to learn to let us know that we don’t know everything. One of the leaders that was here asked me what was my… What have I learned in being in my role as an abbot of the community? And the hardest thing. And I think one of the hardest things that I came to accept is there are many times I don’t have the answer. There are many times, I don’t know. And it may just seem like I’m not responsible, I’m not doing my research, I’m not deep enough, and so on. But I did tell him, but in the not knowing, I’m actually very open to listening and to understanding what needs to be done, because the knowing sometimes we think what needs to be done and we are just pushing our own view. And it doesn’t go anywhere. We don’t move anywhere. So my practice is so simple, but it’s a lifetime journey, it’s just coming back to the simplicity of breath, being aware of the present moment, knowing that my knowledge can be helpful right now, or it can totally be an obstacle. And having the power to listen, having the power to accept, and having the power to say that my view is not supportive and I’m just going to be here to support and allow others to shine. And I think for me, in leadership, like in my role, that’s how I take refuge. And I trust what Tom just spoke about. Trusting is not easy because trusting it means surrendering also and letting others share their voice. And we only want to hear our own voice. And isn’t that true? In our times of such despair and crisis, the deep listening is missing. Everybody’s coming with a voice and the space that we are not offering to listen and the quality of listening is so shallow, may I dare say. And that’s why we believe our retreats of listening of being, a new way of being, can enhance our work, enhance our offering. And what I’ve seen in Plum Village, sometimes it seems like we’re moving very slow. But sometimes we’re moving very fast. So the slowness and the fast are also two dualistic views. Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. And if we’re only going at the speed of the TGV, we’re going to burn ourselves out. So knowing to rest, knowing to stop, knowing to look again, because we shouldn’t even be attached to even Buddhist views. And our teacher speaks about non-attachment to views because that can even be an obstacle. We we’re not even allowed to fight and kill for Buddhist view because that is not our practice. That’s not our core value. Our core value is peace, is nonviolence, is compassion. So view can be very supportive, but it can also be an obstacle.
So, Brother Phap Huu, thank you very much. Christiana and Tom, any last moments before you’re heading off today, so any last moments from you?
I wouldn’t dare add anything after listening to Master Phap Huu.
Tom, anything else?
The last thing that I would say is to rest control of the podcast back from Jo because it is a crossover episode and suggest that we close by asking the two of you to please tell us what makes you outraged and what makes you optimistic? And I know we’re out of time, but let’s do it.
So, in terms of outrage, I think what really outrages me is the sort of sense of we know everything that needs to be done. We, I mean, we’re heading for a disaster. We’re heading, we’re in a polycrisis. We have all the evidence. We have all the knowledge. We’re seeing before our very eyes the impacts that are coming down. And we’re now at the start of it. It’s… In the past, it used to be well, it was a concept and we didn’t really see what was coming, and it was easy to deny it. And what outrages me is that we see it before our eyes. I saw it in my own garden in the south of France. You know, the smoke from nearby fires, the pond drying up, the trees, all leaving their leaves. I see it in my life. I see it everywhere around the world. And then to see the inaction from that and the denial and the inability of people to go beyond their fear and beyond their panic, to recognize that this is the moment to act and act together. And instead we’re creating wars and division and more social injustice, outrages me. And in terms of optimism, you know, I came to Plum Village three years ago from New York because I…
No difference between those two.
From the very heart of New York to the very heart of nothingness. Because I see in these teachings a way, a path through this, because there’s so much focus on the external. And we need all that. And we know we need all that, we need all the solutions. We need the technological solutions. We need the negotiations. We need all that. But you know, the reason Phap Huu and I started the podcast, it’s called The Way Out Is In, because there is a pathway through this and is a pathway to feel all that suffering, not to deny stuff and get more busy because we were trying to solve it, but to stop and really feel that suffering and find a pathway through that suffering because that gives us deep sense of purpose, gives us a deep sense of power, takes us out of powerlessness and into a sense of agency, because we feel it so deeply in our heart and soul that we can’t do anything else than act and act from a place of love, to act from a place of compassion and to act from a place of determination. And so I think that what gives me hope is that Christiana and you, Tom, are here, that we’re bringing more and more leaders here, that we’re taking these retreats around the world. You know, we were 90 leaders in Canada. And to see what a difference this makes, to see this is the spiritual revolution that also drives the temple revolution. Thank you.
As a monk, I don’t talk a lot about outrage.
I was very interested in your answer.
Is there any little corner there that might explore?
I’m going to zoom my mindfulness into my outrage. I think, okay, one of the things is what outrages me is the education about the pollution and about the climate is not enough, especially in developing countries like my own motherland of Vietnam. And also the outrage of like there’s still those who still think about their profit even amidst the truth and the evidence of suffering. But what gives me hope and optimism is that I can change. I can be a part of a change. And I aspire to do everything in my lifetime, in the historical dimension, to do everything I can to show that there’s another way of being, there’s another way of respect and gratitude to life, to the material world, as well as to the world of nature, the world of all living beings that is beyond humans. And one of my new aspirations is to go home to Vietnam and to create garbage retreats. We’re just going to go and collect trash. And as a metaphor of recognizing the trash inside of us and to transform that. So please join me on this retreats. And I think it would be a very practical, real actions. And I want to see the changes that we can already show through action. And that’s where I feel that’s my strong point. Your strong points are going to the conferences, going to give, to be the bridge…
Somehow trash seems much more interesting.
Well, the great thing is so portable, anyone can do them anywhere.
I want to help create a mindful trash movement around the world. Yes.
And thank you so much. May I make one request before we go? And then you should close this out, which is on your app, the Plum Village App that everyone should download, you have beautiful meditations and beautiful music. May we play a piece of music from the app to close this out? We always have a piece of music at the end of Outrage and Optimism, so maybe Phap Linh playing the cello. And Clay can take it from the app and put it in here.
Wow. So, dear listeners, thank you for spending all this time with us. It’s now… The sun has risen and I think it’s time for breakfast.
If Jo could determine, we would be here for another hour and a half.
We’d be here for the rest of our lives. There’s so much, there’s so much to discuss. There’s so much depth to plumb.
I have always maintained the position that shorter podcasts are better than longer, but clearly in Thay’s hut that is completely impossible.
We have lost the sense of time and space.
This is true. Thank you.
Hey, everyone, This is Clay, producer of Outrage and Optimism and The Way Out Is In. Just before the music, a huge thank you to both The Way Out Is In and Outrage and Optimism teams for making this episode possible. Anca, Jo, Cata, Brother Niem Thung, Maarten, Kam-Mei, Sarah, Mandy, Katie, Zoe, Laura and Joe. I love making these podcasts with you all. Okay, here to play us out is Brother Phap Linh on piano and cello. A link to a video performance of this piece is in the show notes and description below. It’s also available on the Plum Village App. Okay. Thank you for listening. Here’s Brother Phap Linh.