Who’d have thought that this sweet little scrap would end up breaking the law. I was always such a good girl, talking-too-much-in-class aside. I worked so hard at that. I still do.
Tomorrow I will tell the judge that I am guilty of breaking the law. I will also say that my conscience is as clear as a mountain stream. I will say that your health is more important to me than our legal system, dear Earth. I will say that all else has failed, and that it is now time for us to speak up with louder voices. With nonviolence in our hearts. With great courage.
I will hang out with Gandhi on the train*. His closest followers trained for 15 years in his ashram before the Salt March. They practiced steadiness, non-reactivity, discipline, patience. They practiced love.
My path is lit by them. It is lit by Martin Luther King. It is lit by those who have placed their soft bodies onto motorways, over and over. I am trailing behind, so far behind, but the light is clear.
We must bring everyone along with us. Those who are causing harm must be stopped from causing harm, of course. And, they must come along with us somehow, sharing your lap with us, darling Earth. How is this possible? How is it possible not to react to violence? How can we continue?
One step. Another. When we’re tired, others will carry our bags. Others will feed us cake and hear our tears. Another step. Don’t forget to listen to the birds along the way. Can you hear them?
You’ll be with me tomorrow, dear Earth. Holding me up, as always.
With much love, Satya
*The Gandhian Iceberg: A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning by Chris Moore-Backman
Reflections after joining the Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London by Tamsin Bishton.
It’s mid August and I’m trying to work out how I’m going to get involved in the Impossible Rebellion. I’m not new to XR or rebellion, but the fear and the way it is influencing my connection to this Impossible Rebellion is. My heart is telling me I need to take part. It is my intention to take part. But the fear keeps whispering in my ear … It’s been months since I’ve been on the streets. It’s a year since I was at the last rebellion in London. Things have been so challenging since then. The police seem harder now. The risks feel greater. I’m stuck.
My friend and fellow mindfulness teacher Abbie invites me to join the XR Buddhists’ action at Barclays HQ and it is exactly the direct connection and invitation that I need to help me step out of my frozen state. Yes. This is something constructive I can do with my fear.
I arrive at Canary Wharf with my husband (there for morale support and to help with outreach) feeling lighter than I have done in weeks. I have found that once you see the climate and ecological emergency, once you really let it in and feel it, it is impossible to shut it out again. Sometimes I am able to carry it with me in a spirit of “active hope” as Joanna Macy terms it. But at other times the grief is almost overwhelming. Through this last 18 months of pandemic and isolation the grief has often won out over the hope for me. So noticing my lighter heart as we sit on a bench and wait for others to arrive, I feel gratitude starting to bubble up.
I’m new to XR Buddhists and this is my first meditation action of this kind. I’m always in awe of the spirit of comradeship, kindness and shared purpose that flows from person to person during XR actions. It’s wonderful to meet this spirit again as, slowly, the pairs and individuals, dressed in black, looking for each other in the young Jubilee Park, recognise each other and form a group with quiet dignity and a few smiles of recognition.
We don’t know anyone else, and my friend Abbie is taking a well earned rest from the rebellion so isn’t here. But within minutes we’ve been greeted kindly, have shared some stories and connected with people. The sense of welcome is generous and compassionate.
Joe’s holding of the group, his hosting and preparation for the action, is so moving and warm. I share my heartbreak about the climate crisis, and what inspires me about it too, with my walking partner (who it turns out is from Brighton like me – small world) in the preparation space. I listen to her words about the same things. For the first time in a while I am really letting myself feel it. And the opportunity to have a real conversation like this with another human being feels so precious. And too rare.
It’s strange how my fear – which had been strong and commanding even the day before – just evaporates. Even though the police presence is very visible and noisy with lots of walkie talkie jabber, as I tune in to my breath and the movement through my body as we slowly begin to walk from the park to Barclays, what I notice is calm, sadness, purpose and relief.
I listen to the wind blowing with some force around the base of the towers all around us. I hear the talk on the radio.
“They are setting off walking” [crackle] [beep] [crackle] “Walking … they’re walking very slowly.” [beep] [crackle]
I almost laugh out loud.
Sitting in front of the Barclays building with my fellow meditators and the blackbirds is like coming home. I don’t know how else to describe it. As we are guided to raise our hands and practice the fearless Abhaya mudra – right hand held up as if to hold hate, greed, destruction, chaos, hopelessness at bay – then later touching the ground and calling on the earth as witness, I experience a flow of energy and warmth through my body even though the wind is blowing cold and my arms are bare.
I think about my privilege. I can take an action like this with a reasonable certainty that my physical safety is assured and that if I’m arrested my legal rights will be upheld in the end. And I know this is a privilege of my white skin and my class.
My mind moves to thoughts of what our fellow rebels might be doing on the other side of the river. I know the plan is to highlight the story of the blood money that has blighted our world and the lives of black and brown people through centuries of exploitation and violence. I send my sense of fearlessness and this energy that seems to be flowing up from the ground into my body outwards towards them across the river. I think of what this river flowing past us has seen. The goods, the plunder, the human cargo from around the planet.
When we’ve finished meditating and are about to walk back to the park, I try to look up to the top of Barclays tower. It’s not the tallest building at Canary Wharf, but I still can’t quite see the top. The glass reflects back, impenetrable. Are there people there inside? Was anyone watching? Does our meditation, our plea, our desperation to try and make people with power make different choices – does any of it make any sense to them?
On the train home I continue to tune in to the spirit of fearlessness that’s flowing through me. I’m so grateful to the people who organised the action, who held us and guided us, and to the life situation I find myself in which means I’m able to take part. I know fear will be back. It’s an unavoidable part of stepping up to the reality of this terrible, inescapable emergency we’re all facing. But I’m certain that active hope will be here for me too. That’s enough.
It was my second day at the rebellion. Up to now I had been engaged but not emotionally. The action at BP HQ changed that, because of the thoughts it stimulated during the meditation.
I have developed the habit of meditating on the four immeasurable thoughts during actions, somewhat as follows:
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes. May I myself bring them to happiness and its causes. Please Gurus and Deities, bless me to be able to do this.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes…etc
May all sentient beings abide forever in bliss and its causes…etc
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, and its causes…etc
As I started to get into this meditation, I began to think about who the sentient beings involved in BP include. I began with the CEO, maybe sitting in a big office at the top of the building; then all the others in the company involved in making decisions; then the shareholders, investing in order to get a return; then the motor industry, continuing to produce vehicles that consume the petroleum; the construction companies who make the roads; the politicians who facilitate this whole process through decisions about taxation and planning policy etc; and finally, we the public, who wish to travel from A to B.
As I took the thoughts deeper, I reflected on all the karma (action) of creating the causes of mass extinction through the creation of carbon emissions through using petroleum. I reasoned that if people are ignorant of the consequences, as many of us were in the past, then the karmic consequences aren’t so great. However, now we all know. Everyone from the CEO down knows. So, like it or not, all involved in the process are creating the karmic causes of killing on a wide scale.
The Buddha taught that the karmic results of killing are several – rebirth in a lower realm; when born a human, having the tendency to kill again or experiencing being killed; and living in a place with much violence and lack of resources.
What about knowingly generating the causes of mass extinction?
Not far into this train of thought, I started to break down in tears. It happened a few times during our half hour of meditation. At one point I opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful huge trees opposite, in St James Square. This triggered a further burst of tears for all the forests and their inhabitants destroyed by warming.
As I said in the debrief after, I find this unbearable, when it pierces my inner defences. Meditation has the capacity to do this.
I am now going into retreat for five weeks. I will revisit these thoughts and feelings during the retreat, I am sure. For me, this is the benefit of being a Buddhist, that one has a method for facing and working with the grief of the unbearability of what is happening.
The situation calls for the most powerful compassion. Compassion is the basis for action. Whatever action we take, based on such extraordinary compassion, will have a powerful impact, because the mind is powerful.
Andy has been studying, practising and teaching Buddhism within the Gelug Tibetan tradition for 40 years. He joined XR in 2019, and is active in his local XR group in South Somerset.
The Barclays HQ action August 27th Canary Wharf London: by Joe Mishan
As I exit the station at Canary wharf with my friend Elizabeth to join the others in the park, I notice with alarm a rather generous scattering of police; I immediately know that we have been rumbled. I am carrying a banner which is a bit of a give away I have to admit. A minute after sitting down in the park with the early arrivals for the action, the various exits to the park appear to be secreting police and security, some of whom amble casually toward us. I explain we are an XR Buddhist group and that we are constitutionally quiet, and have no intention to break anything; that we will be meditating in front of a bank in an undisclosed location. The police listen doubtfully, issue warnings about damage to property and general misbehavior before sauntering away to form an amphitheater of yellow jackets as we slowly grow in numbers.
I am gladdened to see so many of us: about 36 Buddhists some of whom I have not seen for some time. And a group of the newly formed Blackbirds who are joining us with their bird-voices and movement as a backdrop to our meditation.
I ask the group to pair up and to reflect on the impact of the climate crisis; what breaks our hearts? What inspires us? As I’m standing in the centre of the group amid the murmur of voices, a heavily uniformed policeman approaches me and says that since I don’t have a partner he is willing to hear my reflections! This is a novel situation (which is in no XR training manual as far as I know) and I’m aware of an instant conflict between curiosity, and eagerness to take up the opportunity to see what happens – and suspicion and hostility. I decide on the former course of action, and tell him about my deep concern for my children, how my early life primed me for sensitivity to harm to the natural world, and my guilt at my contribution to the crisis. He seems attentive in a somewhat distant way. He declines to reciprocate though, saying that he is not allowed to share his opinion whilst in uniform. He does tell me however that he’s been in uniform – the army and the police – since the age of 17. I suppose I will never know what his intentions in approaching me were: and I wondered also whether he really knew what they were himself.
We form a column to exit the park. Our placards read: ‘Barclays: the Ecocide Bank’ under a picture of the Earth on fire. It’s pithy and in yer face: and also true. Barclays is the highest investor in fossil fuels in Europe. Since the Paris agreement they have poured $145bn into fossil fuel projects around the world, and despite net zero promises there is no sign of them slowing down. We set off in a slow meditation walk to the deep resonance of a single drum-beat. The sound echoes eerily off the glass and concrete of the streets.
Canary wharf is in my experience a uniquely dehumanised, de-natured place. There is something almost sinister here: a place of rigid angularity, every centimeter privatised, claimed and conquered by the corporate dollar. Gleaming surfaces occupying the vertical and horizontal planes. It was into this arid place that our march took us: the slow heartbeat of the drum echoing the heart-ache of all we have lost in the name of profit.
On reaching the towering bulk of Barclays we were greeted (or intimidated), by the sight of more than 40 police lining the edges of the roads, backed up by metal barriers. Such is the mobilizing power of meditation. We were granted a place to sit at a safe distance from the front doors of the building and we settled onto our places. I was handing out leaflets to the few passersby and was privileged to witness the soft insistent power of lines of meditators sitting in stillness. It was in intensely moving experience shared, so I heard later, by the head of security at the bank.
Shantigarba began the guided meditation as the Blackbirds gathered behind us, performing bird-language curiosity at the unusual stillness of these humans, and then joining in in appreciation with vocal calls and postures which echoed and amplified. The meditation moved through four mudras; the fierce abhaya mudra, the Earth-touching mudra, calling on the Earth to witness our belonging to web of life, then an invitation to open the eyes to see clearly into the pain being inflicting on the Earth. And finally in anjali, the meditators bowed to the Earth and sent kindness and well-wishing to all beings blighted by the impacts of the fossil fuel industry.
As I watched the silent synchronicity of movement flow across the lines of meditators, the grief I had been feeling all week broke through again. It was intensified I think by the unyielding immobility of the police ranks, the locked and closed doors and the empty glass windows of the building behind them. My grief was the grief for the lost heart of humanity; lost beyond reach in a labyrinth of greed and delusion.
After the sitting meditation we walked again in slow procession back to the park to gather again and read the Buddhist Declaration of Interdependence. It was good to be back under the few trees in the park again, their generous shelter and reliable presence.
At this action, like so many others, I was reminded of the exceptional grace and power of our faith and its expression through meditation. I felt honoured to be part of this Sangha of Buddhist activists which has such heart and courage in it.
Thank you to all who took part, and a deep bow to the Backbirds who have flown into our hearts like a blessing.
Namaste to all
Joe Mishan was one of the original co co-ordinators of XR Buddhists and is pictured below.
Satya was released from a police cell yesterday afternoon, after her fifth arrest for climate protesting. This week she’s marching, singing and sitting in the road with thousands of others in London for Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion.
I’m here in Malvern, walking the dogs, seeing my clients, running practice sessions at the temple and sharing videos and pictures of the Impossible Rebellion online.
On Monday I spent an hour and a half working out the subtitling software to add words to a two minute video that Joe sent me first thing that morning. I was keeping one eye on social media for news of the Rebellion. Satya hadn’t taken her phone into the city and was expecting to get arrested first thing.
I’ve been to a London Rebellion before, as well as to actions in other places (like the G7 demonstrations in Cornwall). I’ve been arrested once, and I know that there are Rebels looking out for you when that happens. I know that someone from XR will meet you when you’re released from the police station at any time of day or night. I trust the other people there, and I trust Satya and still there was an anxiety in not knowing what was happening.
When Satya went to her first Rebellion in London in October 2019 I was again at home. That week I was glued to live-streams on social media, frantically trying to work out what going on. I was a novice rebel then, with no in the street experience and no way of imagining what it was like to be there.
That year I was massively affected by all the negative comments on social media. It was distressing to read them all, I became fraught and I carried on reading them.
This year they’ve hardly affected me at all. What’s changed? Two things: one, I have had on the ground experience at Rebellions and while I’ve been out in the streets the majority of ordinary people were supportive (we received a very warm welcome into St. Ives earlier in the year, for example); and two that the climate crisis has become so obvious and the effects of extreme weather so profound that it is simply impossible for me to do nothing and maintain any sense of integrity.
Both of those reasons made it a little easier to not know what was unfolding for Satya as well. At lunchtime on Monday I got a text from a stranger’s phone. They said Satya was fine and hadn’t been arrested. Later that afternoon there was another text from a different phone, Satya was sitting in the road and expecting to be arrested soon. Then there was no more news until yesterday morning. As soon as I woke up I saw the message on my phone: Satya was arrested at 9pm and checked into the station at 2am, she would probably be out in the afternoon.
When I got a message from Satya herself yesterday afternoon there was a big sense of relief. I released a breath that I hadn’t realised I was holding in until that moment. That relief was followed by a surge of pride and of not optimism exactly, but a feeling of being pleased to be part of a movement that is trying to create change.
My heart feels full when I think of all the rebels in London, and especially when I think of the XR Buddhists, taking their practice out into the world. I’m looking forward to seeing them in person on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to continuing to act.
There’s a slogan I see flying on flags at XR demonstrations, “Deeds not words.” It comes from Emmeline Pankhurst and is often used by XR’s FINT* community. It’s often aimed at world leaders, but I have taken it to heart myself. Sometimes taking action eases my despair, sometimes taking action gives me hope that things can change for the better and it always leads to a sense of greater integrity and greater embodiment of my Buddhist practice. In the face of such suffering, how can we do nothing?
*Female, Intersex, Non-binary and Trans
Kaspa Thompson is a Buddhist Teacher, psychotherapist and currently co-coordinator of XR Buddhists.
I would like to say what brought me here to this point in life as an activist.
I was waiting in Grafton Street (in Dublin) on the 10th of October 2019 for my girlfriend to pick me up when a lively crowd came marching by chanting about the Environment.
Straightaway I joined the march and the rest is history. My girlfriend found me a couple of hours later and helped me make my glorious XR blue flag for the second day marching.
It has always been important to my own well-being to actively help when I see help is needed. Deep-seated feelings from a childhood of seeing people being bullied at school and finding the courage to stand up for them in their time of need. The realisation afterward of forging respect, trust, and friendships.
Earth is my friend, I have played in the soil, I have eaten food that has grown from it, I have walked and slept on it, drank from its water, and had my first kiss and surely will have my last kiss upon on it. Every time I breathe in the air or sing and hear the notes I feel connected to it. I have held my children when they were babies and had them gaze at the stars and promised them that I would fight for their future.
As a young Entrepreneur, my mission was to help the Earth somehow to recover from the scars of Human behavior upon this Planet, which for some strange, selfish reason, we call ‘ours’, as if we own it.
As the Project Director of my renewable energy company at the time, I attended a meeting about climate change Earth Summit ‘ET 2001’. I managed to prove that the British Government didn’t have their facts straight on climate issues after I asked a few questions to test their knowledge about which energy sectors were mostly endangering our air quality at that present time. Their figures were out of date and so they were concentrating most efforts on the wrong sector, as the population had exploded and Industry had shifted.
One example of the ‘Bully’ is: Thermal energy projects were being blocked by the British Government and no one had the voice or money to fight them.
I am now a singer-songwriter in Ireland and hope to get the message across within my writing and singing, but alas, currently face the fact that the Irish Government has a say in what may and may not be heard on the radio stations. So I have a new battle against ‘censorship’ against the freedom of expression and speech.
May we long keep up the good fight against the Environmental and Censorship Bullies upon this Planet.
I’ve been to two Rebellions. The first time I went as a steward, and didn’t know anyone. Stewarding was my way of dipping my toe into the world of activism. I was present, but most of my job involved telling tourists which way Buckingham Palace was, rather than bringing down the systems of power and finance which perpetuate the climate and ecological emergency.
The second time I came as part of XR Buddhists. I crossed the threshold of arrest. I helped to organise a mass meditation in Trafalgar Square. Working with others, I helped publicise what we were doing on social media. But the moments that stuck with me from that Rebellion weren’t the big semi-planned ones, they were the spontaneous ones.
One morning towards the end of the Rebellion we were meeting for a check-in in Parliament Square. I was still processing my arrest and night in the cells. This Rebellion had happened with London fairly empty (due to COVID 19) and I worried we hadn’t reached as many people as we might have. Sometimes in the middle of actions, I can feel fretful about whether anything is changing. All of that was swirling in me as I met with a few other XR Buddhists that morning.
Parliament Square was almost empty, there were a few people around for the Faith Vigil. And up two trees there were a couple of brave protestors who had been there for days. Police officers stood around at the base of the trees. It was an attempt to isolate the protestors in the trees, to make it harder for people to communicate with them and to send things up to them. And so we chose to sit among the trees, among the indifferent police. It felt a bit awkward going and sitting among the police. Even though I know there is no reason I can’t meditate under the tree, I was still very conscious of the police presence. We sat there, and connected with the trees, with the ground, with the activists above us who had spent the night on their own, in front of the Houses of Parliament.
After sitting for a while, Joe suggested we could call up to the occupied hammocks and offer some words from Joanna Macy. One of the protestors looked out over her hammock and said she would like that. So we mic checked this quote up to her:
“This is a dark time, filled with suffering and uncertainty. Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, because these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings.”Joanna Macy
It was a beautiful moment. She told us we had made her cry. It was a moment of connection with someone we could barely see, but a way of recognising the pain and hope that we felt. I wished I could have given her a hug, or some hot food and a good coffee. But we did what we could.
To come to a Rebellion is to grapple with the hopes, the grief, the anger, and the attachments we have to change. It isn’t always easy. But it offers an opportunity to connect with others in big and small ways. That can be powerful.
Humanity has reached a crisis point, and the actions we take this year and in the coming years are critical.
The words of one of my late, beloved Dharma teacher’s Rob Burbea, sum up why I became involved with XR Buddhists, and the purpose of the actions we carry out together:
a movement of prayer….to stand in alignment with a deep truth no matter what the outcome…. A desire to be present at a time in history that feels extremely pivotal, and to be there, to bear witness to humanity at a crossroads. Opening to the pain of what is going on in the world in all its confusion and complexity, in a celebration of human togetherness
Abbie is a member of XR Buddhists and XR Brighton Meditators
The traffic roared in front of us, punctuated by periods of blissful quiet when the crossing lights turned red.
We were meditating in a line on the pavement outside the oldest purpose-built Barclays Bank on Fleet Street, in the heart of London. There were moments of concentration followed by distraction and confusion about the number and direction of different sounds.
Feelings ebbed and flowed: relief to be out on the streets again, doing something to bear witness publicly to the Climate and Ecological Emergency. Moments of deep peace. Curiosity about the police officers chatting to a rebel in front of us. They seemed friendly. Wanting to be safe, and at the same time, wanting to be heard for my urgent concern for impacts on the welfare of current and future beings.
In my occasional climate activism sometimes I sit quietly. Sometimes I make a noise, drumming with a Samba inspired band. It’s been interesting observing the feelings that arise in these two very different approaches of resistance. With quietly sitting in the ‘wrong place’, anxiousness arises for me from the feeling of vulnerability but this is calmed by holding the reasons for protest in my heart, the suffering of others and the faint hope that change will come.
With samba drumming the same reasons drive me, although anxiousness here is less about vulnerability rather than will I keep time and do I know the tunes! It’s hard to keep up with the youngsters but the energy from the music and the friendly tribal connection and common goal to reduce suffering fuel me.
It was even more interesting to be asked to drum, albeit slowly, with the XR Buddhists. We gathered at the start of the day at South bank and watched Ben Okri’s amazing grass art (‘Can’t you hear the future weeping?’) get floated on the Thames. Then we came together in a grounding practise with an exercise to focus why we were here, a huge friendly Krishna from Montreal joined us for a while and kindly shared food from his pedal trike with us.
We, about 15 of us, set off in single file, a very slow silent procession all dressed in black each bearing banners about Barclays Bank along much of Fleet Street. I was at the back beating the drum slow and loud. The sound really reverberated between the lovely old buildings and many came out of shops, offices, pubs etc. to see the strange procession, some stared blankly, some smirked, some smiled approvingly, some shouted ‘get a job’, or ‘save the Whales’ etc. I had figured there may be some distractions so quietly chanted in my head to help keep time. I chose to use the mantra “Oṃ Āḥ Hūṃ Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hūṃ” striking the drum good and hard on Ompartly because the length suited the timing but also because it had personal significance for me. I could say a lot about the mantra but roughly it’s about bringing body speech and mind to the guru Padma who brought Buddhism to Tibet. The Vajra word means thunderbolt but also compassion. I imagined my beater striking down on the drum like a thunderbolt, it certainly felt that loud. I hope that some could sense the compassion that brought us there that day.
We spread out and sat meditating quietly with our banners both in and outside of Barclays Fleet Street branch. The police showed lots of interest but eventually let us be. I imagined it must be uncomfortable for the bank staff, needing a job, bills to pay, kids to feed, but with us there highlighting their employers relentless support of ecocide. Many public took leaflets and chatted with our outreach folk, some hurried past annoyed. I feel uneasy annoying folk, but then see the increasing reports of climate breakdown. The suffering that brings is here now and long endured in the global South and much more of it ahead so I will quietly, non violently but sometimes loudly keep challenging this broken system.