The Bells of Mindfulness from Mother Earth

The polar ice caps are melting. BONG!
The sea levels are rising. BONG!
The deserts are expanding. BONG!
The temperature is rising. BONG!
Species are becoming extinct. BONG!
Water sources are depleting. BONG!
The rainforests are disappearing. BONG!

These  bells of mindfulness from Mother Earth are ringing over and over again.

Jo-Ann John

Are we listening to the sound of the bell?

These bongs were not merely invited as usual.

They were extracted from the bell just like oil is being extracted from the earth, like a warrior beating a drum before an attack.

This is how dharma teacher John Bell began his dharma talk at the day of mindfulness we had on the 27th February 2016 in Paul Alto, California.

The power of these words set the stage for a wonderful dialogue which followed between John and dharma teacher Jo-ann Rosen.

We learned that 97% of all climate scientists think that these 5 main messages in 10 words express our urgency: “It’s real. It’s us. It’s bad. Scientists agree. There’s hope.”

John said that the right view of climate change is that first of all, it is a bell of mindfulness, a door of awakening and it is interconnected with racial justice, social justice, economic justice, the food supply and security for all beings.

The current model pits people against each other instead of recognizing that as humans we came from Mother Earth and that we inter-are with all life on this planet.

In Jo-ann’s dharma talk we were invited to consider changing the narrative from an extraction economy to one based on  a sense of reciprocity with and responsibility for Mother Earth, from a focus on fear and comfort, to one of intimacy with the suffering of our planet from whence compassion will naturally lead us into mindful action.  What would it be like if we could stretch our comfort zones to alleviate some of present and future sufferings?

John said that personal transformation is not separate from social transformation, that it’s a misunderstanding of sangha and our practice if we think we can have personal liberation while the world around us is suffering. He mentioned that during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the people would chant: “An injury to one is an injury to all!” And to link climate change with racism, he paraphrased Angel Kyoto Williams, an African American dharma teacher from another Zen tradition, who says, “The reason we continue to degrade the earth is that we continue to degrade each other. So as we heal the wounds of racism, we are healing our relationship to the earth.”

Something John said that resonated with many of us was that the feelings of despair, powerlessness, or fear that we feel in relation to the climate crisis were there long before we knew anything about the climate situation. They come from our childhood and our historical and cultural inheritance. When we were children, we were small and powerless. We saw and experience things that we knew were wrong but we couldn’t do anything about them. So we internalized deep feelings of powerlessness.

Now in our grown-up lives, when we face things like racism, poverty, and climate change, we often project our unhealed childhood feelings of helplessness onto these big issues. So part of right view is to recognize that, to look deeply at our feelings, explore and transform their roots. This will probably mean letting our hearts break open. This points us back to developing strong sanghas as containers for deep healing.

Jo-ann then led us into a guided meditation which was followed by Beginning Anew with Mother Earth, which was introduced by The Great Bell Chant of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

We broke up into pairs in which we took turns being Mother Earth. We then followed the three steps of the Beginning Anew process:

  • Gratitude…Loving the earth: what you love about dear Mother earth; expressing gratitude for specific places, species, seasons, elements that you’ve loved, have been nourished by.
  • Beneficial regrets: sharing with the earth what you are sorry for, individually and collectively, asking forgiveness
  • Making amends: express to the earth or to a specific creature or place what you commit to doing to make amends, to help heal, to change your behavior.

After our luscious pot-luck meal, Jo-ann led some movement exercises and then to viscerally touch the enormity of what is happening, we watched in silence a slide show of photos of 64 endangered species, and then paired up to share what arose as we watched. I was deeply saddened by the presence of the swallow tail butterfly and the lotus blue butterfly and the several species of whales that were shown.

After a Wendell Berry poem and sharing about the endangered animal species pictures, we had an extended silent meditation which gave us time to reflect on the other events of the day, especially the endangered species.

This was followed by a very amusing slideshow of Headlines from the Future.

Some of these moved us to uproarious joy and laughter:

  • New AIDS Cases Fall to Zero In Africa
  • 10 Years of Peace (Israelis and Palestinians)
  • US Imports Last Barrel of Oil
  • “Child soldiers” exchange guns for books in Africa
  • Last of Nuclear Weapons Destroyed
  • Snows Return to Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Pharmaceutical Companies Reveal Their Formulas Because They Came From Plants Originally (my contribution :))

We then sang “One Voice” by Wallin’ Jennys to the recording followed by dharma sharing in small groups of five.

We concluded the day with a walking metta meditation, a final circle of sharing and the sharing of the merit. People left the retreat feeling, “empowered”, “no longer alone,” “encouraged,” “more open,” “galvanized”, according to the testimonies at the end.

I wish to express much gratitude to John, Jo-ann, and everyone who helped make the bells of mindfulness from Mother Earth a wonderful experience.

Note: For those readers who might want to offer a day of mindfulness on climate change, a facilitator’s guide and resources used in our day of mindfulness can be found at this link on the Earth Holders Sangha website:


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  1. […] written about the retreat called The Bells of Mindfulness from Mother Earth led by dharma teachers John Bell and Jo-ann Rosen at the end of last […]