Connecting with the Earth

by Benjamin Leslie

When we talk about taking care of the earth, we often refer to our connection to the basic elements and to basic natural processes, including the seasons and the natural cycles of life and death. The ways that this connection often looks in our society are familiar to us: We strive to be ‘in touch’ with nature by way of spending more minutes outdoors, planting more trees, or composting the kitchen scraps. Or we may have a more wholesale approach, that involves giving up certain comforts, learning how to camp, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. We find value in these activities, but at times they don’t seem to do the trick. They leave us wondering how to connect more – how to recycle more or to spend more time camping in isolation. The ‘Survivor’ method of giving up our comforts can end up being quite aggressive, yet the contrary – racking up points for being ‘green’ – somehow doesn’t go far enough.

In the Buddhist tradition, taking care of the earth starts with ourselves – our own persons and bodies. The ways we handle our waste as a society and the ways we connect (or don’t) to the elements are a direct result of our very personal and intimate habitual patterns. And our habitual patterns are based on, what we call in the Buddhist tradition, ‘mind.’

Working with one’s mind is one of the most direct ways to take responsibility for caring for the earth. Our ideas about how to care for the earth may be grounded in good logic or good morals, but if we don’t work with them personally, they might become a hollow crusade. Consider the common example of committing to a special diet. Many become vegan or vegetarian due to legitimate environmental concerns. Yet often those who have attempted a special diet will express that success is based far more on working with everyday habitual patterns than on moral, ethical, or logical consideration of the environment.

In Buddhism, the sitting practice of meditation is used to work with our minds. Rather than being a technique for contemplating a certain concept or improving one’s concentration, the unique approach of sitting meditation involves acknowledging our thoughts simply and precisely. The meditator identifies with the outbreath and has their eyes open so that gentleness and awareness are cultivated toward themselves and their situations. The gentleness that can develop from consistently and precisely touching-in with our thoughts without manipulation is often referred to as ‘making friends with oneself.’ Gradually, the practice, including that gentleness, is extended toward our everyday situations – our habitual patterns, our relationships, our households, and maybe even our compost piles.

Relating to our world with gentleness can be vulnerable. Courage is the result of our willingness to remain soft and gentle in the midst of this vulnerability. When we apply this type of courage and awareness to our situations directly, it becomes possible to see them more directly. There is no need to turn away from the intensity of challenging everyday situations, or hotspots. When our garden fails, we might not see it as a reflection of ourselves, but as fertile ground. When we decide to compost or raise chickens, we can commit to working directly with our habitual patterns in a gentler way. When we are confronted by the natural processes of life and death, of the seasons, and of the elements, we may recognize the opportunity to connect with that situation and through that gentleness, to care for the earth.

Benjamin Leslie is currently on staff at Center for Interfaith Cooperation as Program Director for the Immigrant and Refugee Service Corps.

Why should you apply for the 2017 Spirit & Place Festival?

The application guidelines for the 2017 Spirit & Place Festival are online! Why should your organization consider applying?

Following the 2016 festival, event partners told us being involved in the Spirit & Place Festival allowed them to:

  • Shine a light on new topics and innovative speakers
  • Re-engage stakeholders on important issues
  • Work with new community partners
  • Hone professional skills
  • Develop new frameworks of engagement

We appreciate what one of our partners in particular said of her experience, “Spirit & Place added legitimacy and a new platform to learn from, engage, and empower our [constituents].”

That’s awesome!

Speaking of awesome, Spirit & Place will again this year offer a $1,000 “Award of Awesomeness” to the festival event that best exemplifies the characteristics and values of Spirit & Place. (Congrats again to Ebenezer Baptist Church for their 2016 winning event, “Riverside Speaks!”)

Check out the application guidelines today and reach out to Erin Kelley, Spirit & Place Program Director, with any questions. She’ll be happy to work with you to brainstorm ideas, talk about event design, connect with potential collaborators, and find a venue, if possible.

Download the application guidelines HERE & mark your calendars for the Application Deadline: Friday, April 21 at 5p.m.

We look forward to seeing your event ideas to make this year’s Festival a great one!

STEM and the Humanities – a look at Quantum Leap

As Spirit & Place examines the subject of Power in 2017, one of the things we can explore is the force that helps us turn on lights or heat our homes. That scientific aspect of power touches our lives daily, and our partner Indiana Humanities is helping bridge the gap between science and the humanities through its Quantum Leap initiative.

Quantum Leap explores the spirit of possibility and problem-solving when we bridge the humanities with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). One piece of the initiative is Sound Bites, a weekly series of five-minute-long audio stories that share moments of scientific discovery, creation and innovation in Indiana’s past and present. The episodes are professionally produced by Sandra Bertin and will run on select Indiana radio stations. Listeners can download episodes through iTunes and Android podcast software or through SoundCloud.

New episodes of Sound Bites will be available every Tuesday. The first episodes have covered engaging stories about how Hoosiers have contributed to science. They explore topics like the beginning of molecular biology in Bloomington, Ind., and the first African-American doctor in Indianapolis. Upcoming episodes will tell stories of the world’s first electrically-lighted city, lunar vehicles and how jails can be more humane, among others.

Spirit & Place believes in the impact the humanities can have in bringing people together. It’s part of why we do what we do. Through telling stories like those included in Sound Bites, we can learn how science and technology have informed Indiana’s past and how it will continue to shape our state in the future.

For more information on Indiana Humanities’ Quantum Leap initiative, visit their website. From listening to Sound Bites to joining the statewide read of Frankenstein or attending an event, there are plenty of ways for you to join the conversation.

 

What Kind of Events Does the Festival Want?

Spirit & Place wants unique events that engage the mind and heart. We want events that invite reflection and discussion related to the yearly theme. We want you to partner with others so that multiple perspectives inform all aspects of your event. We want you to help create bridges of understanding. We want you to use the festival as an opportunity to stretch yourself creatively, collaboratively, intellectually, and spiritually.

We want your best. And, yeah, we know that’s a lot!

The Spirit & Place Festival provides you the opportunity to help build up our community. For 10 days, Central Indiana residents are invited to share in a common experience built on exploration of a yearly theme. You have the power to help bring people together in dynamic and meaningful ways all the while elevating the work you and other arts, humanities, religious, and/or community organizations do.

That’s the power of Spirit & Place.

When submitting your event application . . .

DO:

  • Be inventive and collaborative. We love to see innovation and risk-taking!
  • Put the theme front and center. Be clear on how your event is connected to the theme and how the audience will experience/reflect upon the theme. (2017 theme is POWER.)
  • Demonstrate your capacity. Challenge yourself to create something unique, but keep it focused enough so that you can accomplish your goals.
  • Remember the arts, humanities, & religion. Use one or more of these disciplines as a vehicle to help you explore your idea.

DON’T

  • Force what isn’t there. If you’re stretching to make a theme connection, don’t.
  • Ignore your audience. Invest the time in really talking about the needs, wants, and values of the audience you hope to attract.
  • Get lost in language. The application questions have word limits for a reason: To force succinct explanations. Be descriptive, but direct. Compelling, but concise.

Check out our partner resources for guidance as you plan your event and do not hesitate to contact us for assistance at festival@iupui.edu.

Remember, event applications are due Friday, April 21 at 5p.m.!

LINKS: Partner Resources: http://www.spiritandplace.org/Festival.aspx?access=Partners

 

 

28th Joseph T. Taylor Symposium: It’s not foreign. It’s U.S.

 

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As a nation of immigrants, the U.S. is one of the most diverse societies in the world. Yet, history and modern times are rife with examples of cultural misunderstandings that stand in the way of a truly integrated society.

Language is the key to overcoming moments of difficulty, facilitating the transition of new Americans, and bringing harmony to our remarkable mosaic of cultural traditions and experiences.

BE SURE to save the date so that you can join us for the 28th Joseph T. Taylor Symposium: “It’s not foreign. It’s U.S.”

When: Thu., Feb. 23, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Phone: 800-933-9330
Email: iuconfs@indiana.edu
Price: Morning session: Free; Lunch: $35 each, if purchased by Feb. 2 or $40 after Feb. 2.

Register here: http://liberalarts.iupui.edu/index.php/signature/C70/

2017 Theme: Power. November 3-12, 2017!

POWER can be disquieting, discomforting, and oppressive; it can also be illuminating, inspiring, and hopeful. How do our social, political, cultural, and spiritual perspectives shape notions of power? How do the arts, humanities, and religion fuel our inner life and empower communities? How has the use, misuse, and abuse of power shaped our individual and collective lives? What new sources of energy can power our lives together? How can we give voice to communities that have historically lacked power? How can we bring diverse groups together to examine power structures in our own communities?

How do you want to explore POWER in 2017?

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Cultural, faith-based, educational, health and human service organizations, libraries, community centers, civic institutions, artists, musicians, and others are invited to create innovative events for upcoming festivals. Application guidelines are posted at the beginning of the year.

Contact Program Director Erin Kelley at 317-274-2462 or ekkelley@iupui.edu or click here to learn more.