Enjoy highlights from our Faith & Moral Courage event series: read the keynote speech by Buddhist and secular mindfulness teacher Kaira Jewel Lingo, delivered at St Ethelburga’s Bridging Divides, Loving Earth Conference. To watch the full speech and discover more content from Faith & Moral Courage event series, subscribe to our YouTube channel here.

Kaira Jewel Lingo: This Earth has so much to teach us. We are the Earth, we are none other than the Earth. The Earth has seen so much in its 4.2 billion years of history. It has the capacity to persevere and transform. When we connect with the Earth, we tap into that stability and perseverance. In the tradition I come from, of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village, when we plant a tree, we say, “I entrust myself to the Earth and the Earth entrusts herself to me.” Seeing how we are deeply connected to this planet can really be a part of our practice of cultivating courage and faith.

Another important practice to ground ourselves in the Earth is clearing our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. Films or shows or music can be wonderful things to input into our system, but they can also be things we turn to as an escape when things get overwhelming. I want to pay closer attention in daily life to why I was turning to certain things as methods of distraction.

Much of our media and items of cultural consumption are designed to entice us to over-consume and get addicted, to always need to be looking at our phone or screen. This way of consuming moves our locus of power externally rather than internally. It undermines our faith in ourselves and our own wisdom. When we can clear out our mind, heart, and body, we can reconnect with our truth, our inherent goodness, and we can find others who are also going in this direction of seeing reality more clearly. So we have to cut off some of the things that we take in. That letting go takes courage but it also nurtures courage. It gives us strength to face the polycrisis and the greater unraveling that is coming.

I want to speak now to a way we can tap into the wisdom we have inside of us that’s not only individual but also collective. I spent many years with Nhat Hanh, a Zen master from Vietnam who did a lot to bring engaged Buddhism to the world. Many people would ask him what to do when facing big life decisions, like what career path to take, or whether to stay with a partner or leave, or whether to ordain as a monastic. He would often say, don’t try to figure this out by thinking about it. If we think about it with our intellect, we don’t usually arrive at real wisdom. We tire ourselves out and we get more confused, more anxious. So these deeper life questions have to be entrusted to a deeper, different part of our consciousness. He would suggest that we consider this big question as a kind of seed, and we plant it in the soil of our mind, and we have to let it rest there. This is a practice of both faith and courage. Let it rest in the soil of our mind and daily life, knowing that it will come up in its own time and we will then have clarity, without a doubt.

It’s the same with a deep and troubling question, including what’s going to happen to us, our human society, our planet, in this time of polycrisis? In our daily lives, we practice calming, resting, and coming home to ourselves. This is a very powerful part of our consciousness. In Buddhist psychology, it’s called store consciousness because it has the function of storing all of the impressions, all of the memories, all of the things we’ve experienced both individually and collectively.

We’ve probably all had the experience of trying to figure out a problem and find an answer to something perplexing. We think hard, we circle round and we don’t get anywhere. Then we let the question go. Something happens, we get interrupted, whatever. Then when we least expect it, inspiration or helpful ideas come to us in some moment of rest, in some moment of discontinuity. This store consciousness works much more efficiently than mind consciousness.

We need to learn to trust and have faith in our collective consciousness. To do that, we must nurture it. Everything is changing so quickly. In his book The Wisdom of Insecurity Alan Watts points out that when we are clear and sure about where we are going, when we have all the answers, we’re actually less open to a huge range of possibilities. But when we let ourselves be in this space of not knowing, there is enormous potential and life can unfold in innumerable ways. Rather than avoid and fear uncertainty, we can learn to turn towards it, to embrace it, to lean into that. We can learn to connect with kindness, softness, rather than stiffening up against what we don’t know.

So we can breathe in, we can breathe out, we can feel our bodies. Notice these sensations in the body and create a sense of space. We can train ourselves to stay with that, to slow down and let our nervous system recalibrate and center itself. The external situation may not change, but we have changed in our relation to the external situation through this practice. This practice of pausing is what allows this seed to mature, to ripen and to give us guidance.

Why faith and moral courage? 

This content is a segment of an extensive event series exploring what faith and moral courage look like in an age of polycrisis. Where does extraordinary courage come from? What can we learn from people who’ve risked everything to live up to their values? What forms of courage are especially needed in our age of unravelling, uncertainty and risk? How can we inspire ourselves and each other to grow our capacity to brave our limits? Are there insights from the world’s spiritual and faith traditions that can help us grow our courage?

Chen has a background in art history and the creative industries. She supports the Faith and Moral Courage project, Contemplative Practice event series, and various creative endeavours at St Ethelburga's. Along with her regular meditation practice, Chen enjoys exploring different contemplative practices and experiences. When she is not on her yoga mat, she can usually be found in the kitchen, experimenting with culinary art and completely immersed in the mesmerising sound of Sanskrit.