Earth Holding Community: Inter-Activism

How our Hearts, Hands, and Global Spheres of Care Coalesce and Manifest Through Earth-Holding Actions

Dear friends, 
For this issue, we offer some inspiring news from Earth Holders around the world about how they are weaving Earth-holding practices into their lives and communities in Brazil, Latin America; Chesapeake Bay, US; and Ontario, Canada. Their stories provide examples of the wide range of ways we can practice Engaged Buddhism and Sangha building to protect the Earth–from mindful trash cleanups to legislative actions to gardening in our homes.

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How our Hearts, Hands, and Global Spheres of Care Coalesce and Manifest Through Earth-Holding Actions

Dear friends, 
For this issue, we offer some inspiring news from Earth Holders around the world about how they are weaving Earth-holding practices into their lives and communities in Brazil, Latin America; Chesapeake Bay, US; and Ontario, Canada. Their stories provide examples of the wide range of ways we can practice Engaged Buddhism and Sangha building to protect the Earth–from mindful trash cleanups to legislative actions to gardening in our homes. May these offerings inspire and nourish your Earth holding aspirations and practice!
–The Earth Holder Caretaking Council Editorial Team

Earth Holders Blossoming in Brazil and Across Latin America

By Maíra Fernandes de Melo

It was late 2020 and Pantanal, the largest wetland in the Americas, was burning. I was many miles away and handling my own local chaos amidst the COVID crisis in Rio de Janeiro. But as an activist engaged in several climate-justice networks, I was connected 24/7 to the terrifying reality of massive wildfires. Every day, my cell phone brought reports, photos, appeals to volunteers, and requests for material help. To this day, in my mind I carry as a bell of mindfulness the image of a burnt dead jaguar, her mouth wide open in a last attempt to gasp for air before succumbing. 

Social justice themes are controversial in our Sanghas and I didn't want to generate any discomfort—so I didn't share about my pain, which then spread as fast as the fires in Pantanal. Luckily, the universe eventually unfolded the Earth Holder Community website in front of me. I remember my joy in my first Earth Holder Community meeting, which included pronoun statements, land acknowledgments, and BIPOC sharing rooms. Our local Sangha’s dynamics were far from incorporating those practices. I had never seen that in a spiritual context! I was so happy! When the Earth Holder Community meeting ended, I texted a local Sangha friend: “Just found our oasis!”

Mindfulness “Atlantic Forest” Day; photo by Saulo Nicola

With regular attendance, crying as needed and sharing freely, I started making new Dharma friends and little by little, my suffering eased. Knowing I had lived in Argentina, the Earth Holder Community coordinator, Simona Coayla-Duba, invited me to join the group working to create a Spanish-speaking Earth Holder Community. A few months later, in 2021, it blossomed: Abrazadores de la Tierra, a worldwide Earth Holder Community of Hispanohablantes

The community is rapidly increasing and bearing fruit. Smaller Abrazadores de la Tierra local Sanghas have already manifested in México, and Abrazadores de la Tierra practices are being incorporated by regular Sanghas in other Spanish-speaking communities. Although most participants are from Abya Ayla territory, practitioners from the US and Europe have been working to manifest a Spanish-speaking Earth Holder Community since the beginning, both as core team and attendees. As my participation proves, you don’t have to be a native Spanish speaker to join Abrazadores. After all, speaking the language of the heart is the only thing we need to hold our Mother in our arms.

In Brazil, I began to obsessively talk about the Earth Holder Community, and friends from our local Sanghas eventually joined Earth Holders (English) or Abrazadores (Spanish) online gatherings, while the aspiration for a Brazilian Earth Holder Community sprouted. Earlier this year, we had our first Guardiões da Terra (meaning Earth Holders in Portuguese)–with Plum Village practitioners from all over Brazil, attendees from other Buddhist traditions, and even some non-Buddhists.

Along with regular gatherings, during Water Week, Guardiões da Terra offered public meditations in various parts of Brazil and, in Rio, we did a mindful trash collection at the beach. It was a great opportunity to practice aimlessness, since we were able to clean just half of a block, and also non-judgment–who still throws litter on the beach?! We marched mindfully in the last Climate Strike and had a wonderful Mindfulness “Atlantic Forest” Day.

photo by Saulo Nicolai

This biome was terribly devastated by monoculture plantations and cattle livestock. Only 13 percent of original “Mata Atlântica” remains, yet we didn’t want to offer a depressive environmental awareness activity. Things here are hard enough–people are exhausted–so we decided to create a Joyful Day of Earth Awareness. Mindful movements, walking meditation, singing, drawing, mindful game playing at the park, and a picnic filled our day with happiness and love for community living.

The Earth Holder Community has healed me. I got so involved that I ended up joining the Caretaking Council. As someone directly experiencing climate crisis and activism in the Global South, my participation enables me to build bridges between North and South and help end victim-perpetrator cycles. I firmly believe the answer to our human crisis is in community and connection. We Dharanimdhara’s hands, hearts, and feet, we Earth Holders of the world, can unite to share mindfulness, love, and compassion in all directions–including toward ourselves–so we can offer, as Thầy asked us, our true presence as our best gift to Mother Earth.

For more information, contact or visit Abrazadores de la Tierra on Facebook or @guardioesdaterra.ehcbr on Instagram.

Maíra Fernandes de Melo, Engaged Serenity of the Heart (pronouns she/her), is a Brazilian journalist, scholar, poet, and activist. Born in the lands of Tupinambás, Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains of Atlantic Forest, she has also lived in Argentina, land of Guaraníes–the dense stream of Paraná River embracing her body. She has Indigenous (Potiguara and Puri) and European (Portuguese and Spanish) human ancestors, and is a daughter of Oxóssi, Orisha of the forests in Brazilian Candomblé.

Chesapeake Earth Holder Community: Placing a Toe in the Stream of Climate Activism

The Chesapeake Earth Holder Community (CEH) comprises members in the Chesapeake Watershed: Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

Joanna Macy, a long-time student of Thầy's, suggests there are three interlocking elements in bringing about a more just and sustainable world:  

1.   Holding actions that protect the Earth from further damage.

2.   Regenerative actions that preserve the Earth and create more life-sustaining ways of living.

3.   Transformation of our own and society’s consciousness to realize our interbeing with all beings. 

This spring, the Chesapeake Earth Holder Community chose to protect Mother Earth through participation in legislative and lobbying actions to support climate legislation and protect forests and waterways of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Despite growing, worldwide awareness that we must act, federal-level challenges make a state-level focus more effective. To be most effective, we partnered with other climate organizations during the 2022 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session.

Earth Holder members contribute to the success of existing climate organizations by bringing their mindful presence, offering mindful listening and speaking, and reaching out to Sangha members to support climate-friendly legislation.

The 2022 Maryland legislative docket included many climate-friendly bills. We focused on three of them by participating in meetings, presenting testimony, and sending a series of Action Alerts to our Maryland members. Only one of the three passed, but we will persevere until our economy sustains a health-supporting environment for all beings.

Here are quotes from some members who participated in this initiative:

David Steigerwald: We formed valuable relationships with other environmental organizations, which will enable us to continue this work into the future. We are learning how to work in coalitions as Earth Holders, and how to share the message of love for Mother Earth and our deep commitment to social and racial justice. 

Jill McKay: I had never engaged in political lobbying and was hesitant to get involved, but Sister Chân Đức (Sister Annabel), in her book True Virtue, states that when you are asked to do something that you are capable of doing but may not want to–our practice is to step up and do it. So I overcame my hesitation and got involved. I met many wonderful people, and my Senator and Delegates voted in favor of our bills.

Jeff Johnson: I was fearful of testifying in person but reminded myself that I was representing my Buddhist belief in the sacredness of life as I spoke about how fossil fuels cause suffering, particularly among the most vulnerable. I met other climate activists and shared on a personal level what it means to be an Earth Holder.

Through our work, Chesapeake Earth Holders has been invited to become a member of the steering committee of a major coalition that includes NAACP, labor unions, and climate change organizations.

Please email with any comments or questions.

Jeffrey Johnson, True Harmonious Stream (pronouns he/him), lives in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and practices with the True Names Sangha. Now retired, he worked for many years as an environmental health scientist and educator focusing on the adverse health impact of social injustice. He has been the Earth Holders regional community builder for the Mid-Atlantic region over the past two years and is a founding member of the Chesapeake Earth Holders Community.  He is also active in Extinction Rebellion, Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects Community, and organizing a network of Buddhist groups from various traditions in his region to work together to protect and support Mother Earth.

Jill McKay, True Transmission of the Path, lives in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, and practices with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax. In addition to tending (and talking to) the plants and trees in her garden, her Earth holder practice has led her to engage at the state and local levels in support of legislation that protects the health and well-being of all who depend on Mother Earth for our mutual survival.

David Steigerwald lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, and practices with the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. Along with his wife, Lynd Morris, David is a founding member of the Chesapeake Earth Holder Community and represents us at the Climate Justice Wing of the Maryland Legislative Coalition.

Growing Possibilities in Ontario, Canada

By Jess Pelow

After a decade of living in high-rises, my husband and I moved out of the city to the suburbs and became first-time homeowners in 2019. Our house sits on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee, in what is currently called Kingston, Ontario, Canada. With this move, we were deeply aware of our privilege in having this space and had an aspiration to transform our home to be of service to the human and more-than-human world.  

Most of the houses in our neighbourhood look the same: a tidy front yard with immaculate green grass, gas-powered vehicles in the driveway, and non-food-producing gardens with hedges or flowers that are not native to this region. When we moved in, our home fit this aesthetic perfectly, but that changed in spring 2020.

As the snow melted, we turned our attention to the front yard. We replaced the grass with wood chips from a local arborist and built six vegetable garden beds out of old wood pallets in the centre. Around the perimeter, we added shorter garden beds for native wildflowers as a home and food source for our more-than-human friends. This unusual front yard turned many heads in the neighbourhood, and we practiced deep listening as neighbours stopped by to share their anger, fear, joy, and excitement with how the space was changing.

Before (above) and after (below); photos by Thomas Sears

Having never grown food before, we leaned into the beginner’s mind and met each moment in the garden with curiosity and wonder. We learned how to hand-pollinate squash, made friends with lady beetles, and had a new appreciation for rainy days. As the first vegetables became ready to harvest, we connected with a local nonprofit called Loving Spoonful, which accepted our excess vegetables and distributed them across the city to families and community members in need of fresh produce. Fast forward to our second year of growing: we coordinated a drop-off point on our front porch, where neighbours could donate their excess vegetables to Loving Spoonful, as well. In 2021, our neighbourhood donated more than 140 pounds of fresh produce.

photo by Thomas Sears

Since moving in, we have also added solar panels to the roof and replaced our gas-powered vehicle with a fully electric model. With these visible changes, we’ve planted seeds of possibility in our community and we see these seeds sprouting as neighbours share that they have started a garden, bought an electric vehicle, or installed solar panels, after speaking with us about our experience. Now, in 2022, we are smiling to the beans, wasps, and swamp milkweed who are flourishing in this space, and we feel so grateful to have the practice of Earth Holding in suburbia.

Jess Pelow, Gentle Mountain of the Heart (pronouns she/her), is an environmental educator born on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee in what is currently called Ontario, Canada. She is nourished by gardening, community engagement, and her work of cultivating love for our more-than-human relatives, as a teacher at a wildlife hospital. To learn more, message her on Instagram at @buddypeafarm.

Edited by Jonah Meyer and Leslie Rawls.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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