The Inner Nature podcast series is a collection of conversations between thought-leaders exploring the intersection of contemplative practice and environmental action. The series explores how we can tend to our inner lives so we have the creativity and clarity to imagine the future we know is possible and the mental and emotional stamina to work toward that vision, even if it takes a lifetime.
Each month, we'll release a new conversation between some of the greatest contemplatives of our time as they reflect on how environmental activism is essential to our own, personal journey from separation to wholeness.
These conversation partners explore questions like:
How could transforming our inner lives help us transform the world?
How are introspection and imagination crucial to a thriving planet?
How is environmental work essential to the contemplative endeavor?
And how can we stay connected to the healing power of nature, even as we experience grief and guilt over compounding environmental crises?
Together, we’ll look at how the contemplative journey shapes our mindset, which ripples out into our relationships with one another and with the earth.
Inner Nature is a collaborative endeavor between the Spring Creek Project and the Contemplative Studies Initiative. Listen at the links below or wherever you get your podcasts.
Carly Lettero, Spring Creek Project director, welcomes you to the themes we'll be exploring in the Inner Nature series.
Episode 1: Kaira Jewel Lingo and Kritee Kanko, Part 1
In the first episode of Inner Nature, which is part 1 of a 2-part conversation, Kritee Kanko and Kaira Jewel Lingo set a foundation for understanding the mutuality and reciprocity of contemplative practice and environmental action. They invite us to consider many questions: How might we meet and hold personal and collective grief, anger, and trauma? How can we deepen our sense of “interbeing,” or interdependence? And how do we summon the courage to question the status quo, and build the wisdom to respond with a clear, sacred “no,” as is necessary, to protect one another and our planet? This conversation unfolds an acknowledgment of both the individual and systemic responses needed to the climate emergency. In doing so, Kaira Jewel and Kritee make clear the critical interconnectedness of environmental and racial justice.
Episode 2: Kaira Jewel Lingo and Kritee Kanko, Part 2
In the second episode of Inner Nature, which is part 2 of a 2-part conversation, Kritee Kanko and Kaira Jewel Lingo highlight the importance of creating small, local communities for processing grief and anger, practicing mindfulness, and taking climate action. The conversation also invites a broader perspective on the environmental crisis, as they discuss climate breakdown in terms of its spiritual and social causes, such as trauma, dominance, and oppression. Kaira and Kritee leave us with hopeful guidance around meeting overwhelm and anger with wisdom, creativity, imagination, and love.
Episode 3: David James Duncan and Fred Bahnson
In this episode, David James Duncan talks with Fred Bahnson. Both David and Fred developed and deepened their own contemplative practices among the peaks of mountains and on the banks of western rivers, which in turn led them to lives of activism and advocacy. During this conversation, they invite us to consider many questions: Where do we find hope? And why is it necessary for sustaining a life of environmental activism? How can contemplative practices like purposeful silence and careful attention serve us? And what is the cultural and spiritual role of storytelling? They braid their own thoughts and writing with the words of other writers and spiritual leaders including William Stafford, Barry Lopez, and Saint Isaac of Syria. They discuss how committing to inner work can not only sustain the individual activist but can also help cultivate the kinds of caring and graceful communities that are needed to champion real and meaningful environmental change.
Episode 4: dekila chungyalpa and Mary Evelyn tucker
In this episode, Dekila Chungyalpa speaks with long-time friend Mary Evelyn Tucker about a much-needed paradigm shift that would allow us to better hold space for the mystery and sacredness of our deeply interconnected planet. The mystery we're immersed in on this planet is extraordinary, yet conventional worldviews and strictly scientific understandings tend to be reductionist and incomplete, ignoring the mystery and the intangibles so vital to healing and wholeness. Woven throughout this conversation is a call for new ways of being and knowing that center awe, relationality, reverence, and Indigeneity alongside science, technology, and policy. Recognizing that creation stories lead to paradigms, and paradigms become practice, Dekila and Mary Evelyn invite us to question the stories we tell and identify the implications these stories bear on our social and environmental well-being. They root us in deep time, offer a new understanding of grief, and invite us to experience uncertainty and wonder. They ask: How might our outlooks and behaviors change if we begin to value the wild world in sacred terms instead of economic profit? What happens when we follow Indigenous leadership or when we humbly engage with those who think differently than us? And what is gained when we allow ourselves to be truly awestruck by what is unknowable in this universe?
Episode 5: patricia jennings and owsley brown
In this episode, Patricia Jennings, who goes by "Tish," and Owsley Brown offer insights on their work as collaborators for the Compassionate Schools Project, a curriculum that integrates empathy and mindfulness into elementary school education. Youth today, they say, are facing higher levels of anxiety and depression than previous generations in part due to rapid social and environmental change. Through the Compassionate Schools Project, Tish and Owsley have found that teaching practical tools, like meditation and self-awareness, creates remarkable shifts in how kids respond to these stresses. They discuss how these mindfulness practices help today’s youth prepare for and weather rapid change and develop into curious, creative, and resilient adults with the will and courage to enact the change needed to heal our planet.
Learn More About Our Podcast Guests
Fred Bahnson is an award-winning author, journalist, and essayist, telling stories at the intersection of ecological restoration, spirituality, and culture. He is the author of the book Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. His writing has appeared in Harper's, Orion, Notre Dame Magazine, Emergence, The Sun, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing. He is also a documentary film writer and producer. He collaboratively wrote and produced Horizons, a documentary about climate change seen through the eyes of writer Barry Lopez. Alongside his career as a writer, Fred founded and directed two environmental nonprofits. Now, as Storytelling Lead at Earthshot Labs, Fred is part of a cross-disciplinary team of scientists, technologists, and carbon finance experts aligned on a common mission: to leverage voluntary carbon markets in order to support large-scale reforestation projects around the world.
Owsley Brown is a student of theology, a host and producer of the national interfaith event “The Festival of Faiths,” and a documentary filmmaker and producer known for films such as Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry. He is Chair of the Compassionate Schools Project, and also works with several foundations and nonprofit boards to support projects that sustain healthy communities by enhancing cultural, spiritual, and civic life.
Dekila Chungyalpa is a conservation scientist, daughter of a Tibetan Buddhist nun, and the founder and director of University of Wisconsin-Madison's Loka Initiative, a program that supports faith-led environmental action by building the capacity of faith-leaders and Indigenous tradition-bearers. Known as an innovator in the environmental field, Dekila began her career in 2001 working on community-based conservation in the Eastern Himalayas and went on to work on climate adaptation and free flowing rivers in the Mekong region for the World Wildlife Fund in 2004. In 2008, she helped establish Khoryug, an association of over 50 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries implementing environmental projects across the Himalayas. In 2009, she founded and led WWF Sacred Earth, a 5-year pilot program that built partnerships with faith leaders and religious institutions towards conservation and climate results in the Amazon, East Africa, Himalayas, Mekong, and the United States. She received the prestigious Yale McCluskey Award in 2014 and worked with the Yale School of Environmental Studies as an associate research scientist.
David James Duncan is the author of the classic novels The River Why and The Brothers K, the story collection River Teeth, the nonfiction collection and National Book Award finalist My Story as Told by Water, the best-selling collection of “churchless sermons" God Laughs & Plays, and the upcoming novel Sun House. David's work has won three Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards, two Pushcart Prizes, a Lannan Fellowship, the Western States Book Award, and inclusion in Best American Sports Writing, Best American Catholic Writing, two volumes of Best American Essays, and five volumes of Best American Spiritual Writing.
Patricia Jennings is a professor of education at the University of Virginia and an internationally recognized leader in social and emotional learning and mindfulness. She is a co-author of Flourish: The Compassionate Schools Project curriculum and is a co-investigator on a large randomized controlled trial to evaluate the curriculum’s efficacy. Tish is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Fostering Healthy Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Development among Children and Youth. She was awarded the Cathy Kerr Award for Courageous and Compassionate Science by the Mind & Life Institute in 2018 and recently recognized by Mindful Magazine as one of "Ten Mindfulness Researchers You Should Know."
Kritee (Dharma name Kanko) is a climate scientist, Zen Buddhist priest and grief ritual leader. She is the founding Dharma teacher of a Colorado non-profit Boundless in Motion, a community in the Buddhist lineage of Cold Mountain Zen to identify, face and "compost" our personal and ecological traumas through meditation and grief work and take strategic collective actions for healing. She leads traditional Zen retreats (sesshins) that offer koan training and co-leads healing retreats for people of color with other BIPOC leaders (including Kaira Jewel Lingo). As a senior scientist in the Climate Smart Agriculture Program at the Environmental Defense Fund, she is helping to implement methods of small farming at large scales in Asia with a three-fold goal of poverty alleviation, food security, and climate mitigation/adaptation. Kritee is also a founding board member of Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, a center that brings meditation in nature together with Dharma teachings for ecological action.
Kaira Jewel Lingo is a Dharma teacher who has a lifelong interest in blending spirituality and meditation with social justice. She spent 15 years living as a nun at a Buddhist monastery in the Plum Village tradition and under the guidance of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. She is the author of We Were Made for These Times: Ten Lessons for Moving Through Change, Loss, and Disruption. Now based in New York, she teaches and leads retreats internationally, provides spiritual mentoring, and interweaves art, play, nature, racial and earth justice, and embodied mindfulness practice in her teaching. She especially feels called to share the Dharma with BIPOC students, as well as activists, educators, youth, artists, and families.
Mary Evelyn Tucker is a scholar of Confucianism and world religions and the co-director of the Forum on Ecology and Religion at Yale University. She teaches in the joint MA program in religion and ecology. She is also the co-creator of the multimedia project Journey of the Universe that includes a book, an Emmy Award winning film, a series of podcast conversations, and free online courses. She has authored and edited many books, including Confucianism and Ecology, Buddhism and Ecology, and Hinduism and Ecology, Worldly Wonder: Religions Enter Their Ecological Phase, and Ecology and Religion. Tucker was a member of the Earth Charter Drafting committee and the International Earth Charter Council. She won the Inspiring Yale Teaching Award in 2015 and has been awarded five honorary degrees. With her husband John Grim, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture.