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Catherine Ingram joins Tahnee on the podcast today. Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher and former journalist specialising in empathy and activism. Catherine is the author of several books including; In the Footsteps of Gandhi, Passionate Presence, A Crack in Everything, and the long-form essay “Facing Extinction.” Catherine has published over 100 articles and interviews throughout the 1980s and early 1990s with leading thinkers and activists of our time. Catherine and Tahnee take a deep dive today, sharing a beautiful conversation around the philosophical landscape of activism, empathy, Buddhism, dharma practice, mindfulness and sensitivity.
Tahnee and Catherine explore:
- The Resilient Byron project.
- The 1970's Dharma movement.
- Activism, empathy and compassion.
- The nature and burden of sensitivity.
- The relationship between grief and love.
- The themes of Catherine's essay; Facing Extinction.
- The mindfulness industry and how it is often misguided.
- Catherine's experience of Buddhist meditation and philosophy.
Who is Catherine Ingram?
Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher with communities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Since 1992 Catherine has led Dharma Dialogues, which are public events that encourage the intelligent use of awareness within one’s personal life and in one’s community. Catherine leads numerous silent retreats each year in conjunction with Dharma Dialogues. Catherine is president of Living Dharma, an educational non-profit organisation founded in 1995.
Catherine has been the subject of numerous print, television, and radio interviews and is included in several anthologies about teachers in the West.
A former journalist specialising in issues of consciousness and activism, Catherine is the author of two books of nonfiction, which are published in numerous languages: In the Footsteps of Gandhi: Conversations with Spiritual/Social Activists (Parallax Press, 1990) and Passionate Presence: Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness (Penguin Putnam, 2003); and one novel, A Crack in Everything (Diamond Books, 2006). In February 2019, Catherine published the long-form essay “Facing Extinction” as a free link, an essay she updates every month as new data emerges about the crises we face.
Over a fifteen-year period beginning in 1982, Catherine published approximately 100 articles on empathic activism and served on the editorial staffs of New Age Journal, East West Journal, and Yoga Journal. For four years Catherine also wrote the Life Advice column for Alternatives Magazine based in Oregon.
Since 1976, Catherine has helped organise and direct institutions dedicated to meditation and self-inquiry and, more recently, human and animal rights. Catherine is a co-founder of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (1976). Catherine also co-founded the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in The Hague, Netherlands (1991) and is a member of the Committee of 100 for Tibet. For six years (1988-1994), Catherine served as a board director for The Burma Project, dedicated to raising international awareness about the struggle for democracy in Burma. Catherine is currently serving on the board of Global Animal Foundation, which works on behalf of the world’s animals.
Check Out The Transcript Below:
Hi everybody and welcome to the SuperFeast podcast. Today I'm really excited to have Catherine Ingram here. She's the author of several books. Footsteps to Gandhi, Passionate Presence, A Crack in Everything and this incredible essay called Facing Extinction that you can find online. We'll link to it in the show notes. Catherine's an amazing former journalist as well so she's spoken to so many wonderful people and it seems to be this real emphasis on compassion and humanity and activism and empathy. And I know she's published over 100 articles and interviews throughout the '80s and '90s. I don't know if those are all available online, Catherine, but maybe people can have a little dig. Since '92, Catherine has been leading international retreats and public sessions known as Dharma Dialogues. I've been fortunate to go to some of those in Lennox and in Byron Bay. They're just really beautiful ways to check in and connect to this deeper meaning and purpose of life and our own inner compass toward well being. Our passions and all those kinds of things. She's also served on the board of numerous human rights organisations, as a board member of Global Animal and also is part of a newly founded organisation called Resilient Byron, which I'm excited to talk to her about today.
Catherine, so busy. I know you're going to be doing some Dharma Dialogues online digitally, which is really exciting as well. Thanks so much for being here today. We're really excited.
Catherine Ingram: (01:32)
Thank you for inviting me.
So we've been touching on a lot of big themes lately on the podcast, which I think this time obviously takes us all deeper into ourselves for sure. I know that a lot of your work has focused on these big themes. Has that been something that you've been interested in forever or were you more drawn into these things over time? Can you give us a little sense of how Catherine becomes Catherine?
Catherine Ingram: (02:01)
Well I fell into the study of Buddhist meditation from a pretty young age. I started doing retreats, attending retreats in 1974 and it became basically my world. I helped found a big centre in Massachusetts called Insight Meditation Society, which is one of the famous mindfulness centres in the world. But at the time, we were just this ragtag band of hippies. It was a very small scene in those days. Really small. We all knew each other, everywhere. I know a lot of the very famous mindfulness teachers, the older ones. They're old friends. I was in that study and in that practise and in that organisation for 17 years until about '91. Along the way, I became interested in how does a mindful life or an empathic life or a life based on loving kindness, how does it show up for anybody else? It's all well and good that we're all having a fine time but how does it matter in the world?
Catherine Ingram: (03:11)
That became a focus for me in journalism. I decided to become a journalist in order to have access to what I considered the people who could be my teachers, my mentors in that new field of study, that is activism with a consciousness or empathic base. I thought to myself, why would any of those people want to talk with me or hang out with me? And I thought, well they would if I were a journalist and if I could publish their words. So I became a journalist, I kind of backed into it with a side motivation, which was, I wanted access [inaudible 00:03:50] I wanted to study with.. And that's what it gave me. So for the next 12 years, I focused entirely on that. I published, as you mentioned, many, many articles in the days... It was pre-Internet [inaudible 00:04:05] available, a few of them we did manage to scan and put online. I did that for all those years writing for print magazines and then I began having sessions myself, having meditative, initially dialogue-based meditation sessions. In other words, part of it would be silent but also it would be a dialogue format to keep people on a certain frequency, and in conjunction with silent retreats that I led all over the world. Well not in Russia. Not in Africa.
Not in every single country on the planet.
Catherine Ingram: (04:56)
Not every country. Not even every continent but I did that and still do, although we're in lockdown at the moment. Yeah, I've been focused on these matters, the confluence of activism and empathic action that has a dedication to the greater good. It's always been important to me. I remember long ago, I heard a Tibetan teacher talk about the two wings of the bird. One is wisdom and one is compassion and that it can fall off... I'm sorry, no, that got... That's how a bird flies. But I've heard other teachers talk about wisdom and compassion being like two different types of temperament and I've always thought, how can there be wisdom without compassion? It doesn't make sense. How can there be any kind of wisdom that doesn't include compassion? Since I was quite young in my career, I've always wanted the understanding that your awareness includes and is expansive. I'm a bit allergic to systems of thought and philosophy that are very self motivated. Self improvement, self wellbeing.
You must love Instagram. Just kidding.
Catherine Ingram: (06:36)
I don't use Instagram and I'm also [inaudible 00:06:38] social media in general, though I'm forced to a little tiny bit because we have to-
Necessarily evil unfortunately.
Catherine Ingram: (06:46)
Exactly, yeah. That's why I don't have an Instagram account.
Could I just quickly... I just want to grab on that because this is honestly my biggest bugbear with how even mindfulness and all of these things have been taken and turned into almost competitions or ways of making yourself better than somebody else.
Catherine Ingram: (07:07)
It's so co-opted and it's gotten corporate. I mean the Buddha would roll over in his grave if he had one. Yeah, it's really devolved over the years, I have to say. It's kind of tagged onto everything you can think of. It's very, very different than what I knew it to be back in the day. I studied with a lot of the older Asian teachers who've all since died. It was a very monastic scene back in those days but now it's a very different animal. I have to say though, there are other ways of understanding presence and how to use your attention and in those ways of understanding and of deep immersion, it would be anathema to your spirit to co-opt that understanding and use it for any kind of mercenary production. I think that there are ways to understand a dharmic life and to live a dharmic life and, as I say, use your mind and your heart in ways that in at least the original Buddhist teachings and language, it would be totally commensurate with all of that.
So I mean, how do you get to Buddhism? I mean, I don't know exactly how old you are but I assume it wasn't readily available to study Buddhist practice. No.
Catherine Ingram: (09:09)
Very obscure in those days. What happened though was this Tibetan teacher named Trungpa Rinpoche came along and he had been living in the UK. He was an exile from Tibet. He'd been living in the UK and he was a very hip... He was young and he was extremely hip and very interested in Western culture and in Western arts and all kinds of arts and he founded something called Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado in 1974 and he gathered there, all of the biggest named teachers of the day. Now they were still obscure and they had relatively small scenes, each one individually, like Ram Dass and all these people. Even though eventually that became a much larger scene, it wasn't at the time, and some of the big name Buddhist teachers who were unknown, totally unknown in those days, they were invited. He managed through his scene, his students, to get hold of all these people and gather them in this one spot to found this Buddhist university called Naropa Institute and I heard about it and I went. I decided to attend and I was 22 years old and I was in Europe. I was actually going to India, I thought. I was in Europe travelling around on my way to India.
Catherine Ingram: (10:38)
I didn't know what I was doing exactly. I wanted to go find a teacher in India but I heard about Naropa and I thought, all these teachers are going to be right there in one place in my own country. I should go there. It's a long, long story. That story alone of being there that summer, in the midst of all of that. Like imagine, I used to-
Catherine Ingram: (11:02)
I use this way of describing it. Imagine like a Burning Man but that was only about Dharma and only about philosophy and only about these deeper arts. That's what it felt like for a whole entire summer. 10 weeks. That was a real turning point because there I met my whole community and I fell into a particular strain of the... There were so many different types of teachings there. They weren't all Buddhist. There were just a few of the Buddhists. There was [inaudible 00:11:34], the Tibetan Buddhists, the Zen Buddhist and then this tiny little scene led by Joseph Goldstein. He had a class, a tiny, little, dinky class called the essential Buddhism. Hardly anyone came but I walked into his class and I just felt at home. He was my teacher and also later on, my boyfriend. So that's how I began Buddhist practise. I became incredibly immersed in those teachings, especially I heard the first noble truth, the truth of suffering, the truth of the unsatisfactoriness of existence and I just thought, sign me up. I get it. Anyway, that was my world for a long time. I basically just went from retreat to retreat. I was one of the managers of the retreats. I helped found the centre, as I said, that we did in 1976.
Catherine Ingram: (12:44)
I went to Asia. I finally did go to Asia after that first attempt. I went overland from Italy to India in a time when you could still do that and I was gone for... We were all over Southeast Asia studying in different temples with different of our teachers. I did that for a year. I went back many, many times to India. I went to India 10 times over the next 20 years. It was a whole... What to say, you could write a book on just that. Or I could, I guess.
Well I think that's the dream. I know in this area. There's so many young people looking for that authentic, and I'm using air quotes but the authentic experience, which I mean really that generation of yours was, there were so many socio political and cultural reasons that those experiences were able to be had.
Catherine Ingram: (13:47)
We were in a moment in history where our music was all about that. It was a whole, it was a zeitgeist that was happening among the counter culture but it wasn't as huge as people think. Certainly not the dharma slice of it but what was called the psychedelic generation, it wasn't as ubiquitous as people think but it was powerful and we all knew each other and hung out with each other. It was a really great, great time and then I fell into having my own sessions, as I said, and that's been really wonderfully rich. Just the intimacy of that and sharing a dharma life with people and having those kinds of conversations, I feel so privileged because I feel like I have of what you might call deathbed conversations but they're not on the deathbed, although sometimes. It's basically... Well the name of my podcast channel is In The Deep.
You go there.
Catherine Ingram: (15:01)
It just feels like you can stay on a certain channel of a shared frequency that is in the deep. I find that's, for me, the most satisfying kinds of conversation.
Have you found it hard to integrate... Again, I'm using air quotes, a real life with that kind of desire for that deep connection? I've heard you speak in Dharma Dialogue that your family were not... They were quite conservative, I think, if I'm remembering correctly. Have you found it difficult to connect back to your lineage and to the real world? Because you do inhabit this space that is not... There's a dearth of this kind of communication in our culture. People don't want deep. They want instant news and 24 hour Fox.
Catherine Ingram: (15:57)
That is why I always sought out the quieter places, the quieter minds, you could say. Those kinds of conversations and the power of sangha, of the dharmic community. I've always gravitated to that kind of crowd. In the work that I do, by definition, that's the kind of conversation... What I do is called Dharma Dialogues and so I have certainly my fair share of that kind of interaction and I spend a lot of time alone in quiet. I live a very retreat-like life. When I do have conversation, it tends to be about the deeper matters. It's not that we always have to be philosophical or anything. I mean, I'm happy to talk about the latest drama that we all might be watching. I enjoy that tremendously but because I don't have a lot of chit chat possibility in my life really, because I live alone, and my work is about this in the deep conversation, the conversations I do have tended to be in the nature such as the one we are having now, about what matters and what are the priorities and how does one live? What structure of life in your creative expression do you want to offer? That's been a very fortunate component.
Catherine Ingram: (17:50)
Regarding my family and of course other people in our lives that we may not be on the same page with, I've learned over the many years to just find points of connection that we do connect on. They can be very ordinary things and that's fine. I love ordinary also. I frame it and I spoke about it in my book Passionate Presence, as finding the language of the heart that you can intuit, you can sense, especially if you're quiet inside, you can sense the language that someone might be able to hear and you try to stay on those topics. Just as you do instinctively, as we all do instinctively when, say, we're with a child and whether it's a five year old child or a 10 year old child, you adjust your language a bit, or someone who you sense is highly intelligent but is speaking... English is their second language and they're not super fluent in it so you adjust. Instinctively you adjust how you're speaking so that they'll understand all your words.
Catherine Ingram: (19:15)
It's like that. You just have a radar that is sensing. The whole purpose of the conversation is to meet in the heart. It's not to just impose your great opinions.
That really makes me think because so many people are like, they need to change, the world needs to change and so often, it's us, sadly that needs to change.
Catherine Ingram: (19:48)
[inaudible 00:19:48] though, that way.
I mean I think about my own family and I remember reading a Ram Dass book and he was talking about coming home from India to see his father and he had to stand side by side with his father and all he wanted to do was tell him all these truths and what he learned and his dad just needed him to stand there and help him make a pie or whatever and he said, "All I could do was just love him," and in that his dad softened and changed and they found commonality. I think so often we come to each other with our agenda.
Catherine Ingram: (20:23)
Yeah, Ram Dass used to tell another story, which was that a woman wrote to him and said, "I'm about to go home for Christmas and I don't get along with my family that well and I know that they judge me about what I'm doing and they think I'm weird." Anyway, I don't know what he said to her but anyway, she went off to her family holiday and when she got back she wrote Ram Dass a letter and said, "My family hates me when I'm a Buddhist but they love me while I'm a Buddha."
That's so beautiful. Isn't that the truth? I remember hearing you speak that you've almost stepped away from Buddhism and that whole scene in a way because it was that identification with... Maybe I'm misunderstanding what I-
Catherine Ingram: (21:10)
No, I did step away from it completely. I'm so happy for that training and for those years and for the wonderful friendships. It was a whole evolutionary phase of my life but I wouldn't at all call myself a Buddhist. I don't have any kind of... There was a guy in the States, his name was Abbie Hoffman, he was a great activist back in my era. He died a long time ago. Kind of young when he died but he was a very famous radical activist in the '60s and he had a great line, "All of the isms are wasms," which I really related to. I don't have any isms that I'm adhering to. I have come to realise that Gandhi, the story of his... I'm sorry. His autobiography is called The Story Of My Experiments with Truth, and I feel that I've just been making my own experiments with truth and I don't claim as true with a capital T. I would say it's my experiments with truth, my experiments of what has made sense to me, what works, what has been consistently true for me in my experimentation about what is...
Catherine Ingram: (22:29)
Like we've been saying, what is the way through? What is the dharmic line, thread of harmony through this rocky road called life? That's been, for me, I have been exposed to so many kinds of teachings, beautiful teachings over the years. Whether in literature, I love great literature... I mean, you can have profound experiences just by reading some of the great works of literature, and movies too. Movies have shaped my consciousness.
Art, right? It's every... Humans have created that to tell stories since-
Catherine Ingram: (23:15)
Yes, there's the vortex of, some of it is commercial and corporate and manipulative but I think so much of it is truth. Like you say, little 't' truths. Someone trying to capture what's true for them through their art form.
Catherine Ingram: (23:33)
Yeah and what's so beautiful about all of that, and music, my goodness, music... What's so amazing about that is that's like our humanity is so... It's so sensitive and so universal in each of us. I mean it is why music translates to everybody, pretty much, that sometimes someone comes along and just in their own innocent, true expression, taps a chord that just reverberates through not only their own time but down through the ages. I'm always listening for those chords, however I can find them, whether in dharma circles and great works of philosophy and teachings from all different traditions but also in all these art forms and also just in-
Catherine Ingram: (24:39)
No, I mean in watching animals. You mentioned that I'm part now of a group called Global Animal, which is actually an animal rights organisation. I have been involved with human rights a lot in the past. Now I've switched over to the animals. The other animals, I should say. We are animals as well. Anyway, I'm just continually blown away by the tenderness and the emotional intelligence of animals, especially mammals, of course. It's all of these ways, all of these portals of wisdom that come across the transom of your mind that some minds just are looking for those, have incredible receptors for those, have neurological receptors for those kinds of channels and those kinds of bits of information and I think one can, in a sense, train the awareness to look for those.
That was going to be my question because I mean, I feel like I... I sometimes try and nut this out in my head and I don't get very far. I remember as a child being very sensitive and open and then kind of going through a science phase and a cynical phase, I suppose, in my early 20s and I feel like I've come full circle back to this very sensitive place but I have, I think, now the capacity to handle it. In reading your essay especially, the one on facing extinction, I speak to so many people about this in my community and it's this sense of, it's too much and I can't carry it. The sensitivity I have, it's a burden instead of a gift. I've found, for me, refuge in stillness and quiet and all the things you were talking about. Aloneness. Nature for me is a huge part of it and why I choose to live here and I've heard you say the same about moving to Lennox. Is there ways you've seen people grow into their sensitivity and their perceptiveness/ because I think these people, they're so required right now. Those empaths and those people that feel it all. I don't know how to help them. It's like, you just have to keep going.
Catherine Ingram: (27:20)
Yeah, it's a conundrum. It's a great question. It's not one I have a clear answer on in that the sensitivity comes with the deepening and widening awareness. It's a challenge because the more sensitive you are, the more subject to feeling the sorrows of the world and of the people you love and you as a young mother-
Catherine Ingram: (27:53)
Yeah. The problem is, you kind of can't help it. You can't really help it if you're someone who feels very, very deeply and you notice things and you have natural empathy. Now I think people do shut down. They harden their hearts. They put blinkers on. They're essentially armoured because they're frightened and feeling too deeply is just too painful for them but I don't see any way around if you're paying attention, if the awareness is widening, which in a way it does on its own but like I said, you can sort of direct it, train it more to look for wisdom wherever you can find it and that includes ways to let go and to try to be strong. If that's how you're built then sorrow comes with it. Just as I sometimes say, if you're not at least a little bit sad, you're not paying attention. All of these happiness programs, they just make my skin crawl. Be happy and real happy and happy happy.
Uhg! And they've coerced Buddhist, the dharma teachings. I mean, I'm on social media, unfortunately in some ways and I see this stuff and I just think... I mean, one of my teachers calls it the bandwidth. We want to be able to feel a spectrum of things and just to expect that it's just happy and sunshine, rainbows, lollipops all the time is-
Catherine Ingram: (29:50)
Yeah, I often say, have said for 30 years that we live on a spectrum of feelings and on one end is deep suffering and sorrow and sadness and depression and all kinds of things and at the other is incredible joy. We live on that spectrum. And that to shut down one end also shuts down the other. So some people want to play it safe and go right into the middle, don't feel too much on either side. You shut down any... Like basically grief is connected to love. That's why we grieve is because we love, like I said in my essay. So if you're going to give up, if you're so afraid of grieving, then you really can't invest in your love. You're going to be at risk. So that's what we've got here as human creatures. I think in this time, where the world has stopped, even though it's starting to move about a bit more, but I think a lot of people have reset their priorities and have understood perhaps in ways they never understood. But for many of us who've been looking at these things and feeling into them, we've understood them more deeply. That this life that we are so privileged to be living, it really never had any guarantees. We kind of drifted into an illusion in our rich cultures of just, you know, kind of having a party. I mean just going along.
Catherine Ingram: (31:33)
Just get what you want. Go where you want. Study what you want. Go here. Flit there. So we've just been having a grand old time and now we're confronted with our entire way of life has not only changed for now but it's changed and probably it's going to stay changed. It's going to get more and more challenging. I believe we're headed into a cascade of crises. The coronavirus crisis is going to perhaps be the kickstart. But we've got all the big ones waiting. The worse ones are waiting in the wings. They're cooking away in the background. We haven't been talking about them as much during this one. But they're going along. They're going a pace. Unlike this one, which might have some mitigation to it, I don't think those other ones do. So I think what we're facing is a lot more letting go and a lot more needing to find empathy and understanding and getting way closer to the ground in terms of how we live simply. I don't know if you've noticed this but I have... I've just not been spending money on pretty much anything except food and paying the utilities-
Yeah the things you have to pay.
Catherine Ingram: (33:08)
[inaudible 00:33:08] monthly charges and I'm grateful to be able to do that. I've seen, gosh, even though it's kind of stripped down, those are really essential things. Food and having the water come on when you turn it on.
Basic necessities. Yeah well it's definitely... I mean again a theme I'm really witnessing is a move toward... So we've just put in a chicken coop, which we started before all this happened but it didn't get finished until the middle of all of this. I contacted a breeder for the chickens. I was looking for a heritage breeder. He said, "The pandemic hit and I've sold out." He said, "I've sold every chicken I have until October." He's like, "Everyone's gone self-sufficient." I was like, "Well wow, that's crazy." I've noticed all of these permaculture people are offering courses on sustainable backyard gardens and farming. I'm like, "That's so great that people are starting." If that's one of the, I guess, impacts of this on a micro level, that people start to think-
Catherine Ingram: (34:17)
It's a great benefit because things are still kind of holding together. We're not in massive drought or fires or some [inaudible 00:34:26] war thing happening over resources. We're basically just told to stay in our homes. The skies are blue and the waters are clear. The earth is actually breathing a great sigh of relief in having us stopped. So it is a perfect time to learn those kind of basic life-
Catherine Ingram: (34:49)
[inaudible 00:34:49] yeah.
That's something... I mean I copied a quote out of your essay, which was, "On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree." I nearly cried when I read that. I'm nearly crying now because I think that's something, when people feel the overwhelm and the kind of impact of what is going on on a more macro level, they just become numb. Business as usual I suppose carries on. I think it's... To think that even if the world was coming to an end, we would still make an offering that we would not live to see come to fruition I think is-
Catherine Ingram: (35:28)
But just to be clear that wasn't my quote. I quoted that.
No sorry. It was Merwin. But you quoted it and I mean, all the quotes you chose for that were really beautiful. But that one, I just really... Because I think I've definitely... I studied environmental science for a year and a half at university.
Catherine Ingram: (35:46)
I really struggled with... You were either angry and like trying to cut off from the world and go off the grid and disappear or you were kind of apathetic and well, "It's all going to happen anyway. Humans are a virus. They should all be killed." It was like, there didn't feel like much of a middle ground but I fel like everyone was really... And even then there was the women that were like, "All the men should die. The patriarchy's the problem." Like, "None of this really resonates with me."
Catherine Ingram: (36:17)
It's kind of like displaced... It's displaced grief.
Yeah. When I think about the stages, right? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression... But then I also was recently reading that they've added another stage. Because it used to end at acceptance. Now they've added transformation into meaning. I thought... Into insight. I was like, that's so perfect because I feel like over two decades that's been my experience. I'm sure you've seen that.
Catherine Ingram: (36:44)
Yeah definitely, yes. I know, I love that quote as well from Merwin and it's exactly that. You live, like my teacher [inaudible 00:36:57] once said, "Death is when the next breath doesn't come." So basically it's simple as that. You've living until then and how are you living here? How are you showing up? It still has meaning as long as we're here. It has meaning even after we're gone as well but while we're here we're part of the meaning of it. And so what do you do with your energy, your time, your attention? Your activity? Your service? So yeah, of course. I mean we've got so many beautiful examples through history of people who were in just terrible dire circumstances and who carried on and did it in grace, in beauty. So that's... I think that's the play on the board. In a way then that you're off the hook in terms of, you don't have to manipulate and try to change how it goes. Because it's going to go... This is a big juggernaut now. I mean, the thing I think people don't understand fully is that although we have changed the natural expressions of our world, we've changed them for the worse in that it's killing life, it doesn't follow necessarily that we can change them back.
Catherine Ingram: (38:31)
I don't see the will in terms of the powerful players doing that anyway. But even if they would, I certainly am not convinced that if every single person woke up tomorrow and that was their full dedication for the rest of their lives, that it would save us, frankly. Because we have put things into play now that are on their own. That the warming is actually now on its own trajectory. So there may be some sort of technology that, I don't know, cools it or-
That was something else I copied from your... Because I mean I guess, being of the age where a lot of my peers are really involved in conspiracy theories and the... Like it's so easy to be in that place of like, we're all pawns in a... But I mean you said something around Elon Musk is just like that nerdy guy who... And I've said this to my partner multiple times, like Bill Gates, they're just these people that they think that what they're doing is right because they don't have the self-reflect... You know they just don't have perspective to see. And you said something like, "Their intelligence is one dimensional." To paraphrase you.
Catherine Ingram: (39:51)
[crosstalk 00:39:51] excellent. They do have amazing intelligence. It's just disconnected a lot from the Earth systems and from the natural systems. But it's not to say that they aren't well intended. I think they actually are well intended. They just get it from their own paradigm.
Exactly and what they think is best is maybe not what we think is best. But I mean to call someone evil, I think it's a tricky line to walk. And I see that, that technology will save us and I've seen some eco-activists talk to that as well. I don't know, I just feel sinking in my gut when I read that sort of stuff because it doesn't-
Catherine Ingram: (40:33)
It's just more manipulation with nature. It's just more of what got us into this mess actually. All these different green technologies and it all just feels so misguided. It's just more of the same. We have hubris, you know? This sort of, what Derrick Jensen calls the myth of human supremacy. Instead of understanding it, we've got to just cut back everything. We've got to stop. That's probably not going to save us either.
And civilizations have fallen so many times through history through their own arrogance and their own excessive... And you look at nature and the plagues of locusts and they eat everything and they all die. That's the way it goes.
Catherine Ingram: (41:21)
Locust plague going on right now. 160 million people are on the verge of starvation. Estimates that it's going to be double that in-
Well I've been reading all this stuff. The ninth article on a page sometimes, or even you have to go a few pages deep but it's like, the food supply is gone for a lot of places. That's something I struggle with so much because I see it here and we do live in this place that's so rich in food and abundance and nature. I am privileged to go to the beach every day. I buy from a farmer's market. There are people in countries in the world right now that are really struggling and suffering and not even in... Like I know America's having a tough time but... I know India's going through it. I know Iran. I know parts of Africa are having a really tough time. It's like, how do we even help? What do we do?
Catherine Ingram: (42:12)
I know. The chickens are coming home to roost in terms of what we've been doing here. We've got to really... We're going to need a lot more courage in ourselves. We've been so spoiled. It's not our own fault because we came into the spoils of our cultures. We've been reared up in this kind of abundance and calm and safety and all these things that we've just taken for granted. But now we're in a different phase. I think we're going to have to really get to that quiet sanctuary in ourselves a lot and find there a growing sense of courage and a growing acceptance and setting aside our own hubris about how long a life we should have and how much we should have and all of those things. It's hard. And yet that's... We can either accept or fight the reality. Those are our options.
I guess I've heard you speak a lot about the... There's something I love about when you lead meditation and the animal nature of us. I think if we can... Because that's one of the things I think that has created so much of the drama is like we've separated ourselves so much from the fact that we are animals. We do have rhythms that flow with nature. We have needs like animals. We communicate with animals. I'm reading this great book called the Tao of Equus right now. She's talking about how horses, we've dominated them and used them for so long but now they're moving into this space of like, taking us back to connecting with ourselves and nature and just this idea that, especially through women and the wisdom held by, I guess that more feminine energy but I think everyone has the Yin and the Yang, that's definitely something I feel to be true, but like yeah, I can really feel that this is a time of... If you think about the elders and keeping the culture on track and present and like that's, I think, such a requirement of this time.
You look at all the leadership, it's all men. It's all men of a certain kind of privilege and a certain type of personality type, thinking of some narcissistic leaders off the top of my head right now. I think it's that older wise woman thing that we need. I don't know if you know Helena, who's a local to this area, she might be involved in Resilient Byron with you?
Catherine Ingram: (44:58)
Okay well she was one of the women that I first spoke to these things about. She's a bit older. She was one of the women to start the community farmer's markets here and everything. This idea of local features, you know, like that we have to look for leadership and strength and resilience in our own communities. And then build on that. To me, that's something I'm really craving and hoping becomes more prominent. I know you're working with Resilient Byron. Is it mostly people that are out of their childbearing years or is it a mix of people?
Catherine Ingram: (45:34)
A mix. We don't have a huge steering group at the moment but it's definitely a mix of ages for sure yeah. I think I'm the oldest in fact.
How do you feel like age has then, I guess, brought you... Is there like a... I read this great story the other day in a book called If Women Rose Rooted. She said it's this combination of like wrath and gentleness as you get older.
Catherine Ingram: (46:04)
Yes. I definitely feel that actually inside myself. I feel what's happened for me, one of the great things is you just get a lot more authentic when you get older, women. Because I think for many women, we fell into needing to be pleasers. We kind of like to please a lot. Sometimes we compromised what we really felt and what we really thought and what we wanted to do and all of those things. Because somebody else needed us to be some other way. So that's something one grows out of, which is a happy-
Catherine Ingram: (46:48)
You just get a lot more clear about... You get more savage about your time I must say. You are less inclined to spend time on nonsense or to indulge certain mind streams that you know are just going to end up in a dark alley. It has all kind of benefits along with some great disadvantages that come along. But again, it does have some beautiful silver linings.
Was it like a difficult... Because I mean when did you move? Because you've been in The States most of your life, right?
Catherine Ingram: (47:29)
And then you moved out here when?
Catherine Ingram: (47:31)
About [inaudible 00:47:33] half years ago.
And so, was that a big shift for you, culturally and professionally and yeah?
Catherine Ingram: (47:40)
That was a big shift. Massive, massive shift. To do it at the age I was as well. But I had felt for a very long time I wanted to get out of America. And that alone wouldn't have pulled me out but it was a combination of wanting to get out of there and also falling in love with this part of the world, Australia. And also New Zealand. I love New Zealand as well.
Me too. Yeah.
Catherine Ingram: (48:04)
So you kind of get both when you come in as a resident of Australia. So I just have been so grateful to be living here. Just I feel so lucky. And everybody in the states, all the people I talk with so often, everybody says, "Oh God you're so lucky." Except that one isn't living... We're living always in a context of "Yes I'm here and I'm lucky but my friends, my oldest friends and my whole family are over there." So my heart is over there as well. Not entirely. But I mean I often feel like, it feels something like it must have felt in Germany if you were a Jew and you were getting out but all your family was still there. You're never really entirely free in that regard. Now I'm [inaudible 00:49:05] and I hold things in as big a space as I can as I view them, but these feelings of course arise with a great frequency. And yeah, but I am very happy to be in this particular place. This is a paradise in any context, you know? And especially now.
I know we've been really, I guess not struggling with guilt but we've been really conscious of that feeling of like, "Well, our lives haven't been deeply impacted by this." It's obviously, I guess, I feel like I'm more focused now and I'm prioritising things more. I feel like my inner journey through this has been really powerful but in terms of what my outward life looks like, I don't obviously do as many external things. But I'm still at the beach every day. I'm still going to the farmer's markets at a social distance. It's like, I'm still kind of doing a lot of the things, and yeah, it's a tricky one to imagine. Like in some ways I think having the bush fires was a really good thing for Australian's to realise.
Catherine Ingram: (50:23)
I do too.
Yeah like that there actually is going to be an impact. Because it's so easy when it's over there to kind of forget about it or to take-
Catherine Ingram: (50:33)
Yeah well it was also somehow helpful in that we were already sort of crisis ready.
Orientated. Turning toward crisis.
Catherine Ingram: (50:45)
We've already gotten our crisis muscles well exercised. I mean I know people could argue and say, "Yeah well we're in crisis fatigue." But I actually think there was some benefit in terms of of a way that, first of all, that whole sense of, "Okay what's important? What matters? If my house catches fire, what is it in it that I needed even? My photographs maybe or whatever. My computer possibly." But you know, and of course then you think, one of my girlfriends, this is a little bit telling a tale out of the school but, one of my girlfriends in LA owns a Picasso. And so one time, LA gets a lot of fires. And so one time she was telling me that during one of the recent fires she had actually, she had grabbed of course her dogs and the bunny rabbit and she was trying to figure out how to get the fish. She gets everything kind of ready to get loaded into the car and then it turns out they didn't need to go. And I said, "What about the Picasso?" And she said, "I didn't even think about the Picasso." I thought, "That's so cool. The bunny rabbit made it in there before the Picasso." It's like, that's really cool.
It sounds like she's got her head on straight yeah.
Catherine Ingram: (52:09)
Exactly. I think a lot of us would make those choices actually. The living thing. So yeah, I think we had, through the fires, come to those kinds of recognitions. What actually does one need in a life? We're so happy because we went through all that drought, we got a big lesson in water. In water rationing and we got a huge lesson in don't take any of this for granted. So yeah, these are going to be the lessons coming forth, I do believe.
It's interesting what you're... Because you said something else in the essay around... It was around Auschwitz and the people that survived were the ones that had had struggles already in their lives. I think that's something... That resilience that we build through meeting life's challenges and learning from them. I think when you look at how far our civilization has to fall compared to others, it might be that there is parts of humanity that survive because of what they've been through.
Catherine Ingram: (53:21)
Already existing local resilience, doing without, living on very little, helping [inaudible 00:53:27] community. Yes. I think they're in a far better circumstance to get through this than we are because we're so dependent on a very complicated system. And we're not used to a certain kind of community sharing, which is very much what we want to start focusing on with this group.
So in terms of what you are looking to create, I suppose, could you just give us the elevator pitch or some kind of sense of what the ideal outcome of this organisation would be?
Catherine Ingram: (54:01)
Resilient Byron, well there's one part of it is resilient and the other part is regenerative. But I'm more interested in the resilient. I actually think we're going straight into crises one after the next. So in that conversation, it's been about starting a framework of neighbourhood units of resilience basically so that people would start focusing on their own neighbourhoods. Whatever that means to you. Whether it's your street or your particular area. And start sharing resources. We've got the Facebook page, which is serving as a kind of clearing house at the moment for just information and for people to find out about things like during the coronavirus crisis. Like where to get things you need, food or help in various ways. We're going to start having more conversations about food security, community gardens, security security. Like just how to stay safe. What about housing for people who may... Either don't have housing currently or may need it at some point.
Catherine Ingram: (55:17)
So there's lots of, I mean it's really in the formative stages but we're just basically looking at lots of different ways that we're going to organise to perhaps be a system in this region that is de-linked from the national sort of federal system. I don't mean that we're going to do a political coup but rather that we're going to have a lot of local resources we're relying on. Those can be also shared with nearby like [inaudible 00:55:51] and up where you are.
Catherine Ingram: (55:58)
It could be an entire Northern Rivers sort of eco-community that is helping each other.
That's so exciting to me because I mean I think I can see how that becomes something that can roll out. I have a friend in Melbourne and I know, on her street, she's has food and she grows things and her neighbours do and they all trade eggs and vegetables. And just that little bit of connection with the people on your street and that's such a... It has such a profound impact on your wellbeing. That was one of the solutions you offered up in the essay was community and I think-
Catherine Ingram: (56:36)
It's number one yeah. It's the number one-
And what we've really done is separate ourselves. I remember living in the city and if you like smiled at somebody... I was lucky to be raised in the country where you knew everybody, which had pros and cons. Because you knew everybody. I remember being really naughty as a teenager and like the local policeman was my mum's mate and I was like, "Hey." He was like, "Oh dear." Anyway. But yeah, I think it's really, this kind of getting to know the people that we live beside every day. Just getting a sense of, well, "Yeah they're the people we lean on." Our cul-de-sac through this time has been my saving grace. I have babysitters and I have friends for my children and I have people to share stories with. It's just been... Yeah it's been such a beautiful experience.
Catherine Ingram: (57:32)
That's wonderful. That's really it. That's wonderful. That's what humans have relied on through all of human history until quite recently was, you lived with your tribe. And of course as civilization so called erupted, still people lived with their tribes in a different way. They lived mostly with family or rural communities or if you lived in a city it wasn't a huge city. There weren't huge cities really.
Well and even people stayed in their boroughs, you know? They didn't leave their neighbourhoods. Very infrequently. Yeah.
Catherine Ingram: (58:13)
You'd still live within a tribe within the city. So yeah, we've gotten far from that but we can... That is one thing I think we can bring back. Well dear I should go because-
Yes I was going to say, thank you so much. It's actually nearly 11:11 so that's perfect. I just wanted to say that was such a great note to end on. And also because that's something you do with the Dharma Dialogues. I always got so much... I haven't been to them in a while because you weren't doing them and then this has happened but just being around people who are able to articulate their human experience and then just the sharing and I think that's, for me, been such a balm. And also obviously your wisdom and insight. So I know you've got two weekends per month coming up. Is it through June and July that you'll be doing that?
Catherine Ingram: (59:03)
I'm actually going to do it indefinitely. I'm going to start-
Catherine Ingram: (59:07)
Since we're locked down I'm just going to start doing online-
Great so they'll be replacing, in a way the Lennox events?
Catherine Ingram: (59:13)
Okay. Fantastic. Okay well that's super exciting. Okay so those'll go up on your website soon so we can link to them and if anyone... Is it just through sign up to your email kind of thing and you'll be notified?
Catherine Ingram: (59:25)
Awesome. Well thank you so much for your time. I know-
Catherine Ingram: (59:29)
Thank you so much for inviting me. That was lovely.
Yeah it's been really beautiful to speak with you. I'll also link to your books as well because Passionate Presence is the only one I've read but I really enjoyed it. Yeah, I really just appreciate everything you're offering because it helps people like me navigate their lives. So much love. All right Catherine well I'll hopefully see you in the flesh again one day soon. Enjoy the rest of your day.
Catherine Ingram: (59:55)
And you. Bye dear.
Catherine Ingram: (59:57)