Pin It

Love Is the Answer? 

Green Sangha movement mixes spirituality with environmental activism


I speak with Debra Birkinshaw, member of the Sebastopol Green Sangha, over tea. This seems very "sangha-ish" to me, though I'm not completely sure if that's at all true as I have never been to a sangha and am not, at this point, exactly sure what one is or even how to spell it. What I do know, however, is that this is the holiday season, a time of excess and longing, and that even during the best of years, many of us come out of Christmas reeling as if we have just come down off of a four-week drug binge, and the hangover is a bitch.

And this is not the best of years. Far from it. This is a year of lingering war and the hovering dread that all cannot possibly be well when the ice caps are melting.

As a board member of the Sonoma County Peace and Justice Center, Birkinshaw is no stranger to activism and community commitment. Recently, her interest in stewardship for the earth led her to the Sebastopol Green Sangha, a politically active spiritual community that offers exactly the sort of direct-action outlet she had been sorely in need of. Birkinshaw and the other Sebastopol Green Sangha members meet on the fourth Sunday of every month to plan and perform environmental action. In the Bay Area, there are Green Sanghas that meet monthly in the East Bay, San Rafael and Sebastopol.

Birkinshaw stresses that, though the Sebastopol Green Sangha begins each three-hour meeting with about 10 minutes of stretching and meditation, concrete spiritual belief systems are by no means a prerequisite. All are welcome. Green Sanghas are run by everyone and there must be group consensus and agreement before an action can move forward. The meetings shift from living room to living room. This is a place where people come together to learn and share, not direct and dictate.

After the meditation, members review an agenda of available actions, write and send letters of concerned protest, and plan environmental actions that any and all can participate in. According to Birkinshaw, the Sebastopol Green Sangha comes together as a think-tank and support system, and even seemingly small actions have impact, like writing to the city council requesting the return of public drinking fountains, or standing outside of Whole Foods dressed in recycled plastic bags, encouraging shoppers to bring their own bags. Each meeting ends in a potluck dinner, creating community the old-fashioned way, with plenty of local bounty and full stomachs.

On the Green Sangha website, I find a mission statement: "Green Sangha brings spiritual practice and environmental work together. Our practice is to love without boundaries. Our mission is to bring healing to ourselves, one another and the earth through thoughts, words and actions rooted in love." Is love really the answer?

Green Sangha actions, evaluated individually, may not be enough to save us from extinction, but they speak to a form of mindfulness that may be our only hope. The New Year looms, and even I, who wear my agnosticism like a favorite hair-coat, must be willing to experiment with new ways for achieving change. To this end, a Green Sangha seems a most welcoming and fruitful place to begin.

For more information on the Sebastopol Green Sangha, contact Debra Birkinshaw at For more information on the East Bay or San Rafael Green Sangha, or to learn how to start your own, go to or call 510.532.6574.

  • Green Sangha movement mixes spirituality with environmental activism


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Features

  • Sacred Ground

    Graton Rancheria helps restore Tolay Lake's place in American Indian past—and present
    • Feb 10, 2016
  • Old-Fashioned Love

    Before Tinder or, there was the newspaper personal ad
    • Feb 3, 2016
  • So Far, So Near

    In the North Bay, you need not travel far to feel like you've gotten away from it all
    • Jan 27, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • You're Not Alone

    Hip Mama and Rad Dad provide forums for unconventional parenting
    • Aug 14, 2013
  • Gimme Shelter

    Lloyd Kahn documents wildly creative, sustainable living spaces
    • Jun 13, 2012

More by Gianna De Persiis Vona

  • Secret No More

    Society's Marissa Guggiana and Sarah Domke, an indefatigable duo
    • Oct 15, 2008
  • Green Fees

    Santa Rosa's historic Bennett Valley golf course makes the move to LEED
    • Oct 8, 2008
  • Pedal Power

    Inventors make bikes as easy to use as cars
    • Oct 1, 2008
  • More »

Find It

Submit an event

Boho Beat

Feb. 11-14: Barrels of Art in Santa Rosa

Feb. 12-15: Juice It Up in Cloverdale

Feb. 13: Seal Watch in Bodega

More »

Facebook Activity

Most Commented

  • Not Ready

    2015 was an ugly year in America
    • Dec 30, 2015
  • Dying Wishes

    Will California's new physician-assisted death law make it too easy to die?
    • Dec 2, 2015
  • More »


Read more @nbaybohemian

Copyright © 2016 Metro Newspapers. All rights reserved.

Website powered by Foundation