by Wendy Egyoku Nakao
During this time of the novel coronavirus pandemic, our teachers and senior students are offering daily “Encouraging Words” through the Shared Stewardship e-group. Each offering has been a unique voice and inspiration. In this issue, we are sharing excerpts from some of these offerings. We wish we could feature all of them.
Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao – March 17, 2020
Sangha Treasures: Well, here we are in the midst of a Pandemic. How fortunate that our spiritual training is to relax into Not-Knowing. No one knows what will happen. Zen Master Dizang said, “Not knowing is most intimate.” We are living this truth right now.
The virus is just doing what a virus does: Spreading. Replicating. Infecting. Giving life and taking it away.
You know how to go through this: eat well, sleep enough, move your body, and stay connected to the people in your life. Do what is important to do to keep yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. Turn off your television and get your news only from the most reliable sources.
Let us become our own kind of virus. How about spreading the wisdom of connection by reaching out to family, friends, and neighbors? How about replicating kindness by being kinder to yourself? By being more caring to your loved ones? Through helping those in need around you? Who are you infecting with wholeness, health, and well being?
These days, physical distancing is an expression of caring and wisdom. However you are experiencing these Pandemic days, at this very moment, take a deep breath: inhale the whole universe—the virus, all you are experiencing, fear and sorrow, the wonder of it all—aahhhhh. Exhale the whole universe—the virus and all you are experiencing, fear and sorrow, the wonder of it all—oohhhhhhh.
Tell me, right now, where are your hands? Your feet? Your breath? What are you seeing? Hearing? Touching?
Now, smile! Smile inwardly and outwardly. Remember: A smile has no boundary—it spreads joy, replicates kindness, and infects others with being seen just for who they are.
Throughout the day, look for the gifts that this Pandemic brings. Buddha bows to Buddha.
Sensei Daiki Senshin Griffith – March 25, 2020
With Spring rain, the Universe washes thoroughly
in tune with our disaster preventing chants.
If you need to hug,
Hug a tree.
Feel its deep rooted History.
But ask first.
Some Palm Tree pals prefer fist bumps.
And no means no.
Don’t hug a Senior.
But feel too their deep rooted History:
the Great Depression, Holocausts, Dust Bowl, atom bombs,
war rations & protests, civil right battles,
and typhoid, diphtheria, polio, influenza, AIDS epidemics.
with hearts hugging those:
fleeing homelands or unsafe homes
with no homes
or stepping outside safe homes to serve.
The visceral truth of Suffering
and inescapable Interconnectedness
is so easily proven time and time again.
And still there’s this Time
swiftly, sweeping, forever changing
this week that seems like a year
a year like a day
a lifetime, a blink.
Yet we ask “How long is this going to last?”
and close our eyes to binge watch.
Let’s not squander this present opportunity
to do what is needed
in each fleeting moment.
In this ungraspable Now,
let’s make a History together
that inspires the Future.
Christina Tchoren Carvalho – March 29, 2020
Here I am writing from the other side – and equidistant to (like a mirror image) – the Equator, where the situation is a few weeks behind the US, in its trajectory. Isn’t this pandemic a concrete manifestation of the One-Body?
In times like these we need to care for ourselves and others with much tenderness. All gestures of kindness towards ourselves and others – especially the most vulnerable – are essential. We have received a number of great tips from each other in this regard.
In addition to those, I propose we do not call this a pause, but rather take this opportunity to make a paradigm shift. Let’s not hit the “Pause button”, but the “Reset button”. Let us not “hold our breath” in the hope that things will return to the way they were, but rather take the time to reflect deeply and effect meaningful changes in our lives, even if modest.
Master Unmon said, “The whole earth is medicine”. Is the coronavirus medicine too?
Can we unflinchingly sit with this question?
What needs healing on the global level, and how can we possibly manifest this healing? Can we truly sit in this raw, vulnerable place and allow its entire truth to reveal itself? Will we thereby learn unsuspected ways to prevent or minimize the next crisis, after we go “back to normal” this time around?
My “encouraging words” are tough questions, I’m afraid. But I trust we can develop fierce wisdom.
The Dharma will guide us. The Sangha will support us. We are not alone.
Let us make our very life – and this very crisis – the portal to our enlightened living.
Buddha is holding up a thorny flower called coronavirus. Will we be able to smile?
Sensei Faith-Mind Thoresen – March 18, 2020
In Buddhism there is a beautiful scripture, the Flower Garland Sutra, that contains a description of a net used by the King of the Hindu Gods, Indra. The net goes on infinitely and hanging in at each cross point is a jewel. If you look closely at one of the jewels, in its polished surface you can see all the other jewels reflected. In other words, each jewel contains every other jewel, just as any part of a hologram contains all the information of the entire image.
The metaphor illustrates the interpenetration of all phe- nomena. Everything contains everything else. At the same time, each individual thing is not hindered by or confused with all the other individual things. Human society too is like Indra’s net. Although it appears as if we are separate individuals, all alone to fend for ourselves, when we reflect deeper into reality we see we are all intrinsically linked to everyone else through the webs of life. What better describes our situation – our interconnectedness? Like it or not we are interdependent, interconnected.
Though social distancing is the precaution, I try to walk outside once a day. I have for years walked through my local hills, I almost never see anyone. Today there were at least twenty people or more that I passed. It was obvious people were unsure whether to greet each other in passing. It was interesting to share a glance, a smile, a hesitating moment when a dog comes forward to greet. How do we greet each other in a pandemic – ignore, look away, wish they weren’t there, greet openly? Can I be open-hearted? Or turn away with fear. Families walking with children, something I never see in our hill. This cheered me up to see them, laughing and playing. It opened my heart to hopefulness.
Roshi Kipp Ryodo Hawley – March 19, 2020
Whenever I find that I’m overwhelmed by anything, I return to the breath. When I realize that I have a temperature of 103 and my heart/mind is racing, my awareness goes right to my belly and settles with the breath. When I bang my head on the cabinet door I just opened – oowww! – my hands go to my noggin and I start breathing. When I realize I’ve been jumping from article to article on the pandemic and am now just spinning my wheels, I return to my belly awareness.
Over the years this process of check-in, measure my body/heart/mind temperature, settle with the breath, has become automatic. It still can take time to remember to start that process, though! So, I continue to add “triggers” to my daily routines to launch this kind of mindfulness and improve. I walk in the front door and see the sign I posted in big red sharpie letters: “Wash hands now!”
Are you carrying the coronavirus in your mind? There’s no need, it carries itself. What can we do instead? Ignoring it is no help. As a matter of fact, willful ignorance is one of the so-called Three Poisons. Carrying it around and catastrophizing is no help, that just leads to overheating the heart/mind.
A helpful quote from the internet: “Respect the virus, but don’t fear it.” Open your eyes, see that rock, breathe, and step around it. Don’t carry it with you!
Peggy Faith-Moon Gallaher – March 22, 2020
Well done! However you are responding, well done. We’ve been thrown into novel circumstances where our habitual responses don’t work. No wriggling out of this. Nothing to be done but remain awake and respond in the moment. After spending so much time sitting zazen through all manner of mental and physical storms, we definitely have the tools to not touch our face, even when it itches. Very encouraging indeed. Practicing the health precautions is bodhisattva action.
Which bodhisattva precept is most alive for you right now? I’m sitting with “I will be satisfied with what I have. This is the practice of non-stealing. I will freely give, ask for, and accept what is given.” We are all in the same public health emergency, but the details of our situation vary. Check all that apply: social isolation, tanking investments, kids at home, sudden unemployment, other (fill in the blank)_______. Feel it completely. Take a breath and reach out to family, friends, sangha. Definitely.
Freely give, ask for, and accept what is given as we bob on this vast ocean of joy and suffering.
From Betty Jiei Cole – March 30, 2020
Now, as in many times when I have felt overwhelmed in a crisis, this fundamental teaching has made all the difference. Before the thoughts arise, before the feelings, before the “what ifs,” to that place. Go there. I take the backwards step into that still place. I take a deep breath and sigh. I let myself be that place. Some more. Again. Again.
When I feel ready, I look around. What is arising for me to actually attend to at this point? This morning I looked at the last dream of the night: I was frantically arranging photos of student travelers according to the color of their prom gowns, trying to arrange them for the best procession and photo, all the while testily putting off the restless inquiries of the students themselves crowding around! Ah yes, I smile. My anxious over-organizing self hard at work. Hmmm. A good reminder to consider how that self is “taking charge” of the anxiety of these physically distancing days. I can’t help but laugh a little and give that one a hug.
Take a deep breath. Sigh. Take the backward step. Be still. Depending on your background, different expressions of this still point will “speak to your condition”, as Quakers have long said. “Be still and know that I am God.” “Not knowing is most intimate.” Or, “Of this, no name can be said.” No matter. Be still. Rest. Just be who arises next, too.
Darla Myoho Fjeld – March 27, 2020
What an amazing time we are all living through! This is a wonderful time to be a seeker of Wisdom and a practitioner of kindness. All of us together – sitting together, eating, working, playing, laughing, social-distancing, dancing, singing, crying – all of this we do together – no separation – most intimate. Each day when I bow to my cushion, I turn around and bow to all of you. When I sit down, straighten my spine, place my left hand in my right hand, breathe deeply, and place my focus within, you and I are together.
I have a suggestion that may be helpful – if it is, great – if it isn’t, forget about it. How about creating your own schedule? Use the sesshin or zazenkai schedule as your model, but tailor it to your own situation at home – perhaps wake up time is 4:30 am – or perhaps it’s 8 am – whatever works best for you. Don’t let yourself sink into obliviousness, sloth, or depression. Create your own precautions and reflect on them each day when you wake up. An example might be: Take every opportunity to socially greet and smile at each person I see on my walk from 6 feet away. Or another: Stay aware and mindful in each moment. Find opportunities to laugh. I watch an old sitcom – right now, it’s Dharma & Greg. When sad, or overwhelmed, don’t hold back – let yourself cry. Include samu in your schedule and time to communicate with family members, friends and Dharma brothers and sisters. Also include self-care and fun.
These are tough times. Let’s all be good to ourselves. Let’s all feel the love that runs through us all.
I will close with a poem that I wrote for one of my koans:
Steadily moving through life
My right and left are west and east
Forward and backward are north and south
Such a thing is such a thing
Playing freely through eternity.
Rev. Dharma-Joy Reichert – March 16, 2020
In this time of uncertainty and outside chaos, come back to the body; come back to the breath. Take the backward step! Let’s be aware of what is going on, but not lose ourselves in the process. Don’t obsess; don’t avoid. Take the middle way. And settle. In the midst of all activity, raise the Bodhi mind!
Our practice is precisely for these moments, when uncertainty is not an abstract idea, but we see it rather as the everyday fact of our lives. Take this opportunity to ground yourself in your practice. Just sit! and be present to whatever arises. This is the time to practice with the Three Tenets. Open yourself up to Not Knowing – drop all your ideas about how it is, how it should be. Just be open. And then, Bear Witness to what arises in yourself: Fear? Anxiety? Wanting to be in control? Fear for a loved one? Bear Witness to those around you. Have faith in your ability to hold whatever comes up. Your practice has prepared you for this! Trust yourself. And when your bearing witness spins into knowing, return to Not Knowing, ground yourself again. And then, from that place of not knowing and bearing witness, step forward into the action that the situation calls for, whatever it may be. In doing so, you live your Vow, serving all beings.
The jeweled net of the Sangha Treasure supports each of us, and we support everyone else. Let’s use this opportunity not to spin out, but to deepen our practice and to support each other.
Bill Earth-Mirror Corcoran – March 21, 2020
Children kick a ball. They are bathed in clear light and breathe the suddenly clean air without a thought. Families walk quiet streets in the middle of the afternoon.
What is normal?
Prisoners locked inside cages, breathing who knows what. Farmworkers tending to our food, many with little protection or information. Working people living on the margin and slipping past that edge.
What is normal?
Birds still swarm the feeders – goldfinch, white-crowned sparrow, house finch, hummingbird, mourning dove. Busy eating, they carry the seed of new life within them.
Every moment brings forward a fresh, new world. Can we see it when we long for “normal”? Uncertainty has two paths: shutting down and opening up. How will you respond? How will I respond? When does the crisis end and for whom?
I pour nectar into the feeder. Jeweled beings appear.
I am walking with you on the path of liberation.