I left the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies last Thursday and stepped into a strangely altered world. I had been intently cultivating the four brahmaviharas (loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity) and the 7 awakening factors (mindfulness, investigation, energy, equanimity, joy, tranquility and concentration) for the better part of a week. These meditation practices left me feeling profoundly peaceful and settled. It was a good shore from which to set sail into a world profoundly shaken by the coronavirus epidemic.
As I drove northward toward my home in NH I heard about the increasing number of those afflicted. I heard about the self-quarantines, the idea of social distancing, and the multiple colleges and schools that were shutting down. And I experienced compassion for those individuals so overwrought and fearful that they felt compelled to hoard food and cleaning supplies, not leaving enough on the shelves for others in need. And now, on Monday morning, with schools and churches closed, with large events scaled back, our small meditation group canceled until mid-April, I am sitting here with a sense of how interconnected we really all are, how much we need one another and how we will be called upon to help each other through this unfolding crisis.
It is important to be grateful for the fact that NH has as yet been only slightly impacted with only 17 cases of COVID-19 in the state. We all know how to engage in the practice of non-harming: wash hands, stay out of one another’s personal space (6 feet), and stay at home at the least sign of an illness. But spiritual and psychological health is also critical in the maintenance of our overall health. A healthy immune system is supported by staying contented and grounded. It is reinforced when we eschew fear and when we show true concern for others.
Jack Kornfield recently posted, “We can choose to live in our fears, confusion, and worries, or to stay in the essence of our practice, center ourselves, and be the ones on this beautiful boat of the earth that demonstrate patience, compassion, mindfulness, and mutual care.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdiNuOayaOs This is a wonderful opportunity for practice. Aside from meditation (with an emphasis on meta and compassion), it is important to mitigate panic. Limit your news intake. Watch, or listen, to the news only 15-30 minutes a day. It really does not change all that rapidly and absorbing the endless loop of bad news will unsettle the mind and destabilize the heart. Stay in touch with everyone. On Saturday I switched a lunch date with an older friend to a Skype date and found it delightful. Be of use to others. Check in with those you know are suffering. Get enough sleep and make a project of eating well.
We need the dharma in all its ethical manifestations more than ever right now. Monitor your speech. Keep kindness as your guiding principle. Be tolerant and compassionate toward those who have reached their limit stress-wise. SIM Advisory Group member, Ult Mundane wisely stated in a recent email, “Stress can bring out unhealthy coping mechanisms. This isn’t necessarily someone’s “true colors,” it might just be somebody doing the best they can with the limited tools they have available. We don’t have control over others, just our own attitude and response.”
As I packed up to go into my very
disinfected office, I noticed three things in rapid succession. A small
deer had arrived at our pond for a drink. Three migrating ducks
had returned, and I could hear the calls of mourning doves and a
woodpecker in the distance. Spring has arrived and there is much to be
grateful for. Let’s not forget the joy to be found in our world. I will
be thinking of our sangha during this time, and look forward to
reconvening our group in mid-April.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath –
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love –
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
– Lynn Ungar 3/11/20