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Monthly Archives: April 2020


Sunday 3/21/20

Dawn blossoms

There was a great article in the Washington Post this morning, which describes how the Covid-19 virus is impacting refugees in Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.  

We INTER-ARE!  No one is exempt from illness or death because of education or wealth.  The privileged are also impacted by the spread of this disease among the poor.  The poor, the homeless, refugees, prisoners, victims of war are at more immediate risk than those with the resources to “distance” in homes, with savings unaffected by the crashing stock market.  They will be able to buy food and medical supplies, some hoarding what others need to stay alive.  As always.  Yet, this crisis provides insight for all of us – to see that we are one world, one small planet that is under threat, that the privileged must help the poor in order to save their own lives.

The compulsion of the few to accumulate more than necessary deprives the many of the basics of food, clean water, land, shelter, medical and educational supplies.  This lack of understanding of our inter-dependence is harming us all, has been killing us for decades.  Destroying our planet.  So perhaps Mother Earth is fighting back, reducing the number of parasites creating pollution, global warming and desertification.  Perhaps we are receiving a powerful message that the actions of one affects the many and the needs of the many are the responsibility of the one.  There is really no separation.

There will be good outcomes from this crisis.  Lotuses arise from mud.  Already pollution has lessened dramatically in China and Italy.  The maps showing the changes are amazing!  We are perhaps learning from quarantining that we don’t really need so many things, so much buying, driving, working, entertainment.  Most of us Americans would be healthier without so much food, so many cars, distractions from the important relationships in our lives.  Perhaps the examples of generosity, the courage of medical personnel and musicians performing on their porches will help transform our notion of separateness from the whole of humanity.

We are asked to be very mindful of our smallest actions in order to save our lives and those of any human being with whom we have contact.  Mindfulness of what we touch, including our own faces, where we breathe and sneeze is critical to stopping the spread of this deadly disease.  Washing our hands frequently, slowly, carefully is becoming a universal practice of mindfulness.  Trying to stay at least 10-12 feet away from the breath of any other person is a challenge on now crowded pathways in parks.  We must be mindful of the air we breathe in and the passing of air from our bodies to other people.  As we pay attention to our own breath and that of others close to us, we also know that so many are taking their last breath.  As we wash our hands, we are mindful of those in refugee camps who have to choose between washing hands or using water to cook food.

Some in our mindfulness communities are using the phrase ‘Karuna virus” to remind us of all the beautiful forms of compassion arising from this pandemic.  Neighbors are helping the elderly to receive food and medicine, on-line meetings for alcoholics and addicts arise, family members and friends are connecting more often.  One of the highlights of our day was seeing the delight on a 2-year-old’s face when sprinkled with mist from our garden hose.  She had been trained not to come close to us, but we could connect and laugh together at a distance.

Our communities are quickly learning on-line skills to set up meditations, sharing of teachings on impermanence, inter-being and non-self, the basic insights of mindfulness meditation.  The Universe is teaching us everyday how inter-connected we are, that using this time of quarantine to connect to others is bringing us all more peace, joy, love and happiness.  Some of us are reframing this time as a global “retreat,” a time for spiritual practices that reduce fear and isolation.  We are learning more deeply how fear and greed separate us and how love and selflessness spread the ‘virus’ of compassion.  

“May each of you, and all creatures on our Mother Earth be well, healthy, safe and free from all worry and anxiety – even now, in this challenging yet precious moment.” (Recited slowly, this ’metta’ takes about the 20 seconds you need to wash your hands).

Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, flower, outdoor and nature

What great beauty blooms amidst the largest numbers of deaths in our state, our country, our world in so many years. My husband and I walked slowly, breathing to our steps this gorgeous spring morning, confining ourselves to neighboring streets, in awe of new buds on trees. We breathed through our masks, crossing the street when a toddler and his parents came toward us, waving to the the small new walker.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh assures us that finding joy in sorrow, peace in crisis, smiles in the midst of illness and death is our nature, the nature of no birth, no death. The deaths are real, the suffering is vast, yet we breathe mindfully, touching the reality of sadness in our hearts while enjoying the sunshine and flowers. Being human allows us to accept reality as it comes, to embrace life in this present moment in all its contradictory emotions. We stand up against lies and cruel decisions of government, while sending loving kindness to the same unskillful leaders of our government. One small, mindful step at a time.

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Me:redbuds:photo                                                                                                                           3/25/20

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in the world is waking us all up quickly! Scientists tell us that we can save our own lives and those of possibly hundreds of thousands of others by ‘sheltering in place’ at this critical moment in time.  The Covid-19 disease spreads from one person’s breath releasing the virus in the air another person breathes.  One person, without any symptoms of the disease can potentially carry the virus to many others, who transmit it to others with whom they share air.  The fact of inter-being, our inter-connectedness to every other being on the planet is so dramatically visual as the speed of the spread of the virus around the world demonstrates. 

What a time to practice mindfulness of our breathing, covering our mouths, washing our hands, changing habits of touching our faces.  Most of us are finding these new practices and keeping 6-12 feet distance from other humans difficult but life-saving in this crisis.  We have great opportunities to slow down, become aware of our habits, practice changing them daily, with the support of our friends.  We have been attending many more Zoom meetings, offering meditation and Qi Gong sessions as the number of deaths rise each day around the world.  Seeing ourselves on video for hours a day gives us the chance to see how many times we and our friends touch our faces! 

The necessity to stay put in our homes, limit our physical contact with others and change habits is not only protecting our own lives.  Our individual actions can help save the lives of family, friends, neighbors, the mail woman, the food delivery person, everyone who shares the same air.  This awareness is deepening my understanding that “taking care of me is truly taking care of the world.”  I am responsible for doing everything I can, everything the scientists (rather than politicians) are urging us to do – NOW.  I could be a carrier of this deadly disease without symptoms, given recent travel and attendance at large events.  I am responsible for not spreading it.  Memories of the AIDS epidemic flood into my mind, reminding me that we learned in the ’80’s that in having sex with one person, we have sex with every person with whom they have ever had sex. 

But fear of the possible outcome of this epidemic can be as debilitating as the illness itself.  A reasonable, current knowledge of what is happening as the disease spreads around the world and in our communities, learning best practices from more experienced countries to lessen its spread is important.  Just feeding fears with repetitive television versions of ‘news’ is not helpful to my mindfulness.  

A local meditation teacher just posted this advice –

“…for all of us who practice mindfulness, the essential challenge in the days, weeks,    and months ahead is neither to succumb to denial or obliviousness on one side, nor to fear and panic on the other. Our primary effort must be to embody and nourish our equanimity, clarity, love, and compassion, as best we can. Only then can we help ourselves and help others.”

This “middle way” is a great practice in the midst of suffering increasing by the hour around the world and in our own lives.  We are seeing how mindfulness can increase our love and compassion for ourselves and others.  When fear of death arises (we have had two friends die in the last two days, one dying of Covid-19 and a niece in chemo for breast cancer), we meditate on “no birth, no death.”  We hold our fears in meditation, as a mother would hold a screaming, fearful child.  We take walks slowly, relishing the cherry blossoms, touching the power and beauty of life within our own bodies and in nature.  We know these blossoms will only manifest for a few days.  We breathe in their fragrance and welcome the tiny green leaves that will push the blossoms off the trees.  Change is constant, beauty transformed into other manifestations.  So, with our lives, our short time on the planet in this form.  What do we want to do with this precious moment in life?  With this precious body, this breath, this smile?  Why not spend more time loving others, doing what we can to allay their suffering, their fears.  Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that all things are impermanent, even war, epidemics and global warming.

How are my husband and I trying to practice even more mindfulness than usual?

  • Silence:  Leaving outside chatter, news from TV turned off.  Limiting the input of news to certain times a day and forms that inform without feeding fear.  Trying to give one another space in our small house, especially in the morning hours, not sharing every random thought that pops into our heads.  Journaling those thoughts, bright ideas and plans instead.

* Listening:  We listen to parents with small children trying to work at home, frustrated, desperate.  We listen to those who are ill, suffering from this disease and others.  We mourn with families who cannot be with their dying loved ones.  We keep our hearts open to the vast suffering, while continuing to breathe and take care of our emotions.

* Qi Gong: Getting up after a long meeting on Zoom, we stretch, shake our bodies, do some QG exercises.  “Snackersize Qi Gong” all day, reminding one another when we see our partner has been sitting too long.

  • Meditation: Setting up Zoom gatherings for sitting meditation together with our communities, readings, sharing about how mindfulness can keep us rooted in the present moment, doing the next ‘right’ thing.  Stopping throughout the day to pause, breathe, relax, come back to our bodies in the moment.  Supporting one another, especially those experiencing illness and death in their families, unable to attend funerals.
  • Walking Mindfully:  We have more time and motivation for long walks in the neighborhood, staying 10-12 feet apart from others, appreciating the cherry blossoms, seeing friends who live closer to us than we realized, neighborhood children.  
  • Eating Mindfully:  more meals together, carefully planned to use products tucked in the back of shelves, eating slowly, knowing we have enough food for weeks of this sheltering in place, letting go of “wants” that are not necessary or available in shuttered stores.  Aware of refugees, people in Yemen and Syria who have little to eat and are in much greater danger from Covid- 19 infection in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
  • Sharing with Friends on line:  Grateful for Zoom recovery meetings every day, creative ways of connecting with family and friends more often than usual, relishing each precious moment we have with them.  
  •   Playing music:  Pat practices his guitar every day already, but he is finding new pieces arising with more time to practice.  He is also participating in a 40-day Guitar Craft Course At a Distance, with exercises on line.  Fortunately his new CD is available on line – The Call by Patrick Smith on Amazon and CDBaby.  I am trying to revive my piano practice, singing songs from A Basketful of Plums.
  • Mindful work:   Many of our retreats, Qi Gong classes and conferences have been cancelled or postponed.  My husband was scheduled to give a talk on “Mindfulness at Work” to a national conference for food professionals in June in Las Vegas. My Women’s Meditation Retreat in May has been postponed.  So we are working to create alternatives on line, practicing with video versions of our Qi Gong classes, sharing with other meditation teachers how we might lead Days of Mindfulness and retreats for you virtually.  
  • And there are those three books I’m writing that always get moved to the back burner!  I need to finish Dakota Winds, (a novel about my father’s life) edit and publish The Power of Love: How a Nun became a Revolutionary and Loving Mindfully: Finding Happiness in Relationships.  And draw and paint, artistic work I find very meditative and absorbing.  We are very fortunate to be retired from paid work, so don’t need to work on a boss’s schedule, unlike many of our friends working at home under stressful conditions.  Savings, of course, are diminished greatly, so we don’t waste time looking at the stock market.
  • RETREAT” rather than Quarantine mentality:  Using this time as much as possible for spiritual growth, taking care of our minds, bodies, emotions.  Slowing down.  Exercising more, losing weight.  Reading good books, listening to spiritual teachings on podcast.  Today we begin a five day retreat with some of our favorite Buddhist teachers in the Plum Village tradition.  They will help us schedule our days and use this time as an opportunity rather than a ‘burden.’