Amidst the Rubble, Flowers Grow

When we’re quarantined with one person, together day in and day out, what happens or can happen between us?

 

The pandemic, magnified by the negligence and mismanagement by the DT administration, has led to isolation and anxiety; it has cost almost one-half a million American lives and over 10 million jobs. It has upset the entire way millions of people live. And losing jobs, losing homes, losing in-person in-school instruction, for example, is not just an inconvenience. It is an unquestioned loss, of stability, of hope, and of income.

 

But can we, at least with our loved ones, re-imagine our time together? Many of us have already begun to do so. Our lives have been simplified. I’m retired and live with just my wife and pets and this is clearly true for me. Are we “stuck” together while quarantined from others? Or are we privileged? If we have less to do and fewer distractions, maybe we can get closer to those we live with instead of taking our fear out on each other. Frightening as it has often been, maybe we can learn to see ourselves and each other more directly and kindly.

 

D. E. Harding, in his book, On Having No Head: Zen and the Re-Discovery of the Obvious, proposes ways to directly encounter our true self. Many of us imagine we are our memories, habits, a self with a head and body standing at a distance and separate from what we see. But one day Harding saw himself differently. He was actually walking in the Himalayas, the sky and air absolutely clear, and suddenly “all mental chatter died down.” Just looking around was completely absorbing. He forgot who he was. Past and future disappeared.

 

And when he looked internally, where he thought his head should be, he instead saw the clear blue sky, the outward scene where his eyes were pointed. He realized he “had lost a head and gained a world.” Or where a head should be situated, he carried the mountains and sky.

 

Imagine looking through a tube, one eye on one end, and our spouse, best friend, lover looking in the other. Eye to eye. This is a startling way to lose a head and gain an intimacy. (The exercise was inspired by Harding but created by Richard Lang, who led workshops worldwide on Harding’s teachings. See the article in the Spring 2021 Tricycle Magazine by Michael Haederle.)

 

There are similar meditation exercises. In sitting position, face another person, eyes to eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Together.

 

What do we see when we look in the tube or we face another person directly?

 

Every morning when I get up, after I put on my pants, I go downstairs to look for my wife. 90% of the time she is up before me. I find her in the kitchen or den. And I greet her cheerfully. It’s a promise I make to myself. No matter how well or poorly I sleep I am happy to see her. “Good morning. How are you? How did you sleep? What a day this is!” Being happy with her, I am happy with myself.

 

It’s almost a ritual, or a song we sing to make our house a home. No matter who any of us live with ⎼ children, parents, friends ⎼ or we’re alone, we can adapt the lyrics to fit the situation. But as best we can, make the tune loving, so we wake up to what’s most important ⎼ the nourishment love and kindness give us…..

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

The Cold of Winter, the Heat of Summer, and our Neighbors are not Abstractions

It’s snowing again. It has snowed heavily for a day or two, lightly for over a week. More snow. More cold.

 

Yet, it’s beautiful. White flakes fill the sky. When the wind speaks, the flakes whip around, the air itself excited.

 

How can we look at the snow and simply enjoy it, see only the white flakes, and see no other time but this? Back in November, the first snowfall was exciting. I couldn’t help but let my eyes delight in it. But now?

 

The snow and cold is what we mean by winter. Winter is not just a date on a calendar and time not just an abstraction. Dogen Zenji, a 13th century Japanese Zen teacher said, in reference to spring, “The time we call spring blossoms directly as an existence called flowers.” The time we call winter falls directly as an existence called snow. If we don’t like the cold, we can’t suddenly decide to love it, but we can love the fact that we can feel. Then, although we won’t suddenly warm up, rip off our winter clothes and run naked in the snow, we can be naked in our response and dress accordingly.

 

When we feel something we don’t like or that threatens us or is hurtful, we turn away. This is crucial to our survival. And when the threat is ongoing, we might want to turn away from anything or everything that reminds us of the danger. This can give us needed relief whether we’re facing immediate danger, trauma, or a malignant political administration.

 

But also crucial is noticing⎼ are we protecting ourselves from the threat, or from feeling the threat? Or from both? It’s awful to fear our fear so much we can’t see clearly what frightens us. We then don’t take needed action. As much as we are able in each moment, we need to see clearly enough to act.

 

Even though it was cold and snowing, I shoveled the path from my house and then took a walk up our hill. It was tough going. My wife and I live on a fairly steep rural road. A neighbor, who I had gotten to know slightly since I started taking daily walks during the pandemic, was out shoveling. After greeting him, he said to me, “Where is global warming now?” I thought, at first, he said it as a joke, but then realized it was a barb. We had had discussions about the climate before.

 

He said natural events, like volcanic eruptions, magma and the clouds they cause are warming the earth, not humans. I replied that global warming did not mean there would no longer be snow or cold. It meant there has been a raise in average temperature all over the world and an increase in destructive weather events, all happening too fast for it to be explained by volcanoes or other non-human processes.

 

I realized he wasn’t really listening to me and, distressingly, I didn’t have all the facts at hand. So I tried what I thought was common sense. “Isn’t it logical that all the air pollution caused by human manufacturing, fossil fuel energy, etc. would cause problems? That the released gases like carbon dioxide would create a sort of hothouse effect over the earth? And that we bear most of the responsibility for this increase in global temperature?”

Vocanic eruptions

He didn’t seem to know or want to know anything about carbon dioxide. So we switched gears. I wished him a good day and continued on my walk, resolved to go online when I got home to update my knowledge of global warming….

 

To read the whole piece, go to The Good Men Project.