“In a pandemic, self-isolation is called quarantine.
In Buddhism, it is called retreat.
From the cave of our home,
like the meditators of ancient times,
we can consciously kindle
the lamp of compassion and connection.”
– Lama Willa Miller
Dear BOTP Sangha,
It’s raining as I write this and I imagine you are warm, dry and cozy at home. I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and well as we all wait out these strange ever-changing events. It seems important to reach out to you and acknowledge our shared challenges, our heightened sense of uncertainty, and our concerns for the future.
How are you weathering all of this? What are you finding most nourishing, grounding, connecting, enlightening? How are you applying your practice?
We practice little-by-little, day-by-day, so that when unexpected difficulty arises we have, almost unknowingly, developed inner strength. We practice so that when loss, hardship and fear appear we can meet them with greater understanding and compassion. We also practice for moments of beauty so we can share our joy.
For the mature practitioner, these hard times are not obstacles but are invitations to expand our capacity to be with “this too.” During this retreat-like time we have no choice but to simplify, pare down our life, see its finiteness and reflect on who and what is most important to us.
My first teacher Zen Master Sueng Sahn’s primary teaching was about “don’t know mind.” We need that expansive mind now. We need the courage to stay present and open to life – mysterious and unpredictable as it is – and to all possibilities without closing down in fear and defense or becoming rigid in our reactions. We need to keep our hearts open.
What have we learned in our many years of practice together that can help us now? Here is a partial list. What would you add?
• We have learned to understand how we create additional suffering through our habits and the stories we tell ourselves.
• We have learned to see that the world is fluid, changing, uncertain and unpredictable.
• We have learned the importance of befriending our imperfections and our difficult emotions.
• We have learned how to come back to the present moment through connecting with the aliveness of our senses, body and breath.
• We have learned how to bring openness and spaciousness to whatever arises in our hearts and mind.
• Wew have learned the necessity of meeting ourselves and each other with kindness and compassion.
I feel like I am living in two distinct worlds. One world is overflowing with uncertainty where many people are experiencing illness, chaos, anxiety and hardship. In the other world, I am at ease and content, spending quiet time at home and in nature, grateful for what I have. Both worlds exist and both need my attention.
Although we are separated in our homes right now, it is more clear than ever that we are in this life together, connected. Whatever you are experiencing, millions of other are also experiencing. Let the invisible threads of our heart reach out in all directions. And as the ground shifts under our feet, let us dance!