"Mountains and rivers
Wind and the moon under the same sky"
That is a fragment of a poem Japan included in the packages of thousands of face masks and infrared thermometers donated this year to Wuhan.
The original poem ("Although mountains and rivers set us apart, we share winds and the same moon in the sky. Sending these robes to you Buddha's Disciples. Let us create eternal connections together") was sent by Japanese prince Nagaya of the Nara period (710-784) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Nagaya had a thousand monks' robes embroidered with the poem and sent them to China with a wish to invite a teacher to come and help deepen their Buddhist practice.
It is said that Monk Jianzhen went on an epic journey to teach Buddhism in Japan after reading the poem losing his eye sight in the process.
We are in the third week of the lockdown here in Spain and I can’t stop thinking how we are all under the same sky.
Photo Caption: Morning walk in Ortigueria (A Coruña), Spain
Perspective and Change
March 20, 2020
I remember when I was back in school in San Diego, a wildfire ravaged the county during
California wildfire season, turning the skies orange and black with smoke. It was a terrible
event, killing several people and causing billions of dollars in damages. Not only were lives
lost, but also livelihoods. This COVID19 pandemic has already taken far more lives and done far
more damage than those California wildfires, causing numerous states to issue a shelter-in-place
directive with no end in sight. And similar to the wildfires, lives are being lost and
livelihoods changing. Although both of these events are not to be treated lightly and demand our
respect, it is also important to acknowledge that there are often multiple perspectives on every
event, even catastrophic ones, and that changes to our livelihood are not always bad.
The California wildfires had the side effect of shutting down classes for a week, which enabled
me to prioritize other aspects of my life. This shift in priority ultimately turned out to be
life-changing in retrospect, but I would never have known that at the time. In our current
situation, it is too early to tell if any changes I make will be life-changing in the future,
but here are some that come to mind:
I've started reconnecting with friends that don't live in the bay area. Because you can't
meet with people in real life anymore, video calling people 10 miles away is the same as
video calling people 1000 miles away (except for timezone changes).
I've started recycling more aggressively. Because I'm at home much more, I also generate a
lot more trash, often overflowing my trash bin.
I've refreshed my disaster kit. California is wildfire, drought, earthquake, and now (only
temporarily I hope) pandemic country. Disaster preparedness is everyone's responsibility
because there are only a limited number of professional first-responders.
There are also other anecdotal stories involving societal empathy among teachers, healthcare
workers, grocery store workers, extroverts, and many more. These stories help to strengthen our
human connection and understanding of others. As we go through this challenging time, it is
important to keep an open perspective on things. We must do our best to protect those most
vulnerable in our community by sheltering-in-place and social distancing, but also pay attention
to changes in our livelihood that may ultimately help us. As Buddha once said, "Nothing is
forever except change".
Daybreak After Zazen
March 26, 2020
Daybreak after zazen today in Vermont. Yes it's spring!
March 27, 2020
Close your eyes sweetheart.
Listen to the bird’s sweet song.
Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Feel the soft breeze in your hair.
Knowing that you are part of a whole.
March 27, 2020
One thing I've learned from my sitting practice is that sometimes I feel things physically
before I fully process my thoughts. This seems especially true in rapid times of change like
this. I know I've been feeling grief over the last two weeks and I see it around me too. I'm
glad we can walk through it together (metaphorically) and I have trust that holding compassion
and patience will help us. I hope everyone is working with their community in that spirit.
Photo: An improvised altar for the shelter in place
April 1, 2020
As I settle in (4 weeks already) for what I expect to be a year+ long new lifestyle of social
seclusion, working from home, close and tight interactions with my wife and two (out of three)
grown children plus our 7 month old puppy, I can only feel an intense sense of calm, and comfort
in the knowledge that the new virtual practice at 5:30am followed by the wonderful virtual
coffee meeting provides a steadying mantle of peace, support and connection that will help me to
not only continue to stick to the practice, but most importantly, feel a strong sense of
connection to a group of people I value and respect, because in their similitude (Zen practice)
they are all different.
I started going to Kannon-do almost 2 years to the start of the Coronavirus measures here in the
Bay Area. Not really knowing why, but trusting my instincts in the journey I was on, it proved
crucial in helping me manage my Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis a few months later. For a few
weeks here or there, for various reasons during these 2 years, I meditated at home when I wasn't
able to go to the zendo in the early mornings. It didn't feel that different and several months
after I started, I could do the 40 minutes at home by myself. I didn't really know what the
difference of doing it by myself vs. going to the zendo (other than being able to sleep longer)
truly was. Well, if I didn't go in the morning, I couldn't go to coffee afterward, which from
the very early days, became a hugely important part of the morning routine. Without those
Starbucks mornings, I would not have been able to meet, talk to and learn from the small group
that goes to coffee, which on its own, made a huge difference.
In the end, in addition to the morning coffee meetings, I decided that the most important reason
to continue to wake up earlier in the mornings to go to Kannon-do for Zazen, was to prevent the
risk of slowly drifting away from the practice if I just decided to do it alone. Or so I
thought. In this new crisis we are living, I realize that keeping together, even virtually, is
about so much more. Our new virtual morning Zazen followed by the virtual coffee chat, on the
surface are a detrimental experience to the real thing. But if you stop to think for a moment
(or feel), this is just a different "real", with no reason to compare it to the previous one.
It's real because it's now. It will change someday, which for me might be much longer than for
others, but we know that will happen with everything.
In the end, it's teaching me to just live the now I have, and to try to live it proactively.
It's giving me time to read and learn new things. I go on walks around the neighborhood with my
camera and take simple photos of things that I see (mostly flowers or plants) that are now. Take
my bicycle and explore new low traffic roads. My eBike is another example that you need to do
what is right for you now, and not what you thought or others told you is or isn't right. What
an enabler, to be able to climb hills and mountains without overdoing the exercise. Not being
confined to flat roads as I build my conditioning and endurance, so I can also reinforce my
immune system instead of weakening it by over stressing my body with "good" exercise.
This is a time of new learnings and opportunities, of adapting to change and continuing our
journeys. When I was first dealing with my cancer diagnosis, I came across a key question that
paralyzed me for a while: What is your reason to live? But it meant your own reason, not living
for others, or external reasons. If you ask the question yourself, and remove the usual answers
(for my children, spouse, parents, etc.), what is left? Why do you want to live? I'm not going
to describe the process I went through, but in the end, my answer (and decision) to live, simply
came to: I want to see where this journey will take me, what new surprises and experiences and
learnings await me! I have no idea what they are, but I do want to see where it ends. And since
that day, what I've lived through and done have amazed me. One day at a time, some better than
others, all to be lived one by one. The virtual new Kannon-do practice helps me start each new
day in the right place, even if for some reason I can't join. It's always there.
Watching a Rose Come to Full Bloom
April 2, 2020
Construction on our house came to a standstill, allowing my wife, dog, cat, and me to move from our garage back into our home ahead of schedule!
I've set up my desk to work in our guest room, facing a window that looks out over our garden, and I've spent the moments between meetings watching a rose gradually come to full bloom.
As I walk my dog around our neighborhood, more and more of my neighbors are home and spending time with their family in their yards. It's been a chance to wave, shout hello, and smile together in the sunshine.
As the Zen community adapts and shifts to online practice sessions, I've had the chance to attend services from the SF Zen Center and from Green Gulch, communities that I've always wanted to visit and experience but were difficult to reach before. In some ways, this has been a flourishing time for connection among the Zen communities!
My wife and I have enjoyed coming together at lunchtime to cook for each other and have tea, and I'm grateful for these new and precious chances to have simple and frequent connections with her.
And finally, I'm grateful for the chance to refocus on practice, to engage with this as an intensive practice session alongside the global community.
"Dating" in Quarantine
April 3, 2020
On February 8, I unexpectedly met someone who became a romantic interest, and we quickly decided to date exclusively. We barely had time to do that before the SIP order came, bringing several challenges. First we had to mindfully make the decision not to exempt ourselves from the distancing guidelines. The conversation where we worked our way from justifying our own preferences and convenience to considering the effect our behavior would have on people around us was a highly beneficial exercise that we wouldn't normally have had to do so early in our acquaintance. For example, I like to volunteer at the local food bank (see photo) and I just wouldn't feel right doing that knowing that I'd been fudging the lines of social separation. Our agreement was to treat the quarantine period as a blessing in disguise, focusing on how lovely it is to have someone to talk to at this time rather than feeling deprived by not being able to have dinner together in person. I found that resolving to keep a positive attitude with this person has resonated in other areas of life, helping me focus on things to be grateful for rather than giving in to self-pity. Of course I said "helping," not "ensuring." I've done my share of selfish whining! But overall I find that what seems to be a challenge truly is a gift. It's impossible to tell how things will develop between us going forward; I'm convinced, though, that the ethical rigor this outbreak has made necessary will benefit us whether we continue together or drift apart to find other partners.
What is Your Silver Lining?
April 3, 2020
The world is shaken by an unprecedented phenomenon. It feels like some kind of radical adjustment completely out of our control is operating. Social distancing is imposed, resulting in many getting closer to their loved ones. Some go from being super busy to having a lot of time to breathe and even look within now. Pollution, which has been quite worrisome, has drastically dropped everywhere on the planet. Yes, the current situation is challenging, but I’ve realized more than ever that where I focus my attention has a great power to drive my mood. No matter how I feel, life is what it is, so I’ve tried to find the silver lining in what’s happening. It has given me more energy and ideas to reach out to people. Recently my silver lining has been calling my mom more, enjoying nature and the blue sky, and hanging out with my children who are back home.
What’s your silver lining?
Inspired by You
April 4, 2020
I’m here with my 19 year old son and homebound in Mountain View. We are doing well and I am loving the online sangha that I join during the week. Les gave a moving dharma talk last Wednesday, and I now find myself hugging trees almost daily. Ha, try it, you’ll like it.
Great sorrow and great possibilities now. I am inspired to face up to these days by the admiration I have for the many of you.
April 6, 2020
Crowns of thorns growing
World breathes fire
Survival Guide for Quarantine
April 7, 2020
April 8, 2020
Plants don't wander around,
If asked to self quarantine, they won't complain.
The baby spots the teddy bears in our window
April 9, 2020
The day that Shelter in Place was announced in the Bay Area, my husband, daughter and I mobilized 3,000 miles east and south to my parents’ house in a quiet neighborhood on a small island in southern Florida. The flavor of vacation buffered the difficult sense of desolation after a hurried departure from our home and the thought of what we were leaving behind indefinitely. Marco Island was warm and reassuringly sunny. There were palm trees and geckos and a pool that our daughter jumped into before we even set down our bags.
Three weeks after we arrived, we’ve settled into another rhythm here. During the day we fan out into our various pursuits around the house, then we come together at mealtimes. In general, we’re doing fine and we’re happy to be healthy and in each other’s company. But it also feels like we’re hanging in an uneasy fog that won’t let us see past the end of each day. I keep hearing: this is like 9/11. This is war. This is going to change us, change everything forever. The departure from a state of certainty is lamented as though change were a demon to be kept from our doors. Now it has slipped in through a neglected crack, our efforts against uncertainty are in vain. We’re infected. How to adapt?
I’ve been taking refuge through the back door. Out front there is a street and people and opportunities for infection; out back is a waterway that leads out into the large and sparsely peopled Caxambas Bay, home to schools of dolphins, squadrons of pelicans and shoals of unpredictability.
Our very doorstep is an area of shifting sands, a fractured landmass called the Ten Thousand Islands whose component keys are at the mercy of annual storms, often present one season and gone the very next. The low-lying, shrubby islands form a mangrove forest sat on the highest points of a sinking coastline, or perched on sandbanks and oyster bars, some of which disappear and reappear with the tide.
To navigate the waterways that flow between the islands, boats have to be especially attuned to the changing landscape that underlies the murky water. Depths fluctuate from 15 feet to just a few inches, and though passage through some channels is signposted and annually adjusted by locals, for the most part, the forest is wild and unmarked, and you enter at your own risk.
My own chosen mode of transport into the mangroves is a paddleboard kayak. This, in contrast to the deck boats, skiffs and jet skis that course through the water like rotary saws; I know I’m looking for space and silence. I’ve been coming here for 25 years, but it’s only now, in the midst of a limitless stay, that I’ve become fascinated by the mangroves.
When a rug is pulled from under us, the hush of shell-shock can open a window. I notice new merit in things I previously ignored. So with the mangrove, suddenly striking, resilient, resourceful and oh, so strong. Like being in the company of an inspiring person, hanging around the mangroves is giving me fresh perspective.
I paddle around the islands, close to their edges where the water can be shallow enough to sink my feet into the soft mud at the bottom. It’s here I can get the best view of the mangroves—which are specifically red mangroves—and their remarkable structure: their top halves look like regular shrubby trees, with bright green leaves that are stout and waxy. But it’s the bottom half of a red mangrove that makes it look like something out of Dr. Seuss’ own botanical encyclopedia. Hoisted up out of the ground to about one-third of the level of its root structure, it gives the impression of a tree half-dug up, its roots like spindly stilts or octopus legs, pushing the tree out of the water as though it were averse to getting wet and had decided to run away.
The principle of the red mangrove’s root structure is maximum stability. It can’t survive in cold weather so it can only exist in tropical or subtropical regions. The trade-off for the good weather is the exposure to storms. Every summer, the coast is hit with prodigious gales and, too often, hurricanes.
There are two approaches to plant survival during a hurricane: flexibility as embodied by the palm tree and stability as manifested by the red mangrove. The trunk of a palm is not made of wood in the common way of tree structure. Look at a palm stump, and instead of a series of rings, you’ll see a spongy tissue which is what enables the tree to bend, sometimes all the way down to the ground, in strong wind. The red mangrove has taken another approach—laying low, it clings to the ground. The strength of its prop root system lies in the multiplicity of the sheer number of roots that extend from the tree into the ground, tethering it with multiple lifelines. Like stilts keeping the tree above the water, the roots are also a way for the red mangrove to absorb oxygen. They grow downwards from the trunk and the branches of the tree, and you can see them in various stages of extension. Some have only made it halfway to the water by now, blindly feeling their way with the delicate root tip that can sense gravity and know which way is the right way.
Its grounding roots that sink into the sea not only stabilize the red mangrove, but also the land that it’s growing out of. The root fingers enclose the foundations of the island like a cage, trapping the sediment in between the bars of its holding. Tides come and go, but most of the sandy landmass stays confined by the roots of the red mangrove. Without the broken, scattered islands of forest there, the coastline might eventually erode altogether and eventually sink down into the sea.
Each year I come here, the coast looks a little different. Since Irma in 2017, some of the Gulf-facing beaches have been left grey and skeletal, their trees stripped and ashen, trunks uprooted. The mangroves do not have superpowers and they will not survive any odds. A strong storm is for them a war that reaps casualties. But even the most devastated graveyard will eventually sprout new grass and buds on branches we were sure we had left for dead.
Waving and Singing
April 9, 2020
I live in senior housing apartments. One thing that helps me cope is that we go out to our balconies and patios every day at 5 p.m. and wave to each other. Sometimes we also sing.
April 9, 2020
The thing that has struck me is that when we occasionally go out to walk the dog, and we -- along with everyone else -- carefully give each other a wide berth, there is a lot more smiling and waving than usual. I recently heard somebody (somebody in our sangha?) say that we shouldn't call it "social distancing" -- we should say "distant socializing".
It reminds me of something I've noticed when going on long backpacking trips. We are all accustomed to walking in the city and studiously ignoring the crowds of people around us. Indeed it's considered rude and unwelcome to approach random strangers unless there is some specific reason, and even then, we tend to apologize for it. Our brains evolved to handle the small tribal groups that our ancestors grew up in for thousands of generations, so we normally feel a need to shield ourselves from the overwhelming presence of hundreds and hundreds of other people we do not know. However when we go backpacking -- especially when hiking for days, far from roads and trailheads -- and we encounter others on the trail, we invariably stop and chat for several minutes. It just feels right, and it would seem awkward and unnatural to just walk by and ignore others as we would automatically do in the city.
Both situations somehow inspire us to transcend our perceived need to isolate ourselves, and bring out our natural desire for human contact -- an intuitive recognition of our mutual interconnectedness.
April 9, 2020
So we put on our masks, and isolate.
Hiding in our respective homes.
Yet, on our new best friend, Zoom,
We daily engage in friendly banter,
Saying and feeling things not seen or said for years.
People expressing love, and belonging,
In one day making new friends in Israel and Australia.
Which is the isolation, and which the connection?
We cannot touch each other,
But with kind words across the courtyard, or parking lot,
We touch each other with a smile, a nod,
A gentle step aside to allow the other to pass first.
There can be no doubt now.
We are in this together, connected and one.
Vulnerable, and hurting, with all of the collective pain and suffering,
Stronger than ever in our resolve.
Is it not clear, then, how this works?
Suffering, turned inside out, is love.
Fear and Anxiety
April 10, 2020
There is a posture in hot yoga called the balancing stick pose. It involves balancing on one leg while bringing the hands, body, and the other leg parallel to the floor just like the letter 'T.' The posture is only for 10 seconds, but the heart rate increases steeply, bringing oxygen-rich blood to all the muscles that it feels like a heart attack. It is said this so-called 'mini heart attack' prevents one later. The coronavirus situation feels just like that.
The last month has been tough - to say the least. The change has been drastic, sudden, and unexpected. Yes, the big world that we know has changed. Over a million people are sick, tens of thousands have died, millions have lost their jobs, and not to mention the hardships that come with the lockdown. But what about the small world inside each one of us? The one created around our identity, ego, attachments for things and people, our place in the society, and so forth. For many of us, it isn't holding up anymore and crashing right before our eyes. For some, the picture is uglier than even the big world outside. Two words best describe what's going on inside for most of us - fear and anxiety.
Our usual techniques to cope with fear and anxiety are falling short because we are dealing with primal fear - that of basic survival for our loved ones and us. Fear speaks in the language of logic. Our minds are always thinking of 'what ifs'? What if I get the coronavirus? What if my parents or kids get it? What if I lose my job? What if I can't pay the bills? Even what if I die? The 'what ifs' are countless, and our intellectual mind revels and thrives in these moments and consistently churns and thrashes to get nowhere. This leads to more fear and anxiety since we don't have the solutions to the seen and unseen problems we think we face.
My biggest fears were for my immediate family - my mother, who is in her seventies, my parents-in-law who have an underlying health condition, and my wife's grandmother who just turned a hundred years old, and our teacher Les. Some of them live 10,000 miles away and not easily accessible. My professional fears were around the future of my startup, the team, my own career, and its impact on my kids' futures. For me, 'what ifs' typically come with 'if only' thoughts around guilt. 'If only' I had done that, the situation wouldn't be what it is now. Fear + anxiety + guilt feed off each other. This is the never-ending analysis paralysis of the intellectual mind, which isn't least helpful.
Fear is a hard challenge to overcome, but it can be done or at least managed. I feel thankful and inspired when watching the stories of doctors and nurses fighting on the frontlines, putting aside their own fears, and caring for patients. Once when I was lost in my own thoughts, my 10-year-old son gave me a hug and said, 'Don't worry, everything is going to be fine.' The feeling experienced at that moment can't be expressed in words. It felt like the universe was talking through him.
Fear disappears when we are one with everything else around us, and returns when we feel the separateness inside us. The purpose and process of spiritual work are to remove this feeling of separateness, which makes us fragile, weak, and vulnerable to fear. Our teacher Les once told me to pick up a flower and become the flower, if I ever feel depressed or disheartened with anything. 'What ifs' and 'if only' are just hypotheticals and should be treated as such. What matters is what is in front of us right now.
Once we realize and get past our own funk, it is time to return the favor and become the 'flower' for someone else. This is the only thing that is in front of us right now. Reach out to others, check-in, and let them know you are there for them and offer help. Even if you don't know how to help, just offering makes you feel good and makes the other person feel better about their own situation. Call old friends and reminisce, or offer to take out the trash for the elderly members in the community. Cook for the family, go on bike rides with kids, talk to your dog, or learn something new. There are so many 'flowers' that we can become. Meanwhile, if one of the 'what ifs' materializes, it is no longer just one person's problem anymore.
This might also be the time to let go of one or more things in the small world inside our heads. Fewer things to fear in the future might be a good thing. Since everything is happening exactly as it should, we can try to be open and welcoming what might be ahead of us. This is the time to trust and double down on spiritual practice.
Does fear ever go away completely? The Buddha is said to have taken numerous births before being born Gautama and became enlightened. Many of us are just getting started.
Coming back to balancing stick yoga pose, the 10 seconds in the posture feels like a lifetime and is extremely hard. But one gets through it and discovers a burst of new energy. The coronavirus situation is only one event in our lives, this too, shall pass, and there is a better future ahead.
Tree and I
April 10, 2020
Walking has taken on a new meaning for me as there is more time to observe, notice, and appreciate all that nature has to offer. My inspiration is a tree that is precariously located at the edge of a freeway. One that I have passed by for many years. The tree has always “spoken” to me except these days with my slower pace I can better discern what it says. It speaks of calmness in the midst of a rush of cars and noisy traffic right behind where it stands. I hear it speak of strength despite being alone, a solitary tree with no others in the vicinity. It whispers about its care for all as it waves with its hanging branches that always appear full. I see its inner beauty as I walk by appreciative of my good fortune that I have always had a tree “speak” words of wisdom during these unsettling days – and even more grateful that I have the time to listen.
Forced to Slow Down
April 13, 2020
Turning away and touching are both wrong
For it is like a massive fire.
Forced to slow down, I see not one fire but many,
And that I’m usually taking turns to
Turn away from one to move and touch another, to and fro.
Outside, vast fires loom on every horizon,
Distant, diffuse and unspeakably large.
At home, coals burn in the hearth,
Hotter now than ever, firing embers and billowing smoke.
And inside, the fiercest fires of all,
Hard to pinpoint, sparking, searing and singeing.
When you are free to move around in the world you can
Take it in turns to pick your poison,
Flitting from fire to fire.
Actually always hot and smoky,
But a change feels as good as a rest.
Forced to slow down, I see not one fire but many,
And feeling them all at once I’m overwhelmed.
Can I take the heat?
Maybe there is a spot, right in the middle of all the fires,
Where I can stand perfectly upright.
Not turning away, not touching, unhindered, unafraid.
Forced to slow down, maybe I’m closer than ever to standing still.
Photo Caption: A drawing that has been on my mind, of sitting zazen, drawn with one line.
April 13, 2020
I'm not a word person. However, I will say that in this time of isolation and potential death a little humor may offer a small respite. I came across this photo I took years ago. The pic shows the birds dispassionately feeding more or less equidistant apart. In bird distances that could be six feet apart. The title ties the pic to us in our current situation. Not keeping six feet apart for us could have mortal ramifications. For the birds its a way for the group to feed. I can't say much more than that.
My Covid-19 Garden
April 15, 2020
The year 2020 will always be remembered as the year Covid-19 reached out and affected all of our lives. It has affected my family, my job and even my garden.
Spring brings with it a multitude of possibilities for my garden. Which tomato varieties will I grow this year? How many cucumber plants can I squeeze in? What parts of the garden bed should be devoted to herbs?
The ritual starts by going to at least 2 nurseries and walking up and down the aisles, reading vegetable tags, eyeing the small vegetable starts for vigor, color and root development. Then each plant is loving chosen and carefully put into my shopping cart.
Then I stroll through the seed section. Should I try my hand at heirloom varieties? Grow Asian vegetables hard to come by in stores? My decisions end up in my shopping cart and I imagine all the tasty produce I will get to enjoy as I push my overflowing shopping cart towards the cash register.
Enter Covid-19 and my hopes of strolling through the aisles lined by vegetable plants are dashed. The nurseries allow no one to enter. All orders must be telephoned in and then picked up. How can I trust a stranger to pick out my cherished vegetable plants?
No choice but to dutifully call in my order. The phone rings but no one answers. They are swamped with other customers. I keep trying until someone picks up the phone. Desperate I plead with them to describe all the varieties of basil and thyme they have in stock. What varieties of tomatoes have come in?
The nurseryman is very kind and patient while he collects my wish list. Most of what I desire is available but it is hard not being able to preview my seedlings in person. I then rush to the nursery to pick up my green treasure only to be greeted by a masked lady. She orders me to stay 6 feet away while my cart is unceremoniously thrust at me. I must lunge at it to stop it midroll. No one draws near as I struggle to load the 20lb bags of potting soil into my car. I am however delighted to see my seedlings are healthy and have been picked out with care.
My Covid-19 garden has depended on the kindness of strangers to help stock it. As my vegetables grow I thank them for their kind attention to making my garden a success.
Beauty in the Smallest Details
April 17, 2020
Skies without airplanes; a preference for food prepared at home. We have all come to discover new found beauty in the smallest of details.
The Word is Grieve
April 19, 2020
The word is grieve, not grief. It’s a verb.
It’s something you have to do, not optional. It’s normal, natural needed.
Something strikes and steals. It’s part of life.
In my case, the day after the Governor’s shelter-in-place order, a very dear friend died of brain cancer. The next day, my sister-in-law’s lung cancer was diagnosed as stage 4, from stage 3. A week later, our golden retriever was diagnosed with an
In my case, no family member went to the hospital or died with COVID-19 infection, but many of our human family have. Many have lost their incomes and don’t know how they will pay for necessities. I honor the grieving and don’t try to push it away.
I’m still glad though for the uplifting messages and images. They are helpful for many. They help us rest in the uncertainty, the mystery. They bring warmth and friendliness.
April 19, 2020
“You may say, ‘I must do something this afternoon,’ but actually there is no ‘this afternoon’. We do things one after another, that is all. At one o’clock you will eat your lunch. To eat lunch is itself one o’clock. You will be somewhere, but that place cannot be separated from one o’clock.”
-- Shunryu Suzuki
The first time I ever sat a sesshin, we were instructed on day one to abide by the schedule. That was the only rule.
Five o’clock was bowing and chanting. Six o’clock was zazen. Eight o’clock was breakfast. Eight-thirty was work period...the next day was to be the same, as all the other days after that.
“The schedule is ultimately your teacher, do not deviate,” the zen master instructed us.
On day two, I wondered if I could instagram the zendo’s rock garden, but it was three o’clock- time for dokusan. On day three, I wondered if I could take a nap in the dormitory, but it was four o’clock - time for kinhin.
“Right now”, the schedule goes.
There is nothing to do but go with it, wherever this “right now” happens to be.
On March 17th, 2020, we were told that all work was suspended and that we were to “shelter-in-place” until further notice.
It was day one of a new sesshin.
On day two, I wondered what I could binge-watch on Netflix in the middle of the afternoon, but it was three o’clock - time to pick up the mail. On day eleven, I wondered how best to get in touch with the payroll department to complain about a tax form, but it was four o’clock - time to mop the floor.
On day twenty-one, I wondered if I had been infected with the virus and if more hand sanitizer could be bought and if I should start trading stocks given the current economic crisis... but it was seven o’clock - time to empty the cats’ litter box.
Thinking back to that last day of my first sesshin, the zen master reflected with me on the experience:
“Of course, anyone can give into the day-dream that these zen retreats are a vacation of sorts” she explained. “And maybe that period of scheduled kinhin could become an indulgent hike through the mountains, extended all afternoon if the weather is beautiful. We could also spend zazen making plans about what we are going to do when it’s over. But those who practice know the nature of the schedule - we must be here now, doing only what we are supposed to be doing as it comes.”
It is now day thirty-five of my COVID-sesshin. I am starting to reassess how well I did standing more than six feet away from someone in the grocery store last week, but it is two o’clock right now - time to dust the baseboards.
Love in Action
April 20, 2020
When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don't say to yourself, "It looks like the end of the world." What you're seeing is love in action. What you're seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for the immuno-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet.
People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment, when you're out on your walk, or on your way to the store, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love.
Let it fill and sustain you. It isn't the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.
April 21, 2020
Amidst the undercurrent of fear and uncertainty, hope peeks through.
Nature blooms around us, despite us, despite COVID19.
Here's what awaits outside in our garden, material for our shelter flower altars.
April 24, 2020
The yellow submarine is my favorite watercraft with special appeal to children.
At the Rhythm of a Carreta (Bullock Cart)
May 2, 2020
Trees have all this patience
They just stand
Mountains under snow and sun
Rain wets your bones
A crackling fire
Today I played with my youngest son Tomás, laughed with my younger daughter Berta, helped them with homework, had a long conversation with my older daughter Catalina. We all cook together. With Lucía, my wife, we garden and have time for each other again. We all enjoy the garden, the good weather, the music of birds in the morning and our two cats. There is time to read. After two years of working long hours non-stop and little sleep, I have felt that I would not sleep this long and well again. As death and suffering expands, these days have been a privilege, and a lesson.
When I was 4 years old the road to my mother’s farm in Chile in winter turned into deep clay mud, turning our car useless. There is a small river, in summer not more than a creek, that in winter turns into a strong muddy current that sweeps a small bridge, to be built again in Spring. We got to the farm on a “Carreta”, a rustic wooden Bullock Cart, led by Domingo, an old man with great dignity that used to work for my grandfather, and helped my mother in a paternal way. He wore “ojotas”, sandals he cut from car tires, put together with pieces of wire, and an old hat that tried to shelter him from often heavy rain. With his pants rolled up he led the Carreta walking in mud up to his knees, sometimes yelling and sometimes almost talking to the two oxen, one called Bonito (Beautiful). The Carreta kept a very slow and steady rhythm, going over steep hills, deep muddy ruts, and stones. On a steep climb, in the mud under the left wheel there was a large stone, Domingo shouted, the oxen changed just a bit their pulling, and the Carreta slowly went over it. Safe on this rustic vehicle time stopped, life stopped, the creaking and sounds of the wooden cart, the oxen and Domingo became life. The road, trees, mud, clouds, the breathing and smelling of the oxen, the sound of their feet in the mud, the family tight together holding to this bouncing wooden cart. The rain, the wind, and the world became real, natural and present as they couldn’t in the city. This oneness on that Carreta is perhaps the most cherished, deepest memory of my life. Sheltering with my family brought it back.
As we have the privilege of sheltering at home and have time to bring back memories, my 25 years old niece Micaela, a Medicine student in Paris, goes every day to the hospital in Metro, and has to wear for 2 or 3 days a mask that is designed for 3 hours. Her boss and two colleagues have Coronavirus. A niece’s husband in Chile is recovering from Coronavirus. First responders, grocery stores and delivery employees put their lives at risk daily to help others. ER and ICU doctors, nurses and staff, hospital staff, confront and fight death and suffering daily, quietly, trying to save others. Many have to make or fix their masks and protective equipment from whatever they could find, rustic equipment, like Domingo’s sandals. Their courage leaves fear behind, where does it come from?
I try to imagine their selflessness, compassion, empathy, training and determination to overcome fear, physical exhaustion and emotional pain. How to imagine their oneness with death, with people suffering in front of them, and everywhere?
Watching suffering, illness and death started Buddha on his spiritual path. These doctors, nurses, staff, and their families are unwilling heroes. Many die. They also are spiritual teachers. I bow to them, I bow to them, I bow to them.