My teacher, Joan Sutherland Roshi, sent out some important words in the wake of our recent election. I'm offering them here to get them out more widely.
November 9, 2016
Dear Ones, this is the first in a series of responses to the election on November 8. It begins with a quote from Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet who lived under Soviet occupation :
Above all though, I detect the exceptionally patient and persistent work of goodness, which could not be completely extinguished, even in this rather cruel century. Goodness does exist, not just evil, stupidity, Satan. Evil has more energy and can act with the speed of lightning like a blitzkrieg, whereas goodness likes to dawdle in a most peculiar fashion. This fatal disproportion leads to irreparable losses in many cases. ... But goodness returns, calm, unhurried, like those phlegmatic, elegantly dressed, pipe smoking gentlemen detectives in old fashioned mysteries, who appear upon the scene of the crime the day after it has been committed. It comes back slowly as if it alone had no access to modern modes of transportation, no train, car, plane, rocket, or even bicycle at its disposal. It returns though, deliberately as a pilgrim, inevitably as the dawn. Unfortunately it comes back too slowly, as if it doesn't want to recall that we are tragically caught up in time, we have so little time. Goodness treats us as though we were immortal. It is itself immortal. In a certain light, dry way, and it apparently ascribes the same quality to us, dismissing time and the body, our aging, our extinction. Goodness is better than we are.
While we wait for goodness to wend its way back towards us, we cannot ignore time and the body, our aging, our extinction -- or the effects this election might have on the bodies and extinctions of our fellow humans, animals, plants, air, and oceans. But since many of us are feeling stunned and ripped apart right now, and since we've been presented with something of a black box -- no one really knows what's about to occur - it's important to pause a moment. We've just seen what happens when passions take over, and the antidote is probably not going to be more of the same, even if we think our passions are different.
So for right now : A man will become president who thrives on chaos and so creates it all around him. He also craves attention so that, moment by moment, he can find out who he is. My advice to myself : Don't give him the attention. Don't get sucked into the chaos. Take a little time to get unstunned, to grieve, to start to stitch up the rips. Mr. Obama is president for two more months. Take the time to sink roots, deeply, into what sustains : love, the natural world, art -- whatever it is for you. Let us begin to protect everything that's been put in harm's way by healing back to each other. Let us refuse to bring chaos into our homes and our hearts. Let us turn our gaze, these days and nights, to what we care for, not what we dread.
If we do that, as the lineaments of our catastrophe become clearer we'll be ready to lay the groundwork for the return of goodness, deliberate as a pilgrim.
With my love,
November 10, 2016
Dear Ones, many of us feel that we've entered a new dream we don't yet understand. Yesterday I spoke of the first task at such a time, calling yr soul back and providing it a good home. Today we turn to sending out filaments of soul stuff to others. After a campaign and an election that were themselves traumatizing (not a word I use lightly), there are so many people in our country, in the world, who are terrified at what might happen - in fact is already happening - to them and those they love.
These days, please, every chance you get, send a simple message : We're in this together. If it's a conversation, a meditation, a donation, bearing public witness - let the frightened know, let the frightened parts of yrself know - that kindness can be stubborn, and brave.
When I was old enough to vote, I vowed that I would always cast my ballot on behalf of those who had no vote : the trees and rocks, hummingbirds and killer whales. Tuesday's election has passed, but every day we have a new choice about what ballot we cast, upon the waters, into the air, to wrap around the shoulders of our sisters and brothers.
On election night some of those likely to be part of the new administration were saying that they had long memories and were going to take revenge on those who opposed them. It got me wondering, what is the revenge of kindness? Would it rise from an ancient steadiness, be made of standing with and sheltering, of refusing to go along with what is cruel and declining to be divided one from another? Kindness too has a long memory, and it lives in us.
With my love,
November 11, 2016
Leonard Cohen died. A true person of Zen, wild and wry and honest about the things it's hardest to be honest about. He was the Bodhisattva of That Voice, and he's the one who said that in times like these, we ought to be balancing monsters of love. Thank you so very much, Jikan of the roaring silence, please travel well.
The ground is going to be unsteady for awhile now. There will be comings and goings, things that slam shut and some that break open. Ghosts and tremors and tears that surprise. Strange dreams and unexpected resolve. Know this and take good care of yrselves. It will not serve to claw for certainty, because certainty is not of this time. But uncertainty can be balanced with love, which holds steady on unsteady ground, remains loyal to the vulnerable, and remembers the through-line beneath any upheaval. And uncertainty is balanced by courage, which moves step by step in the dark, slipping between the sentries of the heart.
At the winter solstice we always did a meditation in which you let the winds of the vastness strip you clean, taking skin and flesh and muscle and sinew, until only yr skeleton remains. Then, after awhile of resting in that state, a radiant jewel appears in yr ribcage, out of which grows a new, softly glowing body around the bones of the old. Perhaps this is a meditation you'd like to take up between now and the solstice. Perhaps it feels like a pretty good fit for the time. Just be sure to inhabit each part of the journey - being stripped, being empty and resting there, being home to a new jewel giving birth to a new life. And always, always, offer up the new life's glow to all our companions making their own way across unsteady ground.
Here it is.
With my love,
November 14, 2016
When the initial numbness starts to wear off, it's so very human to cast about for ways to cope. As understandable as that is, here's a counter-suggestion : Don't cope. Don't try to normalize the dangerous or manage the inherently unmanageable. What if, instead, we let our tactics and strategies fall away and take place, as much as we are able to, with what is actually happening?
And so sorrow, rage, hope, fear, empathy, and the rest will rise and fall with each new development. Let them be part of each new development. In a time when so much and so many are being rejected before our eyes, what if we attend to our emotions rather than turn them away? What if we offer, in our own heart-minds, the very welcome under threat in our country?
Instead of searching for the perfect response or the perfect defense, we're choosing the humble work of remaining aware as we move from state to state. And emotions that are attended to are more likely to rise and fall rather than rise and stay, sometimes transforming in surprising ways when given the chance to have a life cycle.
This is delicate work in an undelicate time. How does the balance between engagement and self-protection shift from day to day? Where's the frontier between engagement and obsession, or self-protection and denial? Is there ever really a balance, or is it about momentary returns through center, on the way to off-balance in some other direction? Can we welcome those off-balance but potentially creative states? How much will we let ourselves be pierced, by the suffering of others and by sunlight glinting on leaves? Above all, are we willing to carry these questions around, so they can hold us in their reverie?
Each of us has the capacity to hold the through-line that runs from before this time to after it. To sink deep enough to pick that thread up, we have to let go of strategies like coping, which keep us bobbing at the surface. We travel through the zones of our distress to the still place at the bottom. And then we feel how ancient and fierce and unconditioned that thread is, and how we are made of it - in our own deep minds ancient and fierce and unconditioned, too.
With my love,
The news is not good. The national discourse is primitive and insane. People are speaking to me about feeling weary in their souls from the hatred, lies, and violence finding voice in our culture. And yet, it can be hard to look away from the awful spectacle.
I want to urge you to take time away from watching or talking or obsessing about the news every day. I'm finding it to be a powerful time for meditation, as so many of us need to touch into the strength and comfort of true nature. Try taking 30 minutes, or even 10, to just sit, breathe, and be with things as they are with an attitude of kindness and curiosity. No electronic devices, unless you have a timer app.
If your thoughts feel crazy and you want to settle your mind, try stabilizing your attention by counting your exhales from one to ten, then starting again. This is a simple practice to cultivate settling and focusing the mind.
If you feel enraged, heartbroken, terrified, or any other strong emotion, meet it in a big, generous field of compassion for yourself. And, know that many, many people are feeling it too. We can press our broken hearts together, and that will help.
If you'd like to take up a point of koan introspection, here's one to try on.
Master Ma advised, “Benefit what cannot be benefited; do what cannot be done."
Here's what to do with it. Start by settling your mind by counting your breath for a few rounds. Then drop the koan in, and allow yourself to develop a relationship to it. Let it bring any feeling, image, memory, sensory quality, emotion, or expansion. There's no right answer, just let it in.
Right now, our practice of sanity and compassion are essential. We can't lose contact with them. Your personal practice, your nourishment with experiences of connection and sorrow and joy, gives you the strength to keep on doing your bodhisattva work.
Let's hold our practice, whatever it is, toward the center of things for the next few weeks. Spend time every day meditating, doing yoga or dance, being in nature, being creative, and cultivating compassion for this awful mess.
In doing this, we water the seeds of wisdom and compassionate action, and we need as much of that as we can get.
Megan Rundel is the resident teacher at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community in Oakland, CA..