Here I am, looking out at the yew tree on a cloudy day, working to get comfortable with what just happened. Those old Chinese teachers did say that impermanence is swift – I see what they meant. Things are really different than they were in the first week of March, and I’m learning to navigate Zoom, ordering groceries online, and sitting alone in the zendo hoping you’re out there sitting with me. You probably have your own list of new adventures in living.
I’m fortunate. I’m quite happy at not seeing another face for a week or two. I also have a steady income and my work doesn’t require me to be out. My greatest annoyance is that the price of gasoline is under $2.00 per gallon and I have no reason to buy any.
Perhaps you’re not so lucky. You’re missing your favorite coffee shop, or you’re worried about parents or grandparents. Or you’re wondering when you’ll get a paycheck again and what you’ll do about food and housing in the meantime. You may be wondering how to educate your children or how to have a moment’s peace without imprisoning them in a soundproof room.
Our administrative assistant sent me a message today that ended with “We can embrace reality.” Yes. We can. It’s our best alternative if we’re to deal with this huge restructuring of reality constructively.
What does it mean to embrace reality? It means to say “Yes.” I’ve heard that in the theater, in improvisational exercises, one should always say yes to any idea offered. If we’re asked to portray Beyonce in love with John Wayne, we say “yes” and do it. What happens if we say “no”? Things stop. It’s the same in life. If we don’t say “yes” to reality, we cease being able to move forward creatively and usefully.
As long as we think of reality as not right, insufficient, unsatisfactory, we don’t see what’s really going on. When we hold onto our ideas of what should be rather than waking up to what is, we are mired in frustration and inability to find solutions and act on them. This condition is what Shakyamuni referred to as suffering and ignorance. As long as we say “no” to what reality is asking of us, nothing much can happen. Except feelings of powerlessness, dissatisfaction, worry, and anger. Which don’t help much.
What if we say “yes”? Saying “yes” is letting go of what we want reality to be and opening up to what it really is. Saying “yes” is waking up to this situation right here. It gives us clarity and flexibility. Investigating how things really work, we can develop solutions that are beneficial and effective. Now we see many paths forward. We leave our old nest of suffering and begin to build a new one in the midst of these strange, unique circumstances. Our home becomes wherever we are, whatever situation we are in.
To really live without suffering is to be willing to have a go at every idea, every circumstance that comes up. Circumstances may be hard but if we’re willing to dive in and see what we can do, we can move forward.
Perhaps we need to grieve about the absence of old patterns, old certainties, the comfortable things we depended on. Grief is reality, too. Let’s investigate it and see how it works. We don’t forget those things we loved, but we make room for new comforts and new ways of feeding our spirits. We miss our old coffee shop? Perhaps we Skype a friend for a few minutes of coffee each morning before we go to work. Or we find a coffee shop scene online and stream it while we drink ours. Perhaps we miss the zendo. We can make a quiet corner to sit at the regular times, then check in on the Center’s Facebook page to connect with others. We can’t visit a loved one in a hospital or care home? We can figure out a way to let them know we’re here and to find out how they are – some people have stood outside a family member’s window and waved and smiled. Maybe it’s impossible right now. But things change. We can practice with impossibility until possibility comes up.
Saying “yes” is moving on in new and different ways. I walked the trails by the river and I’m now worried that the police won’t like that, so I go out and work in the garden for an hour every day. I’m doing necessary work and I’m enjoying the movement and the time outdoors. I’m also learning new skills, like how to use Skype or Zoom. I’m posting on Facebook more and emailing more to keep in touch with all of you. When the pandemic is over, those new skills are likely to make Zen Center more accessible and helpful. I can envision our Monday night dharma discussions with four or five people at the table and another two or three on a screen, calling in from Iowa City, the East Coast, or California.
It’s only when we say “yes” no matter how hard that may be, that we get to new and different and really useful places. And contentment replaces dukkha.
We will be closed until June 1.
Should conditions change, we could reopen earlier.
Zuiko will be sitting in the zendo at every zazen period listed below. Please sit with her whenever you can. Just sitting quietly can be helpful in times like these.
9:00 – 9:40 am
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
12:15 – 12:55
Our Monday night dharma discussion group is continuing through Zoom. If you’re interested in joining, please contact the Center.
You can connect with us through email or phone. And you can listen to our dharma talks online and read our posts on Facebook. We make regular posts on Facebook and we invite you to respond to them and share them with others. On Sunday, Zuiko posts a few words after nine o’clock zazen.
We hope to be able to live-stream Sunday zazen soon. If you’re interested in joining us, please send in a request.
There will also be a blog page on the website where people can exchange their adventures in practicing in a pandemic and support each other’s practice. If you’d like to be part of that, send us a request and we’ll send the link.
PLEASE NOTE: When we ask you to opt in, we are not intending to exclude anyone but bots and bombers. If you send a request, we will cheerfully send you the link and celebrate the inclusion of another practitioner.
And ― Let us know if there are things you’d like to see us doing. Or if you have expertise to contribute.
Thank you to . . .
The person who left five agates and a note of thanks for what we do on the porch just before evening zazen a couple of days ago. The stones are now on the altar. Your support encourages all of us in our efforts.
Everyone who sits with Zuiko at regular zazen. A bit of sitting still and just passing the time really cleans out random useless stuff and allows new and useful stuff to arise.
Everyone who’s helping to keep things going including Nadine Borngraeber, Eric Higgins-Freese, Myoho Kendall, Lauren Manninen and others who are contributing to the cause in ways both large and small. If you sit, if you practice, or if you make a financial contribution, you are contributing, too. Thank you.
Other Sitting & Sangha Opportunities
Bloomington-Normal, Illinois group isn't meeting at the moment but you can connect with them at email@example.com.
Des Moines - Daishin McCabe and Jisho Siebert lead half-day sittings and other events online for the moment. For more information contact Daishin.