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Notes from the Eye of the Storm

What I remembered from a hopeless moment

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Lately, we’ve been dealing with minor disasters (and by ‘we’ I mean pretty much everyone I know). We’ve been regrouping, only to be hit by much bigger ones. We run to the bathroom, throw up, wash our faces, then bite down hard and think, “Okay. We can do this. What’s next?” And then, the unseasonable rain breaches our foundations and floods our basements, a fire breaks out in the kitchens, and our phones are ringing. It’s a family member, and it’s very bad news.

Anyone resonate with this? And even if it isn’t your situation, world events are starting to pile up in this same way.

There’s a meditation practice that I’ve frankly been ignoring for a while. It’s been mine since 1999, when my teacher, Anam Thubten Rinpoche, introduced me to meditation. If ever there was a time to suit up and get back on that cushion, it would be now. It is now.

Anyway. I felt weird and childish, but I did finally slump down onto the cushion that has carried me through so much of my life, the one that knows me best in this house. And like magic, my muscle memory immediately lengthened and relaxed my frame into position.

I sat still. I sat still for a long time.

I sat listening. I listened to the room, the neighborhood, the sirens, the wind. Each time I found myself naming something, I uncoupled it from its name, and approached with a more playful curiosity: “If this sound were a skein of thread, how thick would it be? What would be its texture? If it were a dance? A color? If it were an animal — the sound of our heating system — what would it be? (It would be an extremely large, moody cat, purring.)

Back to the cushion.

Even exploring alternate imaginations of sound is still “naming.” Just return to the bare experience of ‘hearing.’ How many different sounds can I hear, right now, on this cushion, in my basement? And can I hear them without imposing my imagination on them? Nothing wrong with that, but can I do it?

It may sound completely inane or unhelpful — but doing this reminded me of the lifetime of meditations that have rescued me from my own mind. We are at a truly insane time right now — but don’t kid yourself, we’ve been here before. Maybe not you or me, but humanity has.

I just heard a Moth story told by a man who’d survived the Khmer Rouge regime. He’d been a child, forced with seven hundred other children to live in a Buddhist monastery they’d taken over. He told of soldiers killing children, or soldiers ordering children to kill their young friends — and anyone resisting or showing any emotion was also killed on the spot.

Of the seven hundred children who started there, only sixty survived. And he was one of them. Decades later, by chance, he met one of the cruel captains who had been in that camp. They became friends. Peace is possible.

But war will always be with us. It always has, and until we learn how to share land, resources, and ideas, it always will.

So my job — our job, if you want to join me in this is to make an unbreakable appointment with our cushions. To be still on those cushions and try to experience what we ourselves are experiencing in each moment.

And while we’re at it, we can pray for the world using one of my favorite prayers:

May you be safe from inner and outer harm. May you be free from guilt, shame and hatred. May you enjoy physical and mental well-being. May you live with the ease of an open heart. And may you (everyone, everywhere) awaken to your true nature, which is an inexhaustible source of love, compassion and wisdom.


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