ZPI encourages reflections from retreat participants, staff, members & others touched by our work and doing similar work from around the world, as part of the practice of bearing witness. Jacqueline Kramer at the Hearth Foundation shares with us her insight on how we can continue to thrive even in times of a pandemic.
SONOMA, CALIFORNIA, USA. Each of us have different skills we’ve developed from our childhood. Some of the skills come out of the strength of our family and some come out of their weakness. When I was a little girl there was a lot of tension in my family. To get away from the tension I sequestered myself in my room with my stuffed animals, and later, with my guitar. Through this time alone I developed a vibrant inner life. Fast forward to now, when we find ourselves sequestered in our homes during this pandemic. All of a sudden, the skills I developed as a child, to entertain myself and do well in minimal tight quarters, have now become an asset.
I’ve had my life turned upside down a number of times since, once ironically by a little one celled virus, and have learned some valuable survival skills each time. I credit meditation for providing me with a perspective that is particularly valuable during times of upheaval. During meditation we practice being with things the way they are, putting aside any commentary. We sit and listen without judgement. When we remain aware we have the opportunity to choose our response. Hopefully we will choose a response that will help us not only bounce back from this pandemic, but become stronger and better individuals and citizens.
We are now in boot camp. Those of you who are new to sheltering in place, welcome to my world. Here are some things I’ve learned about being happy with life as it is:
Don’t compare your suffering to the suffering of others
You may not be sick and you may have enough to eat and a roof over your head but your suffering right now is still real. We humans are all subject to our own portion of hardship. Comparing our suffering to the suffering of others does us no good, and it does others no good. We don’t need to be unkind to ourselves in order to help those who are in more dire straits. Your pain is as real as anyone else’s pain.
Let yourself feel sad
In times of upheaval, when things are being taken from us, it is natural to go through many different emotions-sadness, relief, anger and others. When we are being opened and changed there are apt to be growing pains. Take time to grieve. Allow all feelings without judgement.
Alongside the threat of death there are birds singing outside your window, the spring is springing and the Earth continues to turn. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life on this beautiful, unlikely planet. Enjoy the miraculous which is everywhere.
Attenuate your attitude
If you keep thinking about how things were and how they’re not that way anymore you’ll make yourself miserable. Accept the moment as it is and work within the given framework.
Don’t dwell on the past, don’t dwell on the future
During meditation we leave thoughts of the past and future behind. Past and future are factors of the imagination, what is real- is now. Explore what is going on right now and choose the best move to make in each changing moment.
Tighten your belt buckle
Whether you are sheltering in place due to a pandemic, war, or any other factor, this sort of life has economic consequences. The clearer you are about your economic situation and the closer you live within your current means the more peace you will have. Our approach to money and goods in the West has been careless. We do not save, we buy on credit, and we have a sense of entitlement so deep it just seems normal to get what we want when we want it. Living on less shakes up this false promise. Fear of lack can be approached creatively. Become very clear about what is available to you and build your economic framework from what is actually present.
Connect with others
For reasons of safety we are physically distancing ourselves from others at this time. But this doesn’t mean we need to socially distance ourselves. Find creative ways to reach out to loved ones, neighbors and others. One of my neighbors, I don’t know who, put up a sign on the street reading, “We are all in this together”. That sign lifts my spirits each time I walk past it. We need the warmth of one another, especially during this time. Email an old friend, call someone you haven’t reached out to in a while, Facetime, Zoom, Skype! Find a shelter in place buddy that matches your standards of carefulness and share a six foot distancing meal with them.
Connect with yourself
This is a wonderful time to become more intimate with ourselves. We are alone more, but that doesn’t mean we need to be lonely. What do you love to do? In the time that has opened up due to being home more, paint, reflect, meditate, read. This is a more internal time, enjoy whatever internal activities call to you.
Find pleasure in small things
We are used to going to the grocery store and buying whatever we want. This time challenges us to make what we have in the pantry work for us. I’ve joined a Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) in my area. Every Tuesday they leave a box of produce at my door. I never know what I’m going to get, and what I get is the makings of the week’s meals. It’s like Christmas every Tuesday! Find simple pleasures and make a feast with what you have.
If you have a need, reach out and ask for help. If you have more than you need, offer assistance to others. Generosity is key to feeling expansive and productive-particularly valuable during times like these when we are faced with contraction and lessening.
Your time of death is uncertain. Live each day with this awareness
When the Buddha lay dying in a forest grove in Kushinagara, surrounded by five hundred disciples, his last words to them were,
It is in the nature of all things that take form to dissolve. Strive with your whole being to awaken.
You will not live forever and none of us knows when our time will come. Use this information to put your full energy into awakening and living the life you choose to live right now. Leave something beautiful behind when you go.
We are all in this together.
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