Inner Shelter

Here in Honolulu we are preparing for the first hurricane set to make landfall on our islands in 22 years. Mainland newspapers are carrying stories of folks stocking up on supplies and paint a picture of long lines at checkouts.

With all the commotion and rush to prepare for possible danger, it occurred to me that there is no better time to reflect on the inner shelter we have always have right here, without need of re-stocking, which offers us a reliable inner shelter from any storm.

We live in a seemingly secure age – we have eradicated many of the illnesses which decimated tens of thousands a just a hundred years ago; yet we are now facing an out of control outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

We live in relative comfort, yet the realities and implications of climate change stare us in the face, and cloud the future of our children.

All but the most defended and guarded of us recognize at times an inner unease that can flare up into out-right anxiety and fear.

Yes, we need bottled water and batteries and gas in our cars in case the worst happens. But how much of this scrambling for supplies is just an outbreak of fear from knowing, deep down, that we are in an untenable situation, globally and existentially?

When something “unexpected” happens, and in this case it’s like we are in a slow motion disaster in our own minds, it can be an invitation to see how we see the world through a haze of expectations, projections, and demands.

It also is a great time to reflect on what it means to go for refuge in our understanding and  practice of Buddhism, even if you are just messing around with Buddhist practice and don’t identify that much with its traditional aspects.

In Buddhism, one motivation to for going for refuge is the need for protection from our own negative reactions to life, our tendencies to take it all personally, the good, the bad, and the in between.

With some practice we discover that refuge is actually in our own minds and hearts.

In the coming days if trees and wires are down, can we practice with that?

If darkness descends, rather than feel cut off – can we feel closer to the aina and our family?

Can we reflect on how our ancestors lived and thrived without electricity and the Internet?

Can we appreciate the wonder and awe of night, and how we can draw close to an inner stillness?

Can we reflect on the early Buddhist communities of women and men practicing in the forest?

If we happen to have candles and matches, can we reflect on the power of illumination, of the illuminative quality of our own awareness?

Can we reflect on our own fears?

Can we reflect on receiving life as it unfolds as we wait for HECO (our local power utility) and the Water Department folks who work so hard for our comfort?

And yes, can we reflect on the core teaching of the Buddha – impermanence and change?

And how grasping born of fear (of our dreaded dscomforts) leads to dissatisfaction and unease?

Ajaan Suwat , from the Thai Forest tradition, once said that one of the most important early insights in meditation is seeing how the mind likes to play make‐believe with itself.

In meditation, we have all been swept away by the “storms” and dramas we create in our own minds.

Can we reflect on our immense good fortune to have found the path the Buddha showed how we can not only find safe refuge from these storms, even within the storms, but also how we can learn to stop their creation?

As we rush to prepare for these outer storms, can we appreciate why the Buddha taught that happiness comes not through gaining or possessing things, but through release?

Going for refuge can really just be seeing how, when the stories and dramas we make up pass, we are left with our life — unprotected and vulnerable to disease, climate change, lack of electricity, and Internet access, yet able to reflect and be happy and at peace with the way things are.

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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