Just when I thought things couldn’t get more dreadful, they did.
Yes, I know pandemics happen. Evolution hurts sometimes, I guess. Writing in the New York Times on September 23rd of this year, the epidemiologist and physician Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran observed
Evolution can sometimes look like destruction to the untrained eye.
We just passed 200,000 deaths here in the USA attributed to Covid-19. Yes, in our Civil War and in World War II, more of our citizens perished.
But so many of these Covid deaths could have been prevented.
Last week our liberal Supreme Court Justice and champion of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed on. Not an hour after this tragic loss, US Senate Republicans were scheming to get a conservative Justice confirmed to replace her before our presidential elections in November.
And yesterday I learned another innocent Black life taken by police gunfire will go unpunished. Say her name.
I don’t know if I can take any more. But I get up and go to work each night, like I always do.
There is a story from early Mahayana Buddhism I sometimes remember when I feel numb inside, like I do now.
A young person wished to go off and explore the world on an open ended journey. The night before the departure, a good friend, who came from a well-off family, sewed a valuable gem into the lining of a warm jacket chosen for the journey.
Many years later, the traveler returned, looking haggard, not well, and wearing rags for clothes. The good friend asked how the journey had gone.
“Terribly,” the friend replied. “I ran out of my supplies in a short time, and could not afford even one meal a day all this time.”
“But you had that valuable jewel I had sewn into your jacket the night you left–you could have sold it for all the food you would need, and then some,” the good friend answered.
That’s the end of the story. Yeah, it’s not the best ending.
But what uplifts me is recognizing we all have this valuable jewel sewn into the lining of our very existence, in the fabric of our being.
You know I’m going to say it now, after this build-up, right?
As you pay mindful attention to your everyday life, the priceless jewel sewn into the fabric of your own mind allows you to regulate your emotions and helps you ride the waves of their intensity.
The late, great Indian yoga innovator and teacher, Swami Satchidanada once remarked that while we can’t stop the waves, we can learn to surf.
The heart of our mindfulness practice is this–that although the waves of fear and grief triggered by this pandemic may not stop any time soon, our heart and mind can become so open and balanced, that we can hold the turning of the world in a quiet place of stillness.
That we can relate to ourselves and others with kindness, warmth and compassion. Our mindfulness practice teaches us to hold our restlessness with a little kindness.
And it this turning world starts to settle down on its own. Then you see you can do this. Whatever happens, you can be with it with kindness.
Psychologists call this widening the window of tolerance. Dan Siegel calls this sailing on a river of well-being.
When we are outside of our window of tolerance, our nervous system goes into survival mode – fight, flight or freeze. We get overwhelmed and go into freak-out mode, or go numb, as I have gone these past weeks.
Also writing in the New York Times, this time back in the early pandemic time of April, 2020, the prominent mindfulness teacher and former Buddhist monk, Jack Kornfield wrote:
The Japanese Zen poet Ryokan Taigu wrote: “Last year, a foolish monk. This year, no change.” We need to acknowledge our humanity. Your feelings are your organism trying to handle things.
And we are trying as best we can manage under these extraordinary circumstances. Mindfulness can help. But we practice gently and progressively, one step at a time.
As the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminded us about enduring social change, the alchemy of mindfulness similarly manifests its miracles slowly, patiently; she once said:
Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.
Perhaps we can well honor her legacy of wisdom by practicing the slow burn of kindness and patience in these troubling times. The jewel of mindfulness clearly illuminates this path.
If the turbulence in your life obscures the path, check the lining of your own mind.