We take our mind with us everywhere, even to bed. Last week, I dreamed that the sky was lit up with an other-worldly glow; a comet was passing Earth inside the moon’s orbit but almost motionless under the strange laws of dream consciousness. There was a sense of both apocalyptic world ending panic and transcendent beauty. I felt my breath, my feet on the Earth, and my connection with all creatures. We are timeless beings swimming through the illusory nature of materiality. In our dreams and quiet moments, we know these truths and can act with fearless imagination. The dream continued – I rode a polar bear up into the sky above the clouds and beheld the glowing sky, the earth below, and the universe without any sense of a separate self. If only I could freeze frame those moments of inner seeing and hold onto them! But that’s the riddle…the more one grasps, the further away truth flies.
One of my Buddhist teachers once remarked that we don’t need more Buddhist books, what we need is more practice centers. In the wake of COVID-19, there is so much social and spiritual connectivity happening online – it’s amazing and possibly overwhelming. I just finished a 7 day online meditation retreat, only to emerge with dozens of emails inviting me to participate in Zoom meditation sessions, environmental strategy meetings, racial, social, and economic justice forums, political action campaigns. All worthwhile stuff, and I’ve bookmarked a few of them. But my concluding takeaway from the retreat is that sometimes less is more. If you wish to make a powerful and lasting impact on the healing of the planet and all life, you may need to choose your battles. If you forget to feel your feet on the ground, feel the rise and fall of your breath, seeing the world only with your head, instead of your heart….if you fail to notice the incredible power and resilience of the seed force as it pushes a sprout up through the spring soil….if you fail to notice the flowers, the birds that come looking for seeds at the feeder, you are at risk of becoming the machine rather than the conscious awakening that is needed on planet Earth now.
COVID-19. The virus is not the enemy. The virus is part of our shared world. It arose and multiplied based on causes and conditions rooted in imbalances that are multilayered and both material and spiritual. It is not a Chinese virus! Demonizing the virus is no different than the many ways we seek to “other” that which we fear and have refused so far to understand – other people, ethnicity, nationalities, races, genders, and ways of thinking/being. Habitual thought patterns impel us to stay in our comfort zone, even as that comfort zone is being ripped away from us by an existential mega-quake. Yes, the virus is real. Yes, it is important to follow public health recommendations around physical distancing and washing hands frequently. But perspective is important. The virus is also an invitation to reconsider how we live on this planet, and perhaps in the nick of time, while there is still a window of opportunity to reverse the climate emergency or avoid a terrorist attack with nukes, etc. All roads to human survival lead through compassion, awareness, and action.
The world needs engaged compassion now. It has been said that the COVID virus is the great equalizer which will bring us all together. But it’s also true that it is quite predictably affecting marginalized communities the most – those with the least resources, those who have been historically oppressed, people of different nationalities, ethnicity, skin color, immigration status, and so on. We need to do two things, and neither of them are mutually exclusive or in a particular order. For most of us, we need to be working on these things simultaneously:
- Do the inner work of awakening. There are many paths and practices. In my Buddhist training, it distills down to developing the heart of compassion and insight into our true nature of non-separateness. It’s helpful here to have a teacher, or at least, a spiritual friend who can offer some guidance. I am offering guided meditation practice every Wednesday evening at 7pm, and there are many other resources currently available by following the link in the second paragraph above.
- Put that inner work into practice in the world in the form of engaged activism, dismantling harmful policies and structures which have arisen over the course of human history.
Ready. Set. Breathe.