“The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continuously falling apart. The opposite is when all the walls fall down, the cocoon disappears and we are totally open to whatever happens. That’s what stirs us and inspires us: leaping, being thrown out of the nest, going through the initiation, growing up, stepping into something that’s uncertain and unknown.”Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape
I’ve been living in a cabin in Woodstock, New York this summer. Here in the forest, it’s been raining nonstop with frequent thunderstorms. There are swarms of gnats, mosquitos, ticks and bees. We have one black bear who forages our garbage at night. Also, two deer and their fawns, one rabbit and a hare. Some days, the humidity exasperates me. I sit on the wooden porch and search for the sun through the clouds and trees. I sulk. I close my eyes and bring to mind the sunsets in Madrid, the kind that transform the blue sky into a yellow, orange, burnt amber finger painting. Nostalgia creeps in and I come inside and look for comfort in a cup of tea.
Days pass. I continue my routine: zazen, running, cooking, reading wisdom, murmuring late night miracle prayers. Oh, yes. There’s an occasional movie or series and deep talks with my son. Still, some days, I feel like a lighthouse beam flickering.
Yesterday, I went outside and found my son wrapped in a bird song. He’s listening to a woodpecker, that on any other occasion might have sounded random but wrapped in his presence, it sounds like a deliberate tap on our door, as if a guest had arrived.
Before I left Madrid, I found a noble Kelly green grasshopper on my terrace and I took him downstairs to the park and left him in the grass. I thought I was doing him a service but now I think, what a strong grasshopper that was! Surviving on the twelfth floor of a building in the middle of a city.
Sometimes, my mind wanders while I’m driving in the country. The other day I almost missed the fluttering of five wild turkeys crossing the rode. I put the car in reverse but they were gone. I began to slow down and look around. I saw the peak of Overlook Mountain and I thought: I know that mountain! I’ve climbed that mountain and I’ve seen the valley. I wonder when I’ll climb it again.
It’s raining again. On the phone, I speak with my family in Spain. They tell me they’re shutting off water on the beaches because of the drought. I comment on the rain and we discuss the injustice of floods in one area while their well water is drying. We finish our discussion on Sicily and the wildfires. Just like Canada, I say.
I’m looking around more and noticing. I’m paying attention and becoming intimately aware of my surroundings. I observe the sensations that arise and fall inside me, like discomfort or vulnerability, or the fear of the rogue elements of nature. I wonder if my house is strong. I wonder whose house is strong enough and then I think about how delicate we are, and scared.
The rain continues and I’m exasperated. I meditate on gratitude. I am safe and dry, but not too dry. I want to do something to help. I know there’s real, immediate suffering, like homelessness, displacement, death and poverty.
I check in with my sister and mother who have asthma and can’t breathe well. We talk about air quality and compare the cities to the country. We wonder how much it matters and I think it’s only going to get worse. My chest feels tight, like it’s contagious. I think about COVID and wonder what’s inside my chest that it hurts. The injustice of climate change is scary, we say, before hanging up the phone.
As I contemplate nature’s calamities and swift changing conditions, I’m reminded of Pema Chödrön’s book, The Wisdom of No Escape. I ask myself: How can we be healthy and live well, with compassion and kindness, in spite of these dramatic changes in our environment? I think this question really matters right now.
Despite the significant losses over the past few years, I’ve been touched by the level of compassion I observe in friends, family and strangers. There is a willingness to listen and question things. I think, now that we’ve begun to come out and look around, we’re noticing a shared reality, a shared understanding of loss and vulnerability. We share fear too and surrender to unpredictable elements. I think we all want to be healthy, to have a healthy world, to live well. We want to do things differently, with greater care and kindness, not in spite of the pain and suffering we’ve endured, but because of it.
I don’t have a neat, definitive answer to my question but I do believe that when we begin to recognize a shared, universal experience, of this being human, we start showing up to each situation differently. We’re more likely to show up with sincerity, a compassionate heart, a sense of humor about the injustice of it all, and a willingness to listen and share our personal story.
I think this upright, graceful posture brings the fluidity and light energy we need to make wise choices for ourself and society.