anxiety, community, compassion - karuna, dukkha, fear, Uncategorized

Karuna-virus

Kuan Yin sunbeam

In the Buddha’s teachings, karuna is a Pali word that means compassion. There’s a lot going on around the world right now, and due to coronavirus, many people are navigating intense suffering on multiple levels simultaneously: The suffering of health challenges, food insecurity, financial distress, longer-term economic uncertainty, separation from friends and family – or having to be with friends and family in ways that are stressful!

Given that social contagion works not only in relation to anxiety, but to positive mind-states too, I hope that in whatever ways we can, this coronavirus situation can be used to spread karuna-compassion to all who need it, including ourselves.

Personally, I have just landed in the UK a couple of days ago and am in social isolation and lockdown in Birmingham. I’m still getting myself set up here, but I wanted to at least offer a few resources for helping reduce the stress and anxiety that so many people are dealing with right now. I’ll keep adding more resources as I find them, and please send me links to any that you might have found helpful.

If anyone would like an individual meeting online to talk about your meditation practice in these challenging times, you can make a booking on my booking calendar now. As usual, these meetings are on a dana basis, but if money is an issue at the moment it’s fine to still meet with me.

I will also be converting some of my planned retreats into online offerings, so please check my revised teaching schedule on this page.

A few selected resources to support karuna-compassion

Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

Among my academic colleagues and friends, I have observed a common response to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. They are fighting valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to move courses online, maintaining strict writing schedules, creating Montessori schools at their kitchen tables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until things get back to normal. I wish anyone who pursues that path the very best of luck and health.
Yet as someone who has experience with crises around the world, what I see behind this scramble for productivity is a perilous assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.
Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.


Judson Brewer – US Neuroscientist and Addiction Psychiatrist

A Brain Hack to Break the Coronavirus Anxiety Cycle
Uncertainty about coronavirus spreads anxiety through social contagion. This New York Times article offers some ways to minimize that.


IMS teachers including Sharon Salzberg, offering daily metta/kindness meditation

https://www.youtube.com/user/InsightMeditation


Zohar Lavie – UK meditation teacher

2020-03-14 Coronavirus and the support of the Dharma – Part 1 31:38
We are living through an unusual period. As coronavirus spreads, much of what we take for granted is being shaken. There is uncertainty and fear around us, and also within us. How can Dharma teachings and practices support us? How can we deepen understanding and compassion in the midst of it all? This talk offers reflections on possibilities that are available to us, including practices that we can engage with, lean into, and cultivate.


Tara Brach – US meditation teacher

2020-03-18 Facing Pandemic Fears with an Awake Heart 59:14
While it’s natural to feel fear during times of great collective crisis, our challenge is that fear easily takes over our lives. This talk explores how the mindfulness and compassion of the RAIN meditation can help us find an inner refuge in the face of fear, and deepen our loving connection with each other.


Jill Shepherd

2020-03-26 Guided meditation: orienting to compassion 26:18
A guided meditation orienting to compassion, in response to coronavirus

2020-03-26 Short talk: some responses to the coronavirus/karuna-virus situation 15:37
A few reflections on the coronavirus situation, and the possibility of cultivating karuna/compassion as a resource for ourselves and others


A beautiful video – Letter from the Virus

Stop, just stop
Halt … stop … don’t move
It’s not a request any more, it’s an obligation
I’m here to help you
This supersonic rollercoaster has run off its rails and can’t go on any further
Stop the planes, trains, schools, shopping malls, gatherings
We broke the frenetic vortex of illusions and obligations that stopped you from looking at the sky
Look at the stars, listen to the sea
Let yourself be rocked by the chirping of birds
Roll in the grass
Pick an apple from a tree
Smile to an animal in the woods
Breathe the mountains
Listen to your common sense
We had to break it
You can’t play God
Our obligations are mutual, like they’ve always been
Even though you’ve forgotten
We’ll now stop this broadcast
This endless cacophonous sounds of separations and distractions, to tell you this:
We’re not OK
None of us is
We’re all suffering
Last year, the firestorms that set the lungs of the earth on fire didn’t stop you
Nor did the melting of the poles
Or your sinking cities
Or the simple acknowledgement of being the sole responsibility for the sixth mass extinction
You didn’t listen to me
It’s difficult to listen while being so busy
Struggling to climb higher and higher
On the scaffolding of comforts you are creating for yourself
Now the foundations are crumbling
They’re collapsing under the weight of your fictitious desires
I’ll help you
I’ll light the firestorms inside your body
I’ll drown your lungs
I’ll isolate you like a polar bear on a melting iceberg
Will you listen to me then?
We’re not OK
I’m not  your enemy
I’m just a messenger
I’m an ally
I’m the force that will rebalance everything
Now you have to listen to me
I’m screaming for you to stop
Stop, hush, listen
Now look up to the sky
How is it?
There are no more airplanes
How healthy do you need to be to enjoy the oxygen you breathe?
Look at the ocean
How is it?
Look at the rivers
How are they?
Look at the earth
How is she?
Now look at yourselves
How do you feel?
You can’t be healthy in a sick ecosystem
Stop!!!
Many people are afraid now
Don’t demonise your fear
Don’t let it control you
Let it speak to you
Listen to the wise words it has to say
Learn to smile with your eyes
I’ll help you … if you’re willing to listen

Text: Darinka Montico
Voice: Giulia Chianes


Matthias Horx – an influential futurist in the German-speaking world

The Post Corona World
… A massive loss of control suddenly turns into a veritable intoxication of the positive. After a period of bewilderment and fear, an inner strength arises. The world „ends“, but with the experience that we are still there, a kind of new being arises from inside us.
In the middle of civilisation’s shutdown, we run through forests or parks, or across almost empty spaces. This is not an apocalypse, but a new beginning.
This is how it turns out: Change begins as a changed pattern of expectations, perceptions and world connections. Sometimes it is precisely the break with routines, the familiar, that releases our sense of the future again. The idea and certainty that everything could be completely different — and even better.

May it be so!

More soon …

compassion - karuna, dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, freedom, middle way, Uncategorized, Wisdom - pañña

September 2016 full moon – wisdom and (self) compassion

buddha-emaciated-2

Emaciated Buddha figure, Spirit Rock

The ascetic Buddha

Back at the end of July, I was an assistant teacher on a nine-day retreat at Spirit Rock, together with a friend and fellow teacher-trainee, DaRa Williams.  One day, as we walked from the teacher housing to the meditation hall, I happened to notice a solitary Buddha figure set among some bushes on the hillside behind our cottages.  Unlike the other Buddhas at Spirit Rock, this one was tucked almost out of view.  There was no path to it, no clearing around it, and no place to sit nearby, but perhaps because of that, I felt compelled to go and take a closer look.

So I scrambled up a slight hill through the dry grass and discovered that the figure was what’s known as an “ascetic Buddha.”   These images depict a phase in the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, before his Awakening, when he was practising extreme austerities such as sleeping on beds of nails, and eating very little food – hence the skeletal look in the image above.  Continue reading “September 2016 full moon – wisdom and (self) compassion”

anatta or not-self, community, daily life, dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, freedom, impermanence - anicca, racism, Three universal characteristics

July 2015 full moon – dukkha

African Burial Ground memorial New York City
African Burial Ground memorial New York City

In last month’s full moon post, I wrote about impermanence.  Impermanence or anicca is one of the three “universal characteristics” recognised by the Buddha as being inherent in all experience; the other two being dukkha (usually translated as “suffering,” but more accurately, unsatisfactoriness), and anatta, or not-self.  Deeply understanding these three characteristics leads to the highest freedom, the freedom of heart and mind that is the goal of all insight meditation.

In my own practice, when I’ve read statements like the one I just made, my mind sometimes baulks.  What’s being conveyed sounds too abstract, remote, or perhaps idealistic, and my poor brain just doesn’t know what to do with that kind of information – at least on an intellectual level.

So this month, I’d been wondering how to talk about the second universal characteristic, dukkha, in a way that makes it real, and wakes us up to its transformative power.  Then the news came in about the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Sousse, Tunisia.  And I need to say right away that I feel completely unequipped to know how to respond to pain of that magnitude.  I’m tempted to turn away and write about something completely different, but because I have friends in the US who are negatively impacted by individual and collective, institutional racism every day, I’m going to focus on the first of these two events.

There are people far better qualified than me to talk about the negative impacts of racism on all of us, but I’m inspired to even mention it in a blog because of a dharma talk I recently listened to by Ruth King.  She talks about the common dynamics of dominant/subordinate relationships between racial identity groups, and she refers to lack of urgency from the dominant group in relation to matters that are life-threatening to the subordinate group.  She gives the example of a group of white people taking the time to write 20-30 drafts of a letter protesting the killing of unarmed black men by US police, even though new murders were happening almost daily.  I thought of this example as I hesitated to write, then re-write, this post, knowing that I was never going to get it right no matter how long I took.

Here’s the link to Ruth King’s talk: http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/539/talk/27269/

Shrine at East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, California
Shrine at East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, California

In the Buddha’s teachings, the First Noble Truth is the simple recognition that “There is dukkha.”  Simple, but often completely counter-intuitive.  It’s more common when faced with distress of any kind, to fall into habitual strategies: to avoid, ignore, deny, numb out, blame, etc. These are the urges I notice in myself when extreme violence and/or racism are “in my face.”  Underlying them is often a feeling of complete powerlessness, but paradoxically, when I’m able to let go of all the useless strategies and stay in contact with just that underlying feeling, I can access more clarity.

I may still feel unable to DO anything about the situation, but at least I can “bear witness,” as they say in Zen.  In my understanding, this means being willing to not turn away, to fully face the situation as best I can, and to just name to myself – and perhaps others – what is really going on.

Yesterday, I received an email invitation to endorse an open letter sent by an organisation called Buddhists for Racial Justice.  Although on one level it might be dismissed as just another email petition, on another, I was grateful to be able to do something, no matter how small it might seem: just to be able to bear witness to what has been going on for so long, and add my name, publicly, to the wish for this form of dukkha to be overcome.

Here are the first three paragraphs of the letter:

As Buddhist teachers and leaders we are deeply shaken and saddened by the intentional and premeditated murder of nine worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. We send our heart-filled condolences to the families, loved ones, church, and communities, who have experienced this grievous loss.

While this terrorist act was apparently perpetrated by a single individual consumed by racial hatred and a desire to ignite a race war, the soil in which this massacre took root is the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the resulting racial inequalities and injustices that persist in our individual and collective consciousness and institutions. The daily experience of violence against people of color has become more recently visible through highlighted media coverage of the ongoing brutal treatment and killings of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement agents across the country.

As Buddhists we realize the interdependence of all of our experiences—and that violence towards one community is violence perpetrated upon us all. As spiritual leaders, we must be committed to healing the wounds of racism that are such a primary and toxic part of the landscape of our country. This calls on those of dominant white communities to inquire deeply into and transform patterns of exclusion to power, inequity in resources, unseen bias, and unexamined disparities in privilege. There is an urgency to affirm that Black Lives Matter and work with religious and secular communities to respond to racial injustice.

You can see the full letter here:

http://buddhistsforracialjustice.org/an-open-letter/

bus hairstyling girl, San Francisco
bus hairstyling girl, San Francisco

This site also has useful information for white people about racial awareness as spiritual practice, and a Shared Resources page with links to excellent documentaries and dharma talks.  All of these are from the US, and so far I haven’t been able to find any equivalent for Australia and New Zealand.  Please contact me if you know of anything relevant to this part of the world.

May we all experience freedom from the dukkha of oppression, in all its forms.