~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Wisdom and Love

March 15, 2020
Dear Friend -

Thank you for joining me on this experiment! My intention with these occasional letters is to help us stay calm and steady as this pandemic rolls across the globe. I don't know exactly what this project will end up looking like, but my aim is to help us stay connected to the loves and values we cherish as we face the inevitable bumpy road ahead.

I want us to stay clear-headed and wise. I want us to stay as healthy as we can, and if we get sick I want us to weather our illness with as much strength and grace as we can muster. I want us to behave well, on behalf of ourselves and the greater whole. I want us to not feel isolated or alone. I want us to remember that we are all in this together and we need to help each other out along the way.

My inspiration comes from this quote by meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, describing the experience of Vietnamese refugees as they fled in boats to safer waters:

"If everyone panicked, all would be lost. 
But if even one person on the boat remained 
calm and centered, it was enough. 
It showed the way for everyone to survive." 

I would like to be that calm and centered person in our collective boat in these coming weeks, and I have a feeling that you would, too. I would like to be clear-eyed about the seriousness of our current situation. As scientists have warned, we should expect that many of us will get sick and many people will die. At the same time, mass panic isn't going to help any of us. No one behaves their best when they are wracked with angst and fear.

So, what can we do? In my own practice, I believe in holding equally fast to the paths of wisdom and love. I don't want to bury my head in the sand, I don't want to pretend. I want to see clearly the truth of what is. I want to be wise.

And then, seeing what I see and knowing what I know, I want to act with love and in love and through love. I want to remember that we panic because we are scared. We are scared because we care, for ourselves and for others. And we care because we love - we love our lives, our family, our neighbors and our world.

If we hold fast to our tender and loving hearts, we will do a better job taking care of ourselves and those around us. Our loving presence - even the midst of deep challenges - will offer us the steadiness and wellbeing we need to keep our collective boat afloat.

This quote by Nisagardatta Maharj has been ringing in my ears as I have been considering ways to remain both clear-eyed and calm:

Wisdom tells me that I am nothing.
Love tells me that I am everything. 
Between the two, my life flows.

Let's find our way in wisdom and love together! Let's look truth directly in the eye, and at the same time let's live in love with as much peace as we can muster. Let's use all the practices we know to keep our own small boats afloat, and to keep the big boat of the world afloat, too.

Here's the plan: Share this with anyone you like. Invite them to be a part of our experiment. Tell them it will be a way for us all to hang together virtually, so that we feel less lonely and less afraid. And then, send me your news, your ideas, your survival strategies, your questions. Send me your quotes, your fears, your photos, your thoughts and maybe even a few lines about what where you see the light. I will compile what I find, do my best to create a little care package of light, and then launch it off into the world and straight to your inbox. (I will also post all of my letters on my website so you can find them any time.)

In the meantime, I have a few glimmerings of light to share. Have you noticed that citizens around the world are already taking stock of their lives and finding ways to contribute their unique gifts to the world? Each time I stumble upon one of these offerings, I exhale in relief. Yes - this is how we do it!

I have been struck by the first few offerings I've found have come in the form of music. Our lives may be saved by doctors and scientists and public health officials and maybe even our neighbors, but in the meantime our souls may be sustained by music and poetry and love in all of its many guises. As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, "In the end, the world will be saved by beauty."

For starters, Yo Yo Ma,  my second favorite classical musician (after my son!) has begun offering his gifts to the cause in the form of Songs of Comfort. Sit down, exhale, and let his cello music wash right through you. You may cry when you hear this, but your tears will likely leave you feeling closer to your heart and to all that you cherish most deeply. When words fail, music sustains.

And The New York Times shared this lovely story about how Italians are managing to sing together while staying apart. I hope it lifts your heart, and maybe even provokes you to use your own creativity to reach out across the distance so that we all may stay close.

And finally, on a totally different note, I want to share with you my favorite hand washing video - this one by vocalist Gloria Gaynor. I hope it inspires you to sing - and maybe even dance - each time you wash your hands!

Sending you wisdom and love, both. Take care, my friends!

P.S.  My students are already asking for practices that we can do together at home, and I look forward to sharing some here. My very first thought is that we all need to close our eyes, exhale, and reconnect with our tender, fearful, juicy, caring and loving hearts. If you need a little help, practice along with meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein. Don't do this just once, do it every day - maybe even several times a day. When fear overtakes you, return to your heart and to your love for the whole wide world.