Teacher's Reflections:

Facing Fear, Providing Comfort

It's possible to be really afraid right now. There's a lot of change afoot. Zen practice encourages us to welcome just whatever is occurring right here, now. Serve it a cup of tea....welcome it in.

I once was standing at a reception just outside the capitol building and an older newspaper editor asked if I knew the story of the Oregon Pioneer who adorns the dome above the State Capitol in shining gold leaf. We both looked up and saw the towering figure.

My acquaintance explained that the old pioneer had been brought up the Panama Canal and that Oregon school children had collected nickels and dimes to have him gold leafed. The wise old writer paused and said, that what was truly most significant was not the gold lame or the pilgrim's long journey but that the pioneer held ONLY an ax and a tarp (taken from his wagon). That his minimal accouterments implied self-reliance - the capability of making a home, out here, with just these two tools. It felt a little like Yoda had shown up and told me the story of a Zen koan. The retired editor then quickly disappeared back into the crowd. But the story has stayed with me.

I've reflected on how we use these two tools every day as Zen students. We use them over and over again in tandem just like the Oregon Pioneer. We cut through what's blocking us and we provide shelter out of our great compassion for all beings - the more we practice, the more we realize they are not separate from us. Their suffering is our suffering.

Right now our suffering usually manifests as fear - fear of the unknown, fear of this virus or losing our jobs or what might happen to our loved ones or how much the stock market fell while our president was just speaking to the nation today.

We can cut through this. We can opt to let all the fears go.

But first, we need to take shelter....we need to allow ourselves to be human.

We need to allow these troubling thoughts to arise.

If we don't have a tarp to shelter us, we'll be cold and wet....especially in Oregon.

The shelter is acceptance...even welcoming.

When fears appear, welcome them, provide shelter.

Serve a good cup of tea. Sit down with them if need be.

Then and only then can we let them go, show them the door.

As your warmth and hospitality helps them settle, they'll be willing to go.

We can empty these troubling thoughts out.

This is the 'cutting' side of Zen.

Noticing that each thought is empty by nature.

But it can only function because we've been warm and welcoming.

My best friend just recounted sitting with her grandchild who was terrified that she'd lose all the elders in her family to this virus.

My friend tried to placate the child but finally realized how essential it was to let her cry. Let her meet her fears.

Only then could she hold and comfort her.

Please remember that as Oregonians you have both tools (our tarp and our ax) readily at hand.

The skill is in knowing when and how to use them.

We live in a state with a rich history of getting by with simple effective tools.

Trust that your meditation both on and off the cushion has prepared you to make a comfortable home in this new frontier.

Trust the springtime. Notice the blossoms....the many ways in which you can provide warmth & comfort to those who need it.

And if you are able, walk among the cherry blossoms & look up at the pioneer.

When you see it, your life is golden.

No matter what comes.

You are able.