The Crab Grass and the Wave

By Kristin Barker

Over the past week, my home town of Washington DC has been embroiled in protests against the brutal murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis Police Department and the militarized response from the Trump Administration to those protests. I have found these events alternately horrifying and humbling, encouraging and disheartening, frightening and inspiring. As a Dharma practitioner, I am leaning heavily on my practice to stay close to my own heart to manage these complex emotions, looking through the lens of our tradition to understand my place in all that is unfolding.

While we need justice for George Floyd, a justice far from guaranteed, the long road to authentic reform requires so much more.

As I joined the protests at the White House, I found solace in the community, relishing the opportunity to listen to black voices teach the crowd, to follow their lead in moving around our city and stopping periodically to kneel in silence. Yet I admit the question on my mind, like many, was whether this level of investment, particularly from the white contingent, would continue after the collective attention moved on with the next news cycle. While we need justice for George Floyd, a justice far from guaranteed, the long road to authentic reform requires so much more. For the healing of humanity and the viability of our world, white supremacy must be eradicated in all of its cultural and institutional forms. In the peaceful version of the story, that is principally the work of white people for only we can eradicate our own delusion. In the violent version, we are overcome.

Six years after the eerily similar murder of Michael Brown and, in March of this year, Manuel Ellis, police officers whose job is to protect and serve are squeezing the life out of black men. Should these recent cases be given full credence and these horrific deaths be redressed with convictions across the board, if our criminal justice system remains corrupt, indeed if any form of institutionalized white supremacy remains, we will find ourselves in new versions of these tragedies again and again and again. The challenge of eradicating the dehumanizing and terrifyingly resilient force of white supremacy from our institutions, from our relationships, and from our own hearts is difficult to overstate.

In a recent conversation, mindfulness leader Travis Spencer likened the supremacy of whiteness that is embedded in our criminal justice system and other institutions to the crabgrass in the yard. You can yank and tear at clump after clump for days on end but unless and until you remove it all, uproot every last fiber, above and below, crabgrass will reliably reemerge. Yet there’s no other way to reclaim your garden. That work is hard and frequently painful. It takes time, commitment, vigilance and a willingness to turn over so much soil that the yard afterwards will likely be unrecognizable. But the yard that remains will be fecund, capable of hosting a healthy and whole life community.

Viewed another way, white supremacy is a recurring wave pattern that moves through time and changing shape as it goes, sliding easily around obstacles. Human minds, especially white minds, are the substance of this pattern and its wave action sweeps us up along the way. Born into the inherited phenomenon and passively inducted, these minds then unconsciously manifest its distorted view.  Human bodies, especially black human bodies, receive the impact of wave after wave after wave.

You can yank and tear at clump after clump for days on end but unless and until you remove it all, uproot every last fiber, above and below, crabgrass will reliably reemerge. Yet there’s no other way to reclaim your garden.

What we know about the physics of waves holds true here. The only thing that can neutralize a wave is another wave, one with sufficient amplitude moving in precisely the opposite direction. This counter wave, one that exactly counters ignorance with seasoned wisdom, hatred with universal compassion, and cowardice with sustained courage, will cancel and even overtake the original wave. Its potential is the inclusive healing for all. Together, summoning all the wisdom, energy and courage already underway and at our disposal, we must engage in the sometimes confusing and complicated work of collaborative action. We must remove our energy from the first wave and join, even become, this counter-wave.

The environmental movement has long denied and is only recently coming to terms with its own forms of institutional racism. From the displacement of indigenous people for the creation of conservation parks, to a lack of diversity in environmental organizations, to the struggle over anti-racist demands in Extinction Rebellion’s call to action, the sense of a noble cause provides consistent cover for marginalization of people of color. Likewise, western Dharma has only recently begun to address the racism embedded in its its culture of kindness, lack of racially diverse leadership, and avoidance of social issues as “political.”  Spiritual practice becomes spiritual bypass when it prefers the absolute over the relative, when it tends to transcend difficultly versus confronting and transforming it, when it sits in lotus instead of slogging through the mud. As an organization with a mission of awakening our ecological nature, we as One Earth Sangha are doubly positioned to play out these subtle phenomena. Despite all of our operational and programmatic efforts, efforts that may have some beneficial outcome, we remain a white-led and largely white-staffed organization. This isn’t about how we are seen but how we see, for in our composition we lack critical perspective, diverse embodied experiences of the Earth, and essential wisdom for healing. We must always be willing to confront ourselves, the crabgrass in our own garden, how the wave of white domination draws us in, and how we contribute to its energy.

The Dharma clarifies that our minds are conditioned. We must be open to the possibility that we have been trained into delusion and then see for ourselves again and again if and how this is so. Not easy. How do we confront a wave headed straight for us and not get swept away? By diving in. By understanding the true history of how racism manifests, as well as the daily experiences of black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), our worldview will shift. We will see and act anew, finding it not only easy but natural to follow BIPOC leadership, to monitor the tendency to distract or defend, to take responsibility for our own contributions to the crabgrass and the wave, to agitate for specific policy change, and to compassionately support our white siblings in this journey.

As a white practitioner in America and leader of this organization, my unending task is to counter this patterning, internally and externally, with the support of Dharma. I have come to understand that, rooted in ignorance, white supremacy is at its core organized, codified, racialized clinging. Like all clinging, it co-arises with a separative consciousness, a contracted sense of self that unconsciously dehumanizes. Like all clinging, it leads directly to suffering.  The implication is that this grip that begins in my heart can, if supported by courage, compassion, and careful investigation, release. In its wake and with the support of others, I hope to find the courage and clarity to pull out the next patch of crabgrass, perhaps to even contribute to the counter-wave.

This is a necessary aspect of our work on climate and ecological destruction, for the pummeling of the Earth is sourced from the same delusion of separateness. In our path to come into right relationship with Earth and all her beings, we must lovingly and courageously confront our own minds, one another, and all of the cultural and structural forms that codify objectification of people and planet. This is the simultaneous healing of our hearts and our world.

May we understand and transform racial habits of harm.

May we remember that we belong to each other.

May we grow in our awareness that what we do can help or hinder racial well-being.

May our thoughts and actions reflect the world we want to live in and leave behind.

May we heal the seed of separation inherited from our ancestors in gratitude for this life.

May all beings without exception benefit from our growing awareness.

May our thoughts and actions be ceremonies of well-being for all races.

May we honor being diverse racial beings among the human race, and beyond race.

May we meet the racial crisis of the world with as much wisdom as we can muster.

— Closing prayer from Ruth King’s Mindful of Race.

Kristin Barker is the director and co-founder of One Earth Sangha.

Eco-Chaplaincy – In Service to a Suffering World

Inspired by and trained in the work of Joanna Macy, Sarah Vekasi was an early pioneer in the field of eco-chaplaincy while a student at Naropa University in 2005. In her definition, eco-chaplaincy expands the field of chaplaincy by addressing the spiritual implications of ecological crisis through a combination of the four primary roles of a chaplain: theological, pastoral, healing, and change agency. Vekasi later moved to Southern Appalachia to work as an eco-chaplain helping environmental and rural community groups organize to end mountain top removal and save their homes and watersheds.

In the past decade, various eco-chaplaincy trainings and initiatives have formed around the country. The program at the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies described here by authors Kirsten Rudestam, Gil Fronsdal and Susie Harrington offers basic Buddhist training in the wisdom and skill needed to be a Buddhist Environmental Chaplain, i.e., those who work to establish people in a healthy, compassionate, and mutually supportive relationship with the natural world.

by Kirsten Rudestam, Gil Fronsdal and Susie Harrington

It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the increasing decimation of ecological systems and species, the dire prognoses of climate scientists, and the daily updates on the exploitation of the earth and its peoples. How do we cope with, navigate and experience the losses of local and global species and ecologies? How do we respond to the more-than-human suffering and losses of these times? How do we understand the relationship between ecological breakdown and social injustice? How do we skillfully navigate and care for one another as our earth ecologies respond to the increasing impact of global climate change? What are the tools for establishing healthy, compassionate, and mutually supportive relationships with each other and with the more-than-human world?

Chaplaincy is sacred work in that it can involve touching and caring for the deepest, most personal and most valuable areas of people’s lives.

The teachings of Buddhism and the practice of mindfulness can strengthen our capacity to respond skillfully to the above questions. Attending open-heartedly to the present moment, a core teaching of the Buddha, can be considered an act of great courage. In doing so, we increase our willingness and capacity to be with suffering and to respond not with aversion or denial but with compassion and wisdom. Western Buddhism has a long history of engaged practice in the West; while most notable in the tradition of Zen Buddhist practitioner Thich Nhat Hanh, students and teachers of various traditions have found that the insights of impermanence and interconnection help inspire and fuel an inclination to attend to wisely to contemporary cases of injustice and inequality.

Eco-Chaplaincy: Expanding the Circle of Care

As noted by Wendy Johnson in a recent article in Tricycle, the origins of Christian chaplaincy go back to Saint Martin in 4th century France; chaplains in the tradition of Saint Martin are “people of faith performing religious duties in a secular situation, creating chapels of refuge in the heart of the world.“ The growing field of eco-chaplaincy in turn reflects the increasing awareness that our care and attention must extend beyond the human. Sarah Vekasi, a student and practitioner of Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects, described and defined the work of an eco-chaplain in the early 2000s as a form of secular and inter-religious spiritual support for social and environmental justice activists and other individuals and communities experiencing grief, despair, and confusion in the wake of environmental and social injustices. Since then, eco-chaplaincy trainings, offerings and initiatives have been forming around the country, from the work of the Chaplaincy Institute and Reverend Lauren Van Ham, to Upaya Zen Center’s Eco-Chaplaincy training, and to our Buddhist Eco-Chaplaincy training program offered through the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies.

Where there is suffering, the eco-chaplain is interested in healing; where there is joy and love, the eco-chaplain helps celebrate.

The Sati Center’s Buddhist Eco-Chaplaincy year-long training program is a pioneering endeavor which places Buddhist practice and Dharma values at the heart of caring for the more-than-human world, for our self and others in relation to this world, and for the sufferings, joys, and degrees of inner freedom we can all have in relation to it. Our training program offers experience-based activities and contemplative practices that deepen individuals’ own relationships with nature as well as provide them with skills to be spiritual caregivers, knowledge to better understand contemporary environmental and social justice issues, and tools to help others (re)connect with nature and face contemporary environmental crises with wisdom and compassion. We anticipate that participants will walk away from this program with skills and practices they can offer to their community, a greater sense of personal connection with the natural world, insights into the interdependent existence and interconnection of all life, a supportive eco-dharma sangha, and increased ability to turn towards difficulty with wisdom and compassion.

During our inaugural program, launched in July 2019, participants are given materials every month in a variety of forms (written, video, audio) to inspire, provoke, and engage our practice, our minds, and our hearts in deeper connection with the natural world and to explore our responses to the climate emergency. Through a variety of guest teachers, inquiries and exercises, we engage with the natural world as refuge, guide, teacher, and companion from childhood to the present day. As one participant shared, “We explore ourselves and each other as colleagues, integrating these experiences and learnings with the practice of chaplaincy skills (deep listening, the making of ceremony, and prayer). Curious to see how being an EcoChaplain will eventually manifest in our lives, we also see that embracing uncertainty and dwelling in possibility are also part of the practice.”

A Sacred Response to Suffering

Chaplaincy is sacred work in that it can involve touching and caring for the deepest, most personal and most valuable areas of people’s lives. Eco-chaplaincy adds to this a focus on the sacred or profound interconnectedness people have with the earth. Where there is suffering, the eco-chaplain is interested in healing; where there is joy and love, the eco-chaplain helps celebrate; where there is alienation, the eco-chaplain fosters belonging; where there is injustice the eco-chaplain promotes justice and reconciliation, and where there is the possibility of doing good, the eco-chaplain promotes the greatest good for all involved. Training in eco-chaplaincy is more than acquiring knowledge and skills in this new field. As we face increasing uncertainty and environmental losses, we are asked to delve into the depths and breadths of our spiritual lives and face these times with compassion, integrity, unconditionality and clear seeing. Eco-chaplaincy is one avenue within which to practice and cultivate these capacities and to respond with care and wisdom to the suffering of our world.

Kirsten Rudestam is an environmental educator, wilderness guide, and meditation teacher. She has a PhD in Environmental Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz where she studied environmental justice and Indigenous water practices. She has fifteen years of experience teaching field-based and classroom-based college courses in environmental studies and sociology, is trained as a vision fast guide through the School of Lost Borders and is a facilitator for Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects. Kirsten has been practicing vipassana meditation since 2001. She, Gil Fronsdal, and Susie Harrington are the co-founders and core faculty for the Sati Center Buddhist Eco-Chaplaincy training program. Those interested in joining the program in the future are invited to contact them at moc.l1591380839iamg@1591380839ycnia1591380839lpahc1591380839ocets1591380839ihddu1591380839b1591380839. The second training will begin in July 2021, with applications opening winter of 2020-21.

Gil Fronsdal has practiced Zen and vipassana since 1975 and has a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Stanford. Trained by Jack Kornfield, he is the founder and primary teacher of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California and is also a husband and father. He is the author of The Issue at Hand, co-editor of Teachings of the Buddha, editor of Voices From Spirit Rock, and has published an acclaimed new translation of The Dhammapada.

Susie Harrington

Susie Harrington teaches meditation nationwide and is the guiding teacher for Desert Dharma, which serves many communities in the Southwest near her home in Moab, Utah. She has trained in the Insight tradition since 1989, and in 2005 was invited into teaching by Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Guy Armstrong. She was an outdoor professional for over 30 years, including years as a river guide, mountaineering guide, and backcountry ranger, and now finds her greatest delight in sharing her love of the dharma and the natural world.

Reckoning with Invisible Deities (Part Two)

In this second evocative meditation by One Earth Sangha guiding teachers, Lama Willa Miller expresses both awe for the power of the coronavirus to disrupt our lives, leaving us “dancing with uncertainty,” and appreciation for its teaching. “Goddess of uncertainty, you grind my plans to dust, throwing me back into the now.”

by Lama Willa Miller

This morning, walking from my house in Boston to a local park, I rounded a corner at the top of the street to a mother pushing her daughter in a stroller. One delicate hand drew the mask up.

She approached and we shared a tell: eyes meeting, creases, a slight nod.

I’m sorry. Feeling you, me, us. The unsaid floats a silent trail behind us, intertwining as we pass. The rising in my throat just short of tears, a tenderness that visits like an angel.

In the park a morning dove coos slow sonnets. Trees sway against a sky soft as silk. Warm air surrounds, whispering redemption. This earth’s rejoicing cannot be missed. To hear it is a secret pleasure.

In the world of humans, uncertainty dances. It flits in the shadows of the white pines at the crest of the park’s highest hill. It shines in the eyes of parents around the pond watching their children play. They seem to play and laugh as always. Almost.

Everyone in the park breathes uncertainty together, in and out, the respiration of truth. In and out. These are the days of sheltering in place. The days of asking deep questions. The days of no plans, no future.

Uncertainty, I must confess your presence unsettles me, like a dark goddess. Yet how can I not bow down?

You remind me of my grasping. When my hand reaches, there is just light and emptiness. This fist closes on nothing and I lose all balance. Daily.

Uncertainty, may I sing to you? You turn me towards the truth, the one we spend our days avoiding. The future is a fiction. No one has ever traveled there and come back saying this is how it is.

You reveal the obvious, our lives were lived asleep.

Goddess of uncertainty, you grind my plans to dust, throwing me back into the now. Rich and true territory this, where sounds radiate and colors sing. May I listen long enough for my heart to bloom and then to break with tenderness.

Dark goddess, you shatter the illusion of separateness. Two apart cannot stand, can no longer survive in a world where everything leans. Yours is a love song of interbeing.

Uncertainty, you take me deeper, shaking loose the conceptual mind. It cannot thrive in your air, where nothing has ever been known, is not known now and never will be known. The Great Not Knowing is your lover, where the wisdom lives. May I trust the freefall. Teach me to be groundless. Teach me not to know.

Dark Mother, you unite us. Now no one can escape your gaze. Your fierce teachings bind us all as creatures of the earth. The winged, scaled, clawed, hoofed and tailed, one family. Roaring songs of truth, please remind me always from wild I come and to wild I will return.

Read Part One of this series here.

Willa is the Founder and Spiritual Director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston, MA and its retreat center Wonderwell Mountain Refuge in Springfield, NH. She is Visiting Lecturer in Buddhist Ministry at Harvard Divinity School. As a writer and editor, her work has been published in Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Buddhadharma, and the Tibet Journal. Willa’s teaching interests include compassion, non-dual embodiment and contemplative care.

I Vow to Get Out the Vote

More than 100 Buddhist leaders have signed an open letter to their communities based in the United States supporting active participation in wide-scale voter registration for and participation in the fall election.

Even for those with the inclination and circumstances that support political engagement, the call to participate in the current election cycle might be met with some hesitation. As practitioners, we might ask if our tradition supports such worldly activity, but I suspect that the roots of our resistance are more pedestrian. Will I fit in, do I need to understand policy, will I have to talk to people from “the other side”, will I be physically safe, am I really needed, are any candidates truly worthy, is this the best use of my time, will participating only increase my fear and anger, isn’t the system hopelessly corrupt, will anything I do even matter?

Mindful of the tension between this call to extend ourselves and the ensuing protestations that arise, we can welcome it all. We can assuage the reactive concerns and listen to the deeper wisdom that knows it’s all hopelessly imperfect and of course our actions matter so much. As virtue declines, each virtuous act is all the more valuable. So whatever the outcome, acting in alignment with our values confirms our own agency and freedom. No matter what you chose to do or not do, you can trust all effort that arises from your deepest wisdom.

-Kristin Barker, co-founder and director of One Earth Sangha, signatory on the open letter below.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

This is a truly critical time in American society. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, financial collapse, climate change emergency, and approaching a November election that threatens to exclude many eligible voters. As Buddhist teachers and leaders, we recognize that every vote and voice needs to be heard to help guide the next years of our society wisely.

A mutual caring community is one of the central teachings of the Buddha. In these times so marked by divisiveness and a lack of compassionate leadership, many of you have wondered how you and your whole community can help move us in this direction. Here are two crucial activities to encourage for everyone in your community:

  • Register to vote; and sign up for an absentee ballot: You and your community can do this through Over thirty states now have no-excuse absentee voting, and many others are considering allowing COVID-19 as a valid excuse.
  • Get your friends and family to register, sign up for an absentee ballot, and vote.

There’s more we all can do, and these actions don’t demand a lot of time.

1. Volunteer to do voter registration, absentee sign-ups, and get out the vote through these organizations.

  • State Voices: A network of nonpartisan state coalitions of hundreds of grassroots organizations. Reach out and see if there are volunteer opportunities.
  • National Voter Registration Day (Sept 22): Provides training and support on how to conduct voter registration, and will be making a heavy pivot to remote options this year, as well as a push to sign up for Vote-By-Mail (absentee). Includes legal guidance for voter registration drives.
  • Vote Early Day (Oct 24): Inspired by National Voter Registration Day and anchored by a number of large media and tech companies, this organization will also be providing toolkits and training opportunities for impactful work, including recruitment of election workers. Will be assisting voters with both mail and in-person early-voting options. Was in the works pre-COVID-19, but is likely more critical in a pandemic.
  • When We All Vote: The best-resourced, truly nonpartisan voter engagement organization.

2. Help ensure that eligible voters get to vote in key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin. Whether non-partisan or partisan there are many ways to help. There are many ways to do this.

3. Sign up to be a poll worker. Serving as a poll worker offers a dramatically under-appreciated opportunity to have an impact. Problems are made markedly worse or are mitigated to a substantial degree based on the quality of the poll worker. Chronic shortages of election workers nationwide cause long lines at the polls, especially at polling places that serve communities of color.

You can sign up to be a poll worker using this form and be connected to your local elections office.

Our collective involvement leading up to the November elections can really make a difference. Please forward this to as many teachers and Buddhist communities as you can throughout the United States. And thanks for joining us!

With lovingkindness, compassion and blessings,

Yours in the Dharma,
100+ Buddhist Teachers

Jack Kornfield
Tara Brach
James Baraz
Sylvia Boorstein
Trudy Goodman
Konda Mason
Zoketsu Norman Fischer
Lama Palden
Oren Jay Sofer
Neesha Patel
Tara Mulay
Joseph Goldstein
Sharda Rogell
Matthew Brensilver
Karen Maezen Miller
Debra Chamberlin Taylor
Lynn Weinberger
Jaya Rudgard
Jonathan Weinberger
Erin Treat
Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim
Rev. Grace Schireson
Layla Smith Bockhorst
Eiko Joshin Carolyn Atkinson
Dharmacarani Vimalasara
Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron
Melissa Myozen Blacker, Roshi
Rev. Edward Oberholtzer
Lama Christopher Coriat
Bonnie Rose Christine
Lama Justin von Bujdoss
George Kinder
Valerie Brown
Joann Rosen
Sensei Katherine Griffith
Sharon Salzberg
Wes Nisker
Kamala Masters
Dawn Maurici
Andrea Castillo
Phillip Moffitt
Anna Douglas
Tere Abdala
Lama Surya Das
Andrea Fella
Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Jeff Haozous
Jozen Tamori Gibson
Ruth King
Mary Grace Orr
Walt Opie
Gil Fronsdal
Lama Willa Miller
Carol Wilson
Howard Cohn
Susie Harrington
Lama Pat Berube
Madeline Klyne
Furyu Schroeder
Donald Rothberg
Anne Cushman
Devon Hase
Judy Lief
Rev. James Ishmael Ford
Bob Thurman
Chris Cullen
Eihei Peter Levitt
Christina Feldman
Nena Thurman
Akincano Webber
David Loy
Yuka Nakamura
Sebene Selassie
Matthew Regan (Rev. Bup Hee)
Rebecca Li
Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakao
Mitchell Ratner
Rev. Ronald Kobata
Kate Johnson
Narayan Helen Liebenson
Nakawe Cuebas
Kittisaro Weinberg
Carole Aldstadt
Pamela Ayo Yetunde
Jonathan Foust
James Myosan Cordova, Sensei
Lucinda Green
Jules Shuzen Harris Sensei
Dean Koyama
Lama Daniela Coriat
Ava Avalos
Kaira Jewel Lingo
Richard Brady
Thich Pháp Hai
Louije Kim
Grace Song
JD Doyle
La Sarmiento
Trish Magyari
Jeffrey Rosenberg
Kristin Barker
Yong Ik Oh
Kenley Neufeld

Reckoning with Invisible Deities (Part One)

In the first of two poetic meditations on the novel coronavirus by One Earth Sangha teachers, Thanissara reflects on how this dark messenger has brought isolation and death, collapsed business as usual, and completely upended our familiar world. Here at a threshold of Earth’s epic transition, our opportunity is to steady ourselves and find a home in this liminal uncertainty, an encounter with the gods, and receive the teachings on offer.

by Thanissara Mary Weinberg

The thing that got interrupted had no business continuing. This virus, this is a god; that is not overstating things, and the gods are in the house, and god is having god’s way as gods tend to do. Our obligation is to exercise a radical hospitality to this anarchic presence and to learn how to be undone by it.1Stephen Jenkinson: Philosopher, Activist, Author

Its arrival was like a distant ship, a small spot on the horizon that belonged to other realms, not our shimmering shores. It took a while to slow down enough to read the whole word, to pronounce it. Coronavirus. Then abruptly, a flurry of hand washing, sanitizers, distancing and creeping unease as it dawned that this tsunami speeding toward us was aiming at all carefully laid plans. Suddenly, lives crashed. A rush to get home, stock food, toilet paper skirmishes, and then, just like that, a door slammed – lockdown.

We are in-between worlds. Our Icarus civilization suddenly plunged through the layers of our collapsing grasp.

The first waking morning, as the streets went quiet, really quiet, a ripple of anticipation and fear while feeling the tectonic plates of our hyper world shift beneath. The nether worlds started their ascent as notice was given. There will be increased pressure arriving into your personal and collective fault lines. Then the new curriculum of corona descended into bodies as the ancient door to the in-between was flung open.

We are in-between worlds. Our Icarus civilization suddenly plunged through the layers of our collapsing grasp. We became unmoored, out in the ocean, floating. I’m not sure what the raft looks like. Thrown from our speeding agendas onto our back, like an upturned porcupine, belly vulnerable. Even if we tried not to notice and started to stand upright, we are still sinking to our knees.

We can’t see this thing, yet the world shuddered to a halt on its command.

At first it was the old, the weak, then the famous, rich, powerful, the young … We consumed all info about it, got the narrative down trying to get this roving invisible thing pinned as each new study dismantled the last, until … Coronavirus has mutated into at least 30 different strains2Jerusalem Post, Study from Zhejiang University, Hangzhou … Unabashed, it roves on.

In a heartbeat, we transitioned online, settled down in front of our computer screens reasserting some sense of control and normality. We’re just Zooming along, we can do it all online, look at us go, go, go … while in the nether regions, death counts mount. Ice rink morgues, sick friends, medics with mask bruises, exhausted tearful nurses, no PPE, and sobering stories unleashing anxiety waves washing over our citadel, reminding us how exposed we actually are.

It is a hard thing to tell a healthy and functional person who felt fine and well six days ago they may be dead in a day or two … I have never had more harrowing, more frequent, more brutally honest, more meaningful, more exhausting conversations in my life. Complete strangers open up to you in profound ways during such times and you can only hope both your expertise and your humanity serve them well.

After all the words are spoken, the decisions made, the medications drawn, the bed positioned, the tubes and drips and ventilators readied, there is a final stare. It is a stare of intention. It is a moment of humanity. It is a shared space, a hallowed space, the final moment of someone’s awareness, possibly forever.

It is a space where fear and hope mingle, where autonomy fades into trust, uncertainly into acceptance, and all they have left is placed firmly in your gloved hands. It’s brief, and you’re busy, and time is essential, but you find a few seconds to share this final breath. That stare lasts a moment. That stare lasts a lifetime. And the eyes stay with you.3Jason Hill – New York Presbyterian Hospital

This morning. How many days in are we? We lost count. What day of the week is it anyway? A question pops up. Who, anyhow, decided there are seven days with a name for each? The slipping feeling of a world held together by nouns that don’t mean much of anything. The vague suspicion of an authority that names things, that names mean we know everything. I never did quite trust that central command even though I crawl to its throne every day.

To be uncertain is the medium of meditation, is the portal of now. Here, now, now, now, now, now…

That’s not surprising, given the little boat of our naming is far out into the ocean of the infinite. There’s not much holding this whole thing together. The 12 miles of biosphere, where all life exists, the warm home buffer between our next breath and cold vast dark space. In all of this, it’s important to have some compassion for this brave, obsessive self, running around its labyrinth as it teeters on the edge, trying to buffer itself from falling through the cracks.

In the face of dying, what is the etiquette of relating to a time like now where we get to glimpse how utterly exhausted our acquisitive way of doing things has become.4Stephen Jenkinson

Look what it took to hold the mind’s architecture together, this world together, as these errant thought forms ever weave narratives of cohesion that all too soon shape shift to competitive dominance, even in this unraveling time. The driven-ness of it all has been so very endless. What then does it take to trust the unraveling, to soften and let open those old fault lines into a loosely cobbled psyche, shaped around purpose. And what constructs this purpose?

The severed buildings of commerce and war, the body abandoned, a lifetime holding at bay whirlpools of generational trauma. All has to lead to the inevitable immersion into the murky ocean beneath, where the turtles, sharks, and dolphins of our unconscious swim. Honed navigation of interior landscapes at least allows descent into the coldness of the water.

©  Mike Ko from Unsplash

There’s something important here, in the nether regions of the shapeless. The dreams that bring their disturbed messages, like faded calling cards leaving scant impressions from our night roaming the Axis Mundi. In the morning light, we lay curled under blankets, courting nameless trepidation as day breaks and ahead seems about as real as that papery crumb of a virus. We can’t see this thing, yet the world shuddered to a halt on its command. Our disorientated self, woven into that world, shuddered along with it, and is now looking out, searching into the long horizon. Waiting for the Albatross to call us back to land.

To be uncertain is the medium of meditation, is the portal of now. Here, now, now, now, now, now… Where? Our new teacher and initiator sent us all home. Home to the hearth, to where the intimacy we seek and fear, waits. What about the home of our body? How is that going? Our long embodied story holding all primal epigenetic transmission in the cells, bones, hips, chest, and thighs. So, enter gently. Kindly. How is it now? What is felt now? Softening attention into feeling breath, experiencing breath calming this somehow deserted body.

The only truly effective medicine we have is Oxygen. We blow it at high flow rates into people’s mouths and nostrils, a crutch to help the lungs that are struggling and staggering. And it’s in a shorter supply than I’d like. Oxygen means something different in this new reality. We give oxygen. Everyone staying gets oxygen. Needs oxygen.5Jason Hill

The frequent pauses at the unravelling have become port-of-calls for this lost-ness as attention falters on the future tense. Whatever lies beneath, the crocodiles in wait to pull me under, the familiar riptides I try to pull up from, sends repeated invitations. It’s time to unhook from that authority holding it all together. In this stepping down and unbinding from the creations of productivity, the rawness of the undoing lands. To feel what is felt in the nether regions is another kind of coming home, and its reward is relief. It is out-breath into “what is” with no pretence.

The long patient exhale of love is here to defeat the narcissistic death cult of our psychotic paradigm that equates nature, time, life, and everything sacred with profit.

It is a home into inhaling, exhaling into awareness moving into the felt sense of our inner sensate landscape. The lungs, do they feel tight? Nature’s lungs are so tight. She can’t breathe. She is choking. Her lungs are chopped down. She is strangled by the millennia of our abandonment and she screams and weeps all the time now. So hard-core this teacher taking us to the far regions of our ending world, tasking us in this strangeness to feel the grief held in our lungs. It is a surrender of sorts, the weeping here, at the outer post of our togetherness.

Grief hallmarks the in-between and can truly open into the love we know, but forget. What else lives there, in our wilderness at the end of all naming? Soften inward along the pathway of the breath; breathing in and out experiencing body, calming the mental body, feeling body, physical body, relax and let the moored boat of your inner attention gently lift into the tide of your deeper being. Focus attention now on the flickering transiency, and see how all is unstable. Here dwell the dragons of dispassion, cessation, letting go, and giving back. Here we soften the grasp unto death.

He looks at us puzzled, somehow still not fully understanding. Esta muriendo senior. Es el fin. This is the end. He gets it. He’s stoic despite the tears. He’s strong. If this disease attacked character instead of lungs he would have a fighting chance. We set up a video call with his family. He says goodbye. They say they love him in a dozen different ways. He touches the screen. A digital handhold in a pandemic age.6Ibid.

Death demands our presence. The moment of death has arrived, when we know for sure, it was all a dream. Distill already the remnants of our poignant love-grief-I-love-you-for-always nectar and let it fill this wandering heart, so it knows what home truly is.

Breathe into being guided by awareness inwards. Traverse the crumbling worlds into the liminal aquifer of your soul. She is there. Present. Aware. She has things to say. Like, this Covid-19 thing has intelligence. Allowing spirit, breath, and awareness to suffuse each encoded energy center in my body, the virus feels real close. It is everywhere. It’s tightening my chest. The quieting down listens into tightness, feeling each precious breath now.

It’s time to lie down under a blanket, to give over to the ground so I can deepen into waves of slow breath through the mouth coursing gently up the body, from pelvis, belly, torso, heart, throat into the brain. Hold the breath for some moments, slowly release the breath and feel subtle pleasure sensations ventilate and unify, rewiring the nervous system. My body is a raft and she is the ocean, my medicine has something to do with dissolving all splits into her ground.

This corona pause has gifted our world with a weighty question, what kind of future are we going to create?

I’m floating in that ocean now, with the sound of silence, with no raft, no reference, no center, and no edge. Listening-feeling-knowing as all returns back, all is finding its residence in the primal essence of consciousness. We all came here naked. Love is here. We all belong here. I glimpse the black jaguar drinking the moon essence it loves as it reads messages from the spread of stars while the vast river ever flows on to the ocean.

Perhaps corona is in us all because somehow, maybe we brought it forth. Maybe we unwittingly summoned this invisible god. Perhaps we knew we had to be stopped and have the calcified armor sloughed off our hearts. We just didn’t know how to do it together.

We’ve been left to our own devices, but we’re not getting it straight, so we’re going to have to be defeated. The sooner we are defeated, the better for all concerned.7Stephen Jenkinson

There is a medicine that has been waiting since the beginning. The long patient exhale of love is here to defeat the narcissistic death cult of our psychotic paradigm that equates nature, time, life, and everything sacred with profit. As shadow kings offer up their poisons, hyenas laugh and madness is complete. More will unravel… It has just started, this time of dismemberment.

O Noble Friend, The time of death has now arrived.
All that you know yourself to be is dissolving.
The time of that which we call death has arrived.
You are about to be face to face with the Clear Light.
In this ego free state, all things are like the void and cloudless sky,
And the naked, spotless awareness is luminous and transparent.
Know yourself as that awareness and abide in that state.8Verse inspired by the Bardo Thodol, Tibetan Book of the Dead

A burial is needed, a reckoning and healing calls for the disease offered up. The volcano of wounds erupting through the cracks of our collective fault line. This ancient dominator mind plowing its wreckage into her soil is vomiting up its sickness. She can’t absorb it any more. It’s ours to transmute, this litany of violence and trauma from the severed connection, loss and loneliness. It’s hard to breathe under the weight of our intolerable separating out and the endless projected-transference-counter transference shadow drama of our addiction. At the confessional box of our collective soul, it all spews out.

May all that blesses and redeems have mercy on us at this hour and at the hour of our death.

No one living thing is more important than other living things; we are all equal. Let us not tamper with mother nature, because the day you are going to die, you Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, Mother Earth will claim you because you belong to her, your body is going to be buried in the earth, or thrown in the ocean, I appeal to the international community, never, ever tamper with Mother Nature.9Mandaza Kandemwa – Indigenous Healer, Conduit of Lion & Water Spirits, messenger of Mother Nature

The essential remedy is freeing human consciousness from trans-generational dysfunctional and wounded conditioning that keeps us inwardly imprisoned.

This corona pause has gifted our world with a weighty question, what kind of future are we going to create? The intense pressure of Covid-19 is already catalyzing a reconfiguration of our global structures. The level of our collective consciousness will influence how much this restructure will commit to healing our separation from the natural world on which all lives depend.

Even if corona is the god that tips the scales in favor of overturning 5000 years of patriarchy, 500 years of colonialism and the wreckage of our foray into cannibalistic capitalism, which would be a tough job even for corona, we still have a vital part to play. Our curriculum is to see the places in our selves that collude with these old wounding stories, energizing their presence in the world, and to let that old story die.

This old story goes deep. The systems underwriting the sixth mass extinction we’ve hurtled into are subconsciously hard wired into our nervous and energy system at a cellular level. The internal narratives and core beliefs seeded by generational fear, lack, and the legacy of violence, empower our collective primary psychosis that perpetuates a profound break from embodiment as participatory beings within an en-souled, speaking, listening world.

The essential remedy therefore is freeing human consciousness from trans-generational dysfunctional and wounded conditioning that keeps us inwardly imprisoned. The voices of “not belonging,” “not good enough,” “can’t do,” constrict the fullness of our energy, undermining our ability to fully show up. The opportunity here is to step out of the old hardened bridles and shake off musty cloaks of fear, separation, and division.

It is here to demolish our human hubris. It is here as a master teacher. It is here to break set.

This stepping out is fraught. We’ve seen the battle cries for freedom wrapped around flag, religious texts, nationalism, guns and a breath taking level of narcissistic rage. This is the inevitable shadow of the evolutionary arc into a more empathetic, collaborative vocation of shared service to recover, heal, and do what we can to re-establish a respect for the sacredness of nature and a very real understanding of lived interdependence.

In other words, we have work to do.

The message is simple.

First, how is your relationship with yourself, are you abusing your body?
Second, how is your relationship with others, are you promoting the spirit of oneness
Third, how is your relationship with the world of nature, how do you treat your environment?

There are some of the areas in the human world that we need to heal together. That need peace-making, the healing must be done urgently if we are to have good life on this planet earth. 10Ibid.

Right now, corona has plunged us into the realms of the unknown. The full download, its impact, and our understanding of the strange landscapes we’ve landed into, are still unfolding. The trajectory of this process, as the data shows, tells us we are into a long journey. However much protest there is against the virus, the bravado of not wearing masks, or shaking hands in defiance, corona is not at the negotiating table. Instead it is here to demolish our human hubris. It is here as a master teacher. It is here to break set.

There has to be humility in the face of this corona god and its ferocious gaze. It brings death and is collapsing business as usual. But, it also brings a great gift.

While corona is the purveyor of much suffering, it has given us needed time to contemplate fundamental and necessary changes we need to undertake. This is a shamanic journey we’ve entered, into dismemberment unto the gates of death. The Uranian gods of the underworld, Shiva, Kali, Yama, Hades, Ala, African deity of Earth who holds the dead in her womb and Arawn, Celtic king of the Underworld, raised by Pluto conjunct Saturn, stalk our psyche, our body, bodies within corona hospital wards, the market place and city streets. They are the heavy weights whose job is to pull us into an abrupt harsh reckoning.

What is wrong with humanity, are we really normal, there must be something very wrong, it’s only the issue of traveling from the head to the heart. Listen to the heat, the heart is your creation, the heart is your creator, the heart is your ancestor, it is your great spirit.

Did you ever ask permission to walk the land? It is sacred land, did you ever say thank you mother? The moment I see Mother Nature the way I am describing, I will love her forever. I will begin to see myself in her. I have killed, I have caused pain on earth, I must go back and kneel down and ask for forgiveness, and begin to repair the wounds I have inflicted on the land.

This is my message that is coming form this monster illness, corona virus… Sit in circles around the world and contemplate this message delivered to us by Mother Nature.11Ibid.

There has to be humility in the face of this corona god and its ferocious gaze. It brings death and is collapsing business as usual. But, it also brings a great gift. We are being initiated, as co-participants, into the core matrix of unconstructed consciousness ever dreaming forth this universe. There, in the realms in-between, within the field of revelation and the inner temple of our collective soul, is the cauldron where the personal intersects the collective and the human becomes a conduit for this mysterious evolutionary impulse.

As we transition through the extreme contractions of an emergent world, the hope for that brighter future is now replaced with the injunction to be that future. We are to let die what no longer serves, here at the crossroad of our last chance on Earth.

The shaman is one whose final message is not death, but of radical rebirth and renewal. We are on schedule, and it is time to dream big, to dream beautiful, and to weave a matrix of an indestructible diamond-like womb of love for our new story to take flight.

This article was originally published as “Corona Virus: The Journey to In-Between” on Thanissara’s blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

Read the second installment of this two-part series.

Thanissara trained as a monastic in the Ajahn Chah Forest Tradition for 12 years. She’s led retreats since 1988, and co-founded Dharmagiri in South Africa and Sacred Mountain Sangha based in California. She has an MA in Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy from the UK, and is author of several books, including Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth — The Buddha’s Life and Message through Feminine Eyes.

References   [ + ]

1. Stephen Jenkinson: Philosopher, Activist, Author
2. Jerusalem Post, Study from Zhejiang University, Hangzhou
3. Jason Hill – New York Presbyterian Hospital
4. Stephen Jenkinson
5. Jason Hill
6. Ibid.
7. Stephen Jenkinson
8. Verse inspired by the Bardo Thodol, Tibetan Book of the Dead
9. Mandaza Kandemwa – Indigenous Healer, Conduit of Lion & Water Spirits, messenger of Mother Nature
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.