Long Walks On Leafy Streets

8/31/2020 Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico    
Staying calm amid the storm.

There are moments during this time when, despite all that is happening, one is able to step back and be grateful for the sheer beauty of the world and life itself. Like when you wake up early and it is quiet and you are watering the plants while the sun is peeking through the clouds and the trees. Or as happened this morning when I was on a 16-mile run from my home to the leafy and cool neighborhoods to the northwest of the National Cathedral. I was a bit frustrated at being slowed down by a persistent case of shin splints, and feeling a little defeated by the long climbs. But after a while I started to just forget about my frustrations and pain. Instead I started to enjoy the cool breeze bringing with it intimations of fall weather on a clear and pleasantly sunny morning.

Yet our daily life itself has become a test of endurance.
On the one hand the pandemic has forced us to be homebound, giving us a taste of cabin fever. We had to console ourselves with little outings to nearby places, like Sandy Point beach by the bay bridge and the Alexandria waterfront. Even those little outings were a bit stressful because not everyone wears masks or shares others' concerns. On the other hand work has not gotten easier, especially while taking care of the five year old bundle of energy that is our son. But all this pales in comparison with the anxiety, sadness and even fear that we feel with the happenings in the world. While the planet burns and thousands die from disease, our society is being torn apart and the future of our democracy hangs in the balance.

How does one oppose injustice and violence without being consumed by anger and hate? How does one stay alert and aware without being overwhelmed with fear and anxiety? I have to say it is difficult, and I am struggling with it as much as everyone else. I will share with you how I am dealing with it in the reminder of this post.

While the times are difficult, it is also true that in the ashes of a forest fire arise fresh seedlings that renew the woodlands. Such times bring out also the best in us, and new heroes emerge from every corner of life. During the past two months we all were inspired by the memories of some amazing people one of whom was a friend of mine. I first met Susan during a meeting of the Washington Mindfulness Committee sometime in 2001. I still remember our first meeting and the kindness and gentleness with which she greeted me, a total stranger. Over time I was fortunate enough to spend some time with her during meditation, book readings and so on and I can say without reservation that she was one of the most caring people I have ever met, and a sincere spiritual seeker who embodied the truth that God is Love. During one of the more difficult periods in my life when I was feeling down on myself her friendship and compassion really helped me. Last month I attended a virtual memorial gathering on the anniversary of her passing and it brought a new determination in me to do my part to spread love and peace in the world.

On that same day we were mourning the death of John Lewis who passed away the previous day. Congressman Lewis when asked about his fearless activism in spite of being almost killed several times said that after the first time of cheating death he simply lost all fear. He said he felt invincible. The fire to fight injustice burned so hard that it overcame the fear of death. Not all of us are blessed with that much courage or inspiration, but all of us can contribute in our own ways. As for me it has provided me the motivation and drive to do everything I can in the next two months to fight the darkness and fear and anger with the light of love and compassion. I want to live every moment mindfully and perhaps spread some light in my own family and among my friends and students. I want to write as much as I can. I made a video about the truth about coronavirus tests and cases. I have twice meditated in front of the White House. How wonderful it would be, if all of the protests became silent marches, with people meditating or praying mindfully, following in the footsteps of Gandhi and MLK jr.! I also feel that one has to participate in the election and signed up to volunteer for the Biden campaign.

Action gives me purpose and strength and helps me to channel my anger and energy into constructive endeavors. But one needs more than that during these times and that must come from within. That must come from the insight, as Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) often says, that we are part of the one ocean of life. Our individual selves are, like waves, just momentary manifestations. Inside we are deep and still like the ocean. That stillness is what is reflected in the life and works of Chadwick Boseman who passed away last week. It is what made him a superhero both on the screen and in real life. It is what we all need during this period of turmoil. Knowing that we all are part of the same ocean would also help us to look with kindness and love in our hearts at everyone, including those who seem to have forgotten the ocean of love within them.

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