Dear Sangha,

Recently I was reading an interview with Wendell Berry in Orion Magazine. The article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic and explores how to exist in our world in the midst of climate change. Berry’s insights have, in some ways, even more relevance in the current moment as our social, economic, and environmental worlds are all in a state of significant change. In the article Berry recalls a conversation he had several years earlier with Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Berry says,

“It was the Shakers who were sure the end could come at any time, and they still saved the seeds and figured out how to make better diets for old people. Thomas Merton was interested in the Shakers. I said to him, ‘If they were certain that the world could end at any minute, how come they built the best building in Kentucky?’

‘You don’t understand,’ he said. ‘If you know the world could end at any minute, you know there’s no need to hurry. You take your time and do the best work you possibly can.’ That was important to me. I’ve repeated it many times.” 
–”To Live and Love with a Dying World: A Conversation Between Tim DeChristopher and Wendell Berry,” Orion Magazine, Spring 2020.

This idea that recognizing the fragility of our existence can lead to a greater freedom really resonates for me. However, experiencing that freedom doesn’t necessarily come easily. We are currently surrounded by varying forms and degrees of loss–for some people the deaths of close family members or friends, for others the loss of economic security, and for some the loss of a sense of control over the way we lead our lives. On a global scale we are in a moment of collective grieving. In the early stages of grief, the idea of the world ending feels anything but freeing.

Part of the wisdom we strive to develop through our practice manifests as an ability to see and experience the freedom that Thomas Merton spoke about. When we reach that insight, we are freed up to be present to our lives in a new way. “No need to hurry” means awakening exists in the current moment. Rather than rushing around as seekers, we need to open our eyes wider as observers. For me, the practice of pausing to make space for gratitude has been useful. I’ve been striving to dwell in a space between the self-focus that is needed to remove my own delusions and the other-focus that is inherent in traveling the bodhisattva path. I interpret “take your time” to be a suggestion to slow down enough to be aware of how I am showing up in a moment. I interpret “do the best work you possibly can” as a call to put the Four Bodhisattva vows into action.

The words of Zen priest Rev. angel Kyodo williams really capture this balance of tending to our individual spiritual development while keeping our eyes open and our hearts and bodies ready to respond to the cries of the world. She says, “Love and justice are not two. Without inner change there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.” When we care for ourselves, we are able to show up with more equanimity in each moment. We are more able to see the individual and social dukkha existing around us, and we are more ready to take action that will bring ease to that dukkha.

As we move into our 9th week of meeting virtually, I want to express my continued appreciation for your dedication to sangha. When we come together each week we create an anchor for our individual and collective practice. While I certainly miss being able to connect with you all in person, I also appreciate that some benefits have come with this new sangha format, including spending more time with sangha members who are geographically further away from Winding Path Temple. For the coming weeks we will continue to meet in this current format, practicing together to deepen our own equanimity and our ability to more skillfully address the dukkha in the world.