Refuge in Gascony

How swiftly the strained honey of afternoon light flows into darkness. And the closed bud shrugs off its special mystery in order to break into blossom: as if what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious.                                                                                 In Passing by Lisel Mueller.

Almost every moment of every day I am lulled by the gentle rhythm of rural life in my corner of southwest France, where daily living is linked to the seasons. But what is happening in the world right now has shaken my equanimity. While on a walk this morning I found myself silently repeating “Breathing in, I heal myself, breathing out, I heal others.”  It’s a simple Buddhist prayer, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to act with understanding, compassion, wisdom and love.

I decided to take refuge in solitude and as much silence as I could muster at my home, Aux Arbeils. The word refuge comes from an old French word meaning, to retreat from. To take refuge is to find a safe place.  It’s ironic that sometimes we feel we need to escape from the world and now we are being forced to, in which case if we can embrace our current reality and approach it with a greater sense of presence, we might see that this is an incredible moment for us to deepen our understanding of each other and the world we live in.

The perils we face are countless; floods, earthquakes, famines, wars, diseases. Like other global challenges, COVID-19 has revealed how interconnected we are, yet at the same time it has reinforced my belief  that the only thing that can be counted on is that nothing can be counted on. The only constant is uncertainty and change. We’ve learned that we need surprisingly little to get by.

Adversity can teach us about what really matters. We’re stronger than we think. We are a resilient species and persevere through the worst of times. I’ve lived through the assassinations of the Kennedy’s and MLK, Kent State, Y2K, Sars, Mers, the swine flu, the avian flu, MRSA, Aids, Ebola. The emergence of yet another unknown virus is a natural consequence of the destruction of  tropical forest and savanna habitats. As people enter these tropical habitats, viruses are disturbed. They react to change, and once released from their equatorial incubation, they mutate fast, jumping from myriad hosts to people.

Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “We don’t worry about the future. We worry about the present, because we know that if in the present moment we do our best, that is more than enough. That is all we can do for the future. The future depends on the present, so if we put all our hearts into what we are doing here and now, hope is always there. But if we feel helpless in the present moment, there is no hope for the future. Whether the planet is to survive or not depends on today—the way we live our life today”

Some of the questions we can ask ourselves are  – How do we learn and grow from this challenge instead of becoming trapped or consumed by it? How do we transform our minds so that we move forward, instead of being paralyzed by fear and anxiety? What can we give up that we’ve gotten used to? What do we want the world to look like after? Where does personal responsibility meet social responsibility? What makes a society function well? How do we want to live?

Sometimes, the circumstances are so overwhelming they feel insurmountable, but as hopeless as it all seems to us now, simply by realizing that all our fear, worry, and anxiety won’t change what is happening with the situation, and accepting reality as it actually is, is very liberating. I know this may seem simplistic, but fear and panic have spread more rapidly than the virus itself. Don’t become a victim of the media. There is nothing we can do, but let go of our attachment to the situation. Letting go doesn’t mean being careless; it means being mindful. We are being asked to change our behavior in order to adapt, and in just a matter of weeks we have, because our survival depends upon it. The coronavirus won’t last forever. Sooner or later, it will come to an end. Everything in the Universe is subject to change and transformation.

Returning home I heard the screech of a mother kestral bringing food to her nest, tucked into the eaves of my house. I heard the wind rustling the leaves and wind chimes, but more importantly, I sensed the quiet inside my heart honoring the miracle of life. 


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