The other day I spoke with someone who told me what they were going to be working on during this practice period. The student then asked me what I was going to be working on. That took me aback for a moment and after a pause I said, “Just staying alive.” I wasn’t sure what I meant by that. But it led me to think about the millions of displaced wandering refugees in the Middle East and Europe just surviving from one meal to the next at the mercy of their hosts, devoid of all the security of a home and the familiar conveniences and necessities that we all take for granted. And added to that the missing and dead family members and friends.
When I was a kid in the 30’s it was common for mothers to tell their children to eat all their porridge while thinking of the poor starving Chinese. In those days China was on the other side of the world and flying there was only a dream. So that admonition was not taken too seriously. Now the whole world is right in our face and we are confronted with the horrific explosion/implosion of the Middle East, unleashing the demonic insanity and barbarity of the sleeping giant of conflicting ideologies lying dormant there. Throughout the history of the world this has always been going on in various locales, but now, everywhere is our neighborhood. Like it or not we can’t leave it. And now from a different side comes our very own contribution — the presidential election. I will not presume to tell you how to vote. I will only urge everyone to do it. With the internet we have the convenience of being able to sign petitions online, which gives us the opportunity to express our concerns and contribute. We are not helpless.
Given the personal trials and tribulations that occupy our attention daily, and our limitations of time, it may feel annoying to have to face these larger concerns that we all share and often feel powerless to control. I am reminded of that saying “Think globally-act locally.” I also like the saying to “light up your own corner of the world.” To illuminate our corner of the world through zazen, both sitting and moving, regardless of our shortcomings is to find our own ground. The far reaching effects of our practice are not measurable, but each one of us has an effect on our surroundings. It is like the question: does my vote count?
I see the practice period as an annual tune-up/spring cleaning-resetting the balance and appreciating how your practice gives encouragement to my practice, and mine to yours. So after all is said and done, my work of just staying alive is to truly appreciate the opportunity to practice moment by moment with everyone. It is truly a great gift to experience the peace and freedom we have here at this point in time with our self as the only real obstacle.