Survival

Survival

As I woke to a 29 degree starry lit sky and condensation on the windows of the Element, I began immediately to plan how or even if I would sit for the morning session; rearranging blankets, adding layers, make tea or not, mind spinning in a whirl of vacillation between the sit and curling back up under the comforter. 

Settling on the sit, I prepared in the usual way, but the experience was dominated by the chill and the “Maybe I should move camp to a warmer site?” or “I’ll go find the internet and look for a hiking trail to stay active.”, or “I’ll go find a place where I can get a signal and check a weather site to see what the long term forecast will be.”

Settling into the Tonglen practice was a challenge. My fingertips were icy, my body was aching without the usual warm-up movement, and my mind was in a bit of survival mode. I used some quote from parents to try to get focused: “Think about how lucky you are compared to someone who is living like this everyday.” It felt disingenuous and even elitist. I could never imagine what it would be like! But the thought did start me thinking about the farm and ranch folks living out here in the high desert and unpopulated, seemingly barren land, who grind out a living throughout the year in much worse conditions then this inconvenience of cold in my glamping van. 

I began to think about how many options I have and how few they do, how many conveniences available to me compared to the windblown trailers and labor shacks with wood stoves and outhouses. I began to sense a feeling of being left out, left behind, ignored, being unseen. And then I felt guilt for all that I have said and thought about these folks who have been acknowledged, maybe for the first time, by a national figure. I could sense in my body what it might feel like to be pushed to the edges of civilization, while all of your fundamental beliefs and ways of living were being mocked and diminished as deplorable or ignorant. 

I experienced how difficult it was for me to attend to the practice of Tonglen with the minimal inconvenience of a dark morning chill. I sensed, in a small way, that if just surviving is the centerpiece of experience, the luxury of contemplation and self development must be out of reach.

And yet throughout the history of civilization, some people in the most dire survival situations, find a way tp practice, to pray, to praise the truest natures of being human, in their gods, their relationships, their self awareness. Enslaved, interned, tortured, abandoned; something shines through. I have judged, and will still judge some of the choices, where that focus of praise and prayer is centered, but when I look more carefully, I cannot judge, but only acknowledge the suffering and the indomitable capacity to find a way through. 

In a moment the Tonglen consumes me. I allow my imagination to breath in the suffering of being unseen, forgotten, judged, and breath out “May you be seen, heard, included.” 

So now, when I see a campaign sign larger than the Element, or a parade of 100 flag waving pick-up trucks, or a camoflauge wearing, gun toting, angry-eyed man, who watched his children go off to war, watched them return addicted to pain killers and die, watched his faith be co-opted by capitalism, watched the land dry up and burn; then, instead of fear, judgment, and arrogant dismissiveness, I will try to practice, breathing in any suffering that might be there and breathing out “I see you, I hear you, I meet you.” 

There is a shift when I practice this, perhaps only in me, but a shift nonetheless. My body relaxes, a space opens a bit in my belly and my heart and my mind and I see, the heart of all of humanity winking at me from deep within those angry eyes. 

Comment from Linda Atwater


Linda Atwater
Mon, Oct 26, 9:12 AM (21 hours ago)

Dear William,I was glad to read your post this morning.I thought of you yesterday evening, as I put covers over my spinach and lettuce in the garden against the freeze.
Your post inspired my meditation.  I began with putting myself in a tent on the street where I pass by several times a week.  A house-less encampment near the locked high school field where I used to run the track. 

Who am I? 
I am the one sitting in this tent. looking out onto the street and sidewalk.  I am the one cold and not getting warmer today, the library is closed, The shelters are closed.I am the one wondering where I will eat today. Will my temporary neighbors share sources of food today?I am the one with only tarp between me and the weatherI am the one wanting to feel clean, trying to remember a hot shower.I am the one hopeless and despondent.I am the one forgotten and ignored.I am the one sad and angry.
Here is this one. Here is awareness of pain, of wanting relief, of needing to be seen, of needing support.
Here is awareness. 

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