I ran into a young woman with long, red hair as I started walking with the dogs into the woods behind the old Montague Farm, which Zen Peacemakers owned for a number of years; I have been doing that walk for a long, long time.
“Hi there,” I said, friendly like. “Were you here for the wedding?” The Farm is now a venue for weekend weddings.
She said yes, then added: “I would have liked to camp in the woods, but I saw a sign about a big bear, so we didn’t.” She looked at me with the dogs. “Are you sure you’ll be safe?” She pointed to a white sheet of paper, weathered, brown and wrinkly, tacked to a tree. It said: Big bear seen on path. Be careful.
Oh no, I thought to myself. I recognized the warning. One of our staff had put it up after I came to the office announcing that I’d run into a very large bear right at the end of the path, that I’d summoned and leashed the dogs (Bubale and Stanley, my preceding generation of dogs), and taken them back. She’d written out a warning on a sheet of of paper and tacked it onto the tree. Five years later, this same warning deterred the red-haired young woman from camping in the woods.
I took the warning down.
But sometimes I reflect on the fears and trepidations that continue to haunt us from the past. Whether they be serious traumas or just challenging encounters, they can resonate for a long time even if they happened to someone else, not even to you or me.
And—we go on. Right now, we’re considering an in-person gathering of members of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Bahia, Brazil, an opportunity to bear witness to indigenous communities as well as to Brazilian history of enslaved people. I mentioned this to my friend, Roshi Genro Gauntt, veteran of many plunges and bearing witness retreats, who told me about the adversity faced by his own son in Ft. Myers, Florida, due to Hurricane Ian.
“You know, the world isn’t too safe right now,” he said. “Peope may not want to travel.”
He mentioned Putin annexing parts of Ukraine. I thought of the coming election in Brazil, and particularly about Jair Bolsonaro, its current president who is threatening not to give up without a fight. Taking a lesson from Donald Trump, he may refuse to concede the election, challenge the protocols, maybe bring in the army.
Who will want to go to Brazil then?
But what are we supposed to do? “We still have to play,” Genro said to me. “We have to be in the game.”
Well said, I thought to myself. We can’t let the actions of certain dictators drive us to shelter, we can’t even let big weather events stop us from working and doing things. We have to stay in the game.
There is a tendency to contract in tumultuous times, stay indoors, be careful, and wish everyone to “stay safe.” There are bound to be voices exclaiming against taking flights anywhere because of their effect on climate change. This is not the place for that discussion, to which I am very open.
But I don’t want to see the world as a frightening place, I don’t want to run away as an alternative to running into a bear in the woods. I’ve run into bears this last summer; everything is fine as long as you keep your distance and show plenty of respect for a big, fast, and intelligent animal. I have often watched bears climb over the fence and get up on their hind legs to get at the birdfeeders—always from indoors, keeping the dogs in with me.
I want to be careful, aware of all the things that occur around and through me, including fear, anxiety, and sadness–and I want to stay in the game.
This morning, while walking the dogs, I noticed that Aussie was no longer so afraid of gunshots as she had been since coming to our home 4 years ago. We have a number of shooting ranges in the area, not to mention hunters in the woods, and for the first few years she’d want to return to the car if she heard any shots at all.
This morning, wandering in a field with pumpkins surrounded by purple candlestick celosia, she ran and pranced around, showing not the slightest trepidation at the sounds of gunshots coming from a nearby shooting range. She was no longer a victim to old fears.
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