Early yesterday morning I looked at the news. Readers were told that the head of Russia’s Wagner Group was marching on Moscow after taking over a Russian military base in the south. Updates were pouring in every 5 minutes. I stopped, turned off the computer, and went to the zendo to sit.
It was our monthly day of sitting at Green River Zen Center, the last Saturday of every month. Just a few of us; it’s June, the month for everything but sitting, it seems. I didn’t mind; fewer personal encounters with participants mean that I can meditate that much longer. Sitting in that beautiful hall with others, I am aware that while I am the teacher, everyone there helps me unself all the time. Their sitting practice made mine possible, their exhales created my inhales, I am never on my own.
When you sit with someone else or with a group, the air seems to quiver with more vitality, something new comes alive, maybe one enormous awareness we all share. You can’t mistake the energy. We came in listening to the pounding rain and left before evening, walking over splashes of sun in the parking area, the sky blue even as it was thick with clouds.
Maybe due to the morning headlines, I suddenly remembered the summer of 1991. I went to do a 3-month Zen intensive at the Zen Mountain Center, close to Idyllwild in California. No rain, no humidity, 5 of us sharing a room, rattlesnakes just off (and sometimes on) the paths, a schedule that began with wake-up at 3:45 am and ended at 9:30 at night. This went on for 4-5 days, followed by a day off to do laundry, followed by another 4-5 days, etc. It was heaven.
No one had personal computers, no one had cell phones. We knew nothing about the world.
One day one of the retreat leaders made an announcement: “As we sit now, tanks have surrounded the Russian parliament building staging a coup against Boris Yeltsin. Masses of Russian people have come out to protest the coup. We have no idea what will happen.”
That was all the news we got. We went right back into meditation again. I’m not sure they ever told us how it was resolved; I didn’t know that the Russian people had managed to beat back the coup till I returned to New York.
I’d taken a big step backwards and didn’t feel I’d lost a thing.
Lots of other things probably happened all around the world in the summer of 1991, but we were at the very beginning of the information age so most of us, including those who weren’t on a Zen retreat, didn’t know about them.
On certain days I can be a news fiend, checking the papers every 3-4 hours. Not yesterday. When I came home Lori had fed and walked the dogs and a breeze was rustling the lilac bushes outside my office window. Hummingbirds had finished their sweet liquid diet and today I will refill the feeders. The last peony had gone in the morning storm but now we have poppies, foxglove and coralbells.
A lot happened during the day, not just in Russia—and I didn’t know.