Hunting season is always a good reminder that there’s no such thing as absolute safety. We don our bright orange vests (Aussie’s lost two already) and go into the woods. She hunts out the scent of two deer and runs after them, goodbye Aussie! Twenty minutes later a big buck crosses the road ahead of us, three minutes later a black-and-orange figure gives chase. “He’s got a big head start,” I tell a barking Henry by my side.
Hunting season implies lots of shooting, and both dogs get skittish, but this morning there were no shots with temperatures in the low 40s, which is warm for us. Eventually Aussie returns, her orange vest still on but wet and dirty—she splashes through endless ponds and brooks when she chases deer. I leash her, and we walk back to the car.
It was my first outing since Tuesday. I got a bad cold for a few days, which brings on its own sense of fragility. I couldn’t get out of bed before 4 pm. But now, Friday, the energy is coming back. I am grateful to Lori, my housemate, who got cold remedies that made a big difference. Those, and the refuge and comfort of sleep.
From Bernie I’ve learned that every situation calls for practice. The bigger the challenge, the more you have to take time to check in with yourself. When the brain or the emotions go crazy, check your breath, it doesn’t lie. Even if, like me, you have asthma, unless you’re in the middle of an attack the steadiness and depth of your breath, your ease of inhaling and exhaling, tells you a lot about your state of mind.
Last night I tuned in to an interview, sponsored by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, of the veteran Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein, who talked about the similarities between writing poetry and meditation. I enjoyed what he said; mostly, I enjoyed his presence. I’d spent a little personal time with him on a few occasions, but not for years, and seeing him on the screen reassured me.
His is a very different presence from Bernie’s, in some way a different life. Goldstein is private, usually sticking to the teacher-student structure. He speaks in detail of meditative states and knows all the various facets of meditation practice, including traps and obstructions. He’s given to writing, living alone, and doing solo retreats. I appreciated hearing him express an open curiosity about everything, especially strange and unforeseen feelings.
Bernie was into taking action: developing one program after another, organizations galore, acting and speaking spontaneously with an emphasis on not-knowing, letting go of the grim, tight clutches of the self. He taught by example and was almost always in groups of people. “You want to really learn,” I heard him say very early on, “you live with your teacher. You see the whole person then, and you learn from everything.” You might say I did that. And while in those last decades of his life people didn’t usually live with us, they worked with us day to day, which was almost as good.
Teachers teach differently; students learn differently. Goldstein’s presence soothed me. He reminded me of how good this practice has been to me, how familiar, like family, the refuge and confidence I have found in it. It’s a cure for many things, including discouragement and depression. The strong back I’ve cultivated for decades actually holds me.
Also, gratitude for the compassion that I find in this world. For a long time, and especially over the last few months, I trudge off each morning, a stick of incense in my hand, to see Kwan-yin in the back yard and make requests: Heal him; take care of her; take care of Israelis; take care of Palestinians; cure this person or that, give strength to these people, etc.
And one morning I walked out there and said nothing but thank you. Thank you for the goodness in the world, which is infinite. For people’s kindness and care in difficult times, for the exceptionally bright nights we’ve been having this past week, for the heat in the house, for my eye doctor taking care of my vision, for the texts inquiring how I’m doing, for the butternut squash I have warming up in the oven, the turkey broth I made from last week’s Thanksgiving turkey that soothed me when I was sick.
Stop asking for more all the time, I tell myself. Open your eyes to what’s already here, always available.