This is the year of pinecones. Millions of them carpet the earth around the house, or so it feels, making it difficult for me to clean up the yard. Henry, in particular, loves to play with them. This is how:

I throw the pinecone. Being very light, it falls fairly close to where we stand, but this does not deter Henry. The Illegal Chihuahua runs way out, makes a big circle, then a less big circle, then an even smaller circle, and slowly, inevitably homes in on the pinecone in the middle, which was visible all the time to everyone but him. He goes wide wide wide, having lots of fun in the process, mouth open, eyes sparkling, finds the pinecone, picks it up with his mouth, and lays it down on the ground in front of my feet, as if to say: Again!

And again, and again, and again.

I notice myself processing life in much the same way, albeit with less fun than Henry. This morning, I was awakened by an incoming text from my sister: We hit Iran back. She also added an unflattering comment on the sanity of Bibi Netanyahu.

Instantly, my mind went from sleepy to super-wired. I almost rushed to open up the computer, then thought better of it, and instead, started my daily meditation.

Even in that state, all kinds of angry stories came up. My imagination envisaged thousands of missiles launched back at Israel and raining down on civilians—all civilians, but family especially. My brother lives a block away from the official residence of the President (not Prime Minister), a potential target. My sister has difficulties getting down to a shelter within the 90-second siren warning, and in my mind I quickly saw a picture of a precise missile striking her building.

My mind was making circles like Henry.

Eventually, it found the pinecone in the middle of it all: fear. Not rage, not indignation, not cynicism, fear. Fear of what it is to be at home with missiles hitting all around, explosions in the air, sirens bawling. I could add to that menu fear or self-serving politicians and dictatorial or doctrinal governments, but that’s already a step sideways. It was fear for family being hurt.

It might be nice to include there, too, a gut fear of Iranians being hurt, especially as so many do not support their government, but this time the raw clenching in the stomach was for family. Everyone else came later, after fear took an elevator ride up to the brain and started doing hanky-panky with abstraction, not just bad stuff like getting angry or wishing death or prison for Donald Trump, but even good stuff like forming wishes for loving kindness towards everyone and a healing for the planet. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. That’s not where the grit lay.

I think of the mind’s abstract space like Venus, with a very dense atmosphere and heavy cloud cover, always gray and shapeless, where I hurry to build vast ethereal cities that have nothing to do with Planet Earth. Nothing wrong with cities, have lived in them myself. Certainly nothing wrong with loving kindness and healing, but this morning they were in my head, not in my belly. My belly is usually my First Responder.

I had breakfast this morning with a friend in our local co-op. He told me he stopped hunting critters, though he’d grown up in that culture, at the age of 15 when he shot down a squirrel up on a tree branch peering curiously at him on the ground. When he approached it, the body was still warm. He felt the aliveness of the squirrel in the dwindling warmth of the body, and after that stopped hunting.

“How do we connect with aliveness when we’re in the dumps?” I wondered.

“Aliveness is everywhere,” he responded.

It’s there when I clear up the yard of branches and twigs while Henry is taking time off from pinecones to chase Aussie, which elicits a series of belly laughs. When I laugh, do I sense the aliveness in the laugh? When I exercise and lift my arms high up above my head, do I feel the aliveness in that, or do I just wish the session would end?

When I cry, do I feel it in the warm water on my cheeks? When I’m afraid and my breaths get shallow and the stomach clenches? There’s aliveness there, too, he said, but most people won’t let themselves feel it. Most people, experiencing something unpleasant, hurry like me into the fastest elevator in the world, zoom straight up into their heads and start concocting scenes from action and sci-fi movies, not to mention white hands coming out of the darkness and going round my throat.

In my case, pain and hurt are down below. Above lie anger, blaming, frustration, and finally, cynicism.

It used to be that Israelis talked of nothing but peace. When will there be peace, was the plaintive cry. But with time, the word peacemaker started evoking eyerolling and sardonic, twisted lips. Years ago, when some of us flew into Tel Aviv to work with both Israelis and Palestinians, if you told the border security the name of your organization, they’d tell you to open wide your belongings and they’d search you physically. Peace had become a dirty word.

We only want peace, people would say even as they continued to send their children into the army, look up admiringly at fighter planes, and always vote for military generals to become their political leaders. Even as hello, in Hebrew, is shalom, peace. Which means it creeps into most meetings, phone conversations, and gatherings, but more like noise, not connection.

There’s the abstract world, and there’s the here-and-now.

Zen is very practical. What’s happening to you this very minute? What are you connecting with before that famous elevator ride?  I trust that more than all the prayers for peace repeated frequently every day in houses of worship. They have their place and value, for sure, but when you see countries waging war while talking peace, you know there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or maybe they, like the Illegal Chihuahua, need to circle and circle and circle till they finally find the pinecone. And do it again. And again. And again.

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