I am not a Buddhist, but I do enjoy reading their books. For several years, I’ve kept various books on my bedside table authored by Buddhists. My bedside table books are for slow reading, a few pages a night before bed. I want something relaxing. Pema Chodran, Jack Kornfield and Thich Nhat Hanh have all met this criterion.
I’ve been thinking about Buddhists during COVID-19, how this could be their time to shine. They advocate for pausing in the moment and accepting that we cannot control much in this world beyond our own response. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop struggling against those ideas, but I find these concepts help anchor me in an upside-down world that defies an immediate fix.
Buddhists may not have expected a pandemic, but an unpredicted event that results in turmoil and fear is expected, because ripples of change reach all human lives continually. Being here now doesn’t seem desirable when our now makes us want to hide under the covers, but hearing that the only absolute is that everything changes, might be comforting.
Months before the pandemic, I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Living. For a book about living, it focuses a lot on death, as he points out that preoccupation with death keeps us from living fully in the moment. His soothing gentleness glides off the page. He uses clouds to illustrate the idea of “remanifestation.”
“A cloud can never die. A cloud can only become something else, like rain or snow or hail.” He speaks of the “deep ecology” of the ancient teachings, blurring the boundaries of beingness, connecting our bodies to the Earth.
He includes some meditations in this book, and my favorite is “Breathing With the Cosmos.” It’s a two-page guide for recognizing the universe in us and our place in it. I find it reassuring that so much exists and continues independently of my life.
On a recent rainy morning, I positioned my phone on the tall dresser, aimed at the wide glass door opened to the gathering of dogwood, oak and poplar trees; the raindrops splashing on the deck; the reflection of a lit candle in the glass. I hit record and read aloud the meditation. It’s a little over three minutes and very grainy, but now I can experience this meditation without having to read it each time, and the rain is the perfect background music.
Fortunately, you don’t have to make your own bad video. There are meditation apps. As strange as it may sound to need an app for that, they’re an easy and often free way to experiment with guided meditation, listen to soothing sounds or time your own meditation.
Another option is to try a local meditation group via Zoom. Most open-group meditation is not affiliated with any belief system. Meditating is simply a way to quieten and focus the mind—skills that help us cope with stress. Zoom groups support practice to develop these skills.
Trying meditation by Zoom may be less intimidating than walking into a group. You don’t have to share your picture/video feed. You don’t have to say anything, though a quick “hello” is welcome. When you contact the group facilitator to request the Zoom link, let them know if you’re new to meditation.
There are several free options currently in Athens via Zoom. Visit their websites or pages for more information or to receive a Zoom link.
• Daily sessions are provided by Five Points Yoga; their website is athensfivepointsyoga.com.
• Dedicated Mindfulness Practitioners offers weekly zoom mediations every Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., email@example.com
• Rich Panico hosts a Thursday evening session, https://www.richpanico.com/
• Every other Friday morning UGA Georgia Museum of Art hosts guided meditation, www.georgiamuseum.org
• Mike Healy’s Mindful Living website, mindfuliving.org., provides information about mindfulness and meditation, classes and workshops, and has guided recordings. He offers a Zoom practice the second Friday evening of each month.
• The Athens Zen Group asks that people contact them to request access to their online meetings at firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite experiencing the benefits, I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent meditation practice, but even a little helps. Our current reality has given me both more opportunity and more motivation to meditate. When I feel anxious, I review my preparations for being sick: mask, bleach, Tylenol, thermometer, two weeks’ worth of food and toilet paper. Now I add to that list my comforting grainy video. If I get sick, or just need to feel part of the bigger picture, I can hit play. Although my voice lacks the serene acceptance of a Buddhist, the words comfort me: Breathing in, I see that everything is in transformation…Breathing out, I smile to my true nature… I am free from being, free from nonbeing.”
That helps me. What helps you? Tell Flagpole at email@example.com
Kathryn Kyker is a writer living in Athens.
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