by Sharon Rippner
Sometimes it is hard to tell if I am reading the morning’s newspaper or the Book of Revelations. With the continuing threat of COVID-19, the resulting economic downturn, the shift from simmering to full boil rage due to racial/social injustice, continuing ecological devastation and escalating climate emergency, the world is, indeed, experiencing dukkha on steroids. I am awed by the reality of karmic unfolding, “if this, then that”, which drives each of these conditions. Those who want to “return to normal” do not understand that normal is what has produced our current reality. I hope that we who take refuge in the Three Jewels will help in making our collective way to a new normal. Only by redefining normal can we help to reduce the deep suffering that has led to and resulted in our current circumstances. Each of these several crises provides opportunity for meaningful awakening and change.
Despite the difficult times we are having, or perhaps because of them, our White Heron Sangha connection, attendance, friendship, and support have grown deeper and wider during this time of physical distancing. Personally, “attending” Sangha for my daily morning meditation, rather than sitting by myself, has provided an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things about previous friends. Others report this daily meeting has helped them establish a regular meditation practice for the first time and is creating a desire for further practice and study. For more on this, see Morning Sit by Charlene West. What wonderful, unanticipated benefits from this pandemic experience!
That being said, I do miss one piece of the old normal—giving and receiving warm hugs at our Sangha gatherings! Although I am certainly grateful for our online Zoom meetings, these are just not the same as the real thing! Alas, such as it is, and will be, for a while longer. At this point, despite state/county rules and regulations allowing for it, we do not anticipate even limited re-opening of our Center until sometime after July 1. At that time, if on-the-ground conditions allow, we will slowly and carefully begin our re-opening.
When the Center eventually begins to reopen to in-person meetings, and maybe for quite some time thereafter, there will still be no hugging allowed!! Bowing will need to become our way of greeting each other. We will also need to maintain physical distancing and wear masks while in the Center. The WHS Executive and Re-Opening Committees recently met at the Center under these conditions and we all found it a bit strange and uncomfortable! In fact, some of us preferred our Zoom connecting where we can see each other’s whole face instead of only eyes! Fortunately we will be continuing our Zoom connection for all daily and weekly events for the foreseeable future even after we reopen the Center. In addition, all WHS-sponsored retreats will be by Zoom, at least through the end of this year.
I hope all of you are taking advantage of attending the many online opportunities that are available from Buddhist teachers and Centers throughout the US and around the world. This period of physical distancing is allowing an opportunity for concentrated study and practice for most of us. It is important that we each use this time to develop deeper wisdom regarding the three poisons of dukkha and how they produce suffering in our personal and collective lives. With that greater wisdom we may be able to more effectively and appropriately act with compassion in helping birth our new normal. As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, “. . .Contemplative reflection on the suffering of living beings is not enough; we must help diminish suffering through compassionate involvement.” (Editor’s Introduction, page ix, Interbeing, Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism)
With many bows and Metta to my Sangha,