By a comedy of errors, though I’ve been trying to focus on this writing, I’ve failed to get the water turned on for the parched evergreen hedge, and now I’m locked in the garden while the landline is ringing in the kitchen. WTF? Composure gone! Because of a few minor frustrations, on a background level of existential angst, I’m up against my shadow side. Gut tensed for action, foul-mouthed, blaming; my reptilian brain is in its happy place, but my heart is in hiding.
In Zen there is much talk of waking from the delusion of everyday reality, awakening from a delusion in which we live forever and are led blindly by our desires and habits. We knowabout death, about the ever changing nature of life, but we just don’t usually live that knowledge. Unsurprisingly, I would rather not have my death topmost on my mind every moment of the day, or anything remotely reminiscent of death: illness, pain, embarrassment, mental and physical decline, species decline, climate change… I recoil from the negative, sometimes consciously, but mostly unconsciously, and so my escapist habits take over.
Over the past few years as I have practised Zen, I have tried to awaken to the true plight of indigenous people in this country. I take workshops and I read indigenous authors. As a person of European and Christian heritage, I’m still coming across obvious pieces of the Canadian/indigenous puzzle that I should have learned as a child. But cultural blinkers make this process unconscionably slow.
Today the piece of the puzzle I learned was the Doctrine of Discovery, which allowed European explorers to declare that the Americas were ‘empty’ of humans and claim the lands for their sovereigns. They were actually inhabited by approximately 100 million indigenous people, who made up at the time, 1/5thof the human population of the world.
The Doctrine of Discovery also supported the cultural bias of European superiority, which allowed settlers and multiple levels of government to “subjugate, dominate and exploit the lands, territories and resources of native peoples.” [The UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues]
I know from direct experience, that this attitude is still causing tragic discrimination against Indigenous people right here and now.
What does it take for us to wake up?
I think though we are born open-hearted and loving, our nature is to become expert at hiding from some of the harsher truths of life: we do die, our attitudes, actions, and inactions do have long lasting consequences for ourselves and others.
Zen practice trains us to sit with this and all kinds of discomfort and dis-ease, in order to develop a caring and open-hearted attitude towards all beings.
The practice is to meet the suffering or the dissatisfaction or even joy without shying away. Not just enduring, but sitting with an open heart and open mind in deep, deep acceptance.
We sit with our sense of loss, or fear, or doubt, our delusions, brokenness, difficult family of origin issues, and our culture’s crimes. Letting go again and again, we are fed by a deep well of intimacy with the infinite.
In these times when it is clear that many world leaders and business enterprises have lost their moral compass, it is tempting to fall back on fundamentalist, rigid, reptilian reactions. However, values of wisdom and respect lead me instead to pose questions, to investigate possible action that is based on interconnectedness and kindness.
We can be awake in our lives taking positive far-sighted action together, for the benefit of all beings.
Rev. Soshin McMurchy, a settler of European ancestry born on Treaty 6 territory, lives on the ancestral lands of the SENĆOŦEN and Lekwungen speaking peoples, and as a priest with Zenwest Buddhist Society, zenwest.ca, serves as a Buddhist Chaplain with the University of Victoria Multifaith Services where she teaches meditation. She works part-time at the Greater Victoria Public Library and lives with her partner of 40 years.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, July 27th 2019