With some practice you can flourish in hard times

Guest writer

During critical times when perhaps we just want to hide our heads in the sand, it is crucial to remember the things which actually help to nourish us and our families and friends.

I find I have to work at staying away from the tempting yet harmful habits I have developed over a lifetime. So for a while anyway, I cut back on TV binging, eat better, try to visit friends, exercise more, and of course meditate more.

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During these times I feel the need to be courageous, work hard, and support my communities.

As with any world religion, Zen Buddhists can turn to their practice for strength and direction. The simple practice of sitting quietly, aware and awake to the inner and outer worlds, when practised daily, will bring an understanding of the human mind, and help clear the backlog of repressed hurt, anger, and desire that lurks in our psyches. This is the practice of mindfulness that is the first stage of a Zen practitioner’s work.

Anxiety about the current situation may lead to avoidance, over eating, misuse of alcohol, drugs or medications. Seeing this pattern is a step on the road to letting it go. Or as sometimes happens with meditation practice, the habits let you go.

Years ago, before I began seriously practising Zen, when my husband was ill with severe leukemia, his chances of survival slim, treatment was long and arduous and the anxiety over the uncertainty drove me to nightly binges of ice cream and Star Trek. The temporary denial of our situation was blissful but it left me ill, and less resilient. I think this paints a picture of where we are collectively with climate change, environmental degradation, and social injustice. For the most part we have been in denial, and that denial has cost us heavily.

Recently when my coping skills have been challenged again, this time by family dysfunction issues which have been very difficult to bear, I’ve relied on my meditation practice and our community for strength and resilience.

Now in my ongoing practice, I know in my core that life is uncertain, that circumstances can change for good or for bad from one day to the next or even from one moment to the next.

I feel grounded in a paradigm and a supportive community that sees every moment as precious and alive with possibility. We will never know the end of the story (ours or the planet’s). Life has twists and turns that are unfathomable, but each moment is a treasure we can awaken to. We can practise meditation, or more aptly named dissolution, dissolving into an experience of being at one, as in the punch line of the old joke – make me one with everything.

Even though we may be far from ‘enlightened’ or being fully awake, there is deep joy, acceptance, and energy available to us through this practice. We can sink into the knowledge that the world is perfect just as it is.

Perfect? This statement may be true in our hearts, but almost impossible to accept from an analytical state of mind. However, we can choose our state of consciousness. When practicing dissolution, I experience the world as perfect just as it is. Paradoxically, the grounded energy and wisdom that flow from this experience, when channelled into action, will help house the homeless, bring justice for First Nations, welcome refugees, end the wars causing the mass migrations, and sustain the very thin layers of earth, air, and water which support the only life we know of in the cosmos.

Rev. Soshin McMurchyis a priest with Zenwest Buddhist Society, zenwest.ca, and serves as the Buddhist Chaplain with the University of Victoria Multifaith Services. She works part-time at the Greater Victoria Public Library and lives in Victoria with her partner of 39 years.

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