I was at the gas station the other day standing at the pump, waiting for my tank to fill. A staff person was at an adjacent pump cleaning the handles and with an upbeat and friendly tone said Good morning! when he saw me. Then another vehicle pulled up to a pump closer to where he was working and he took to exchanging pleasantries and small talk with the driver. I overheard the driver ask him the stock standard how are you question, to which the worker replied: I’ll be happy when this is all over. I thought to myself: That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the crux of this coronavirus tune so many are singing – and it’s not at all different than our usual tune, the one where we think: after this happens, after I get this thing, after I land this job or this person or this whatever it is, THEN I’ll be happy.
We all do the dance of later I’ll be happy or later I’ll practice meditation, after things have settled down or later on I’ll get some rest when I have more time. I’ve been re-reading the classic Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi and also certain sections from two of my favorite books by Thay recently, which I’ve been referring back to quite a bit lately and receiving nourishment and strength from:
Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say, “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace someday.”
– from The Sun My Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh
To cook, or to fix some food, is not preparation, according to Dogen; it is practice. To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice.
It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else.
– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
Someone asked me, “Aren’t you worried about the state of the world?” I allowed myself to breathe and then I said, “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world to fill your heart. If you heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” There are wars – big and small – in many places, and that can cause us to lose our peace. Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later we will get sick.
Yes there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything…if we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone.
– from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh