In a few days, I will talk with the board of trustees about the Fellowship’s contingency plans for if and when the coronavirus is in this community—logistics and policies about risks and communication and best practices. In this moment, however, I am reflecting on the spread of this disease from a personal, human, emotional / spiritual perspective.
I’m scared. The experience of following this disease on the news feels like a super slow-motion disaster…one that’s far in the distance and coming inevitably but unpredictably closer. Fundamentally, the epidemic is challenging my false sense of invulnerability.
I’m 51 years old. My parents are both long-lived; I’m physically fit and don’t get sick very often. It’s tempting to think that I’ll be fine, even if the disease spreads here. I’ve lived a life of privilege. Hardships that have affected other communities and other countries haven’t hit me.
And, I’m scared. This is the fear of death, my own death and the death of my loved ones (including my parents and step-parents). The spiritual work is to name this fear. The spiritual work is to confront the fact that we all are dying, and to come to peace with that.
I’m writing this and I think—the Buddhists have a lot to say about this. I remember, “Thich Nhat Hanh said something useful about this, maybe I can find that again.” What I found was a 92-second video of Thich Nhat Hanh speaking about death and it is one of the most profound and wise things I’ve ever heard. It made my fear dissolve into laughter. Watch it here if you have internet and 92 seconds to spend:
And here is the transcript of his words:
When you look at a cloud, you think of the cloud as being. And later on, when the cloud becomes the rain, you don’t see the cloud anymore--and you say the cloud is not there. And you describe the cloud as non-being. But if you look deeply, you can see the cloud in the rain. And that is why it’s impossible for a cloud to die. A cloud can become rain, or snow, or ice, but a cloud cannot become nothing. And that is why the notion of death cannot be applied to reality. There is a transformation, there is a continuation, but you cannot say that there is death, because in your mind to die means from something you suddenly become nothing. From someone you suddenly become no one. And so, the notion of death cannot apply to reality, whether to a cloud or to a human being. And the Buddha did not die, the Buddha only continued, by his sangha, by his dharma, and you can touch the Buddha in the here and the now. And that is why ideas like being born and dying; coming and going; being and non-being should be removed by the practice of looking deeply. And when you can remove these notions, you are free and you have non-fear. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Spirit of Life and Love, presence that transcends death, be with me now.
Grant me the courage to name my fear, to bring it into the light where I can see it and deal with it.
Grant me the wisdom to see that death will come-- I just don’t know when--and that death is part of life, not to be feared.
Sprit of love and compassion, be with those who are sick with coronavirus. Be with those who are sacred that they might be sick. Be with those, the health care workers and officials, who are toiling to keep others safe and healthy, even though they risk their own health and safety. Give us strength and understanding as a nation, as a race, as a human species, in the face of this profound threat.
May we be well in our spirits, minds and bodies. May we be free from fear.
Amen. Aho. Blessed Be.