Anger, Grief, Self-care, and Doing What You Can

"Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely. Open your hands and walk innocent. Thousands of words, myriad interpretations, Are only to free you from obstructions…”

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Sitting on the floor reading a book

I’m angry.

I’m grieving.

I’m reading a lot.

I’m taking good care of myself, and I hope you are too.

I’m doing what I can.

I’m angry that our elections and our democracy are being threatened. I’m angry about the silence. I’m angry with how badly the pandemic has been mis-managed by our leadership. I’m angry about the lies, the posturing, and the divisiveness. I’m angry that journalism, integrity, and science are being attacked.

I’m grieving for the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in the U.S. and a million worldwide. I’m grieving the millions of people who have lost their jobs, for the poverty, suffering, and food insecurity. I’m grieving for the black men and women who have lost their lives from fear and racism. I’m grieving for a country that needs to engage with its history and find ways to heal and transform.

I’m reading a lot:

  • I just finished What Comes Next And How To Like It, a memoir by Abigail Thomas. It’s an easy read, which I need sometimes. And, it has depth, humor, and creativity.
  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem are both powerful and difficult books. Caste delves into the history of racism in America in a way that feels both blunt and brilliant. My Grandmother’s Hands addresses the ways that our emotions, trauma, and racism live in our bodies and the necessity for addressing these issues at this level to impact real awareness and change.
  • Breakfast With Buddha by Roland Merullo was recommended by several members of Mill Valley Zen, my Wednesday night meditation group. I’m enjoying the writing, the story telling, and a lighthearted way to address the relevance of a spiritual life.
  • I’m a regular reader of the New York Times and The New Yorker. I feel good supporting journalism.
  • I often refer to parts of Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind and Not Always So by Shunryu Suzuki, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, and The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. My one-phrase summary of all these books is: The world is not what it seems! (From the perspective of Zen, business, and Buddhism.)

I’m taking good care of myself, and I hope you are too. Most mornings I’m joining the San Francisco Zen Center for two 30-minutes periods of meditation. I generally walk four to five miles a day and do some stretching and strength exercises. I love to cook and eat, especially simple vegetarian meals. I’m really good at sleep (despite the anger and grieving) and get my 7 – 7.5 hours a night. I try to stay connected to family and friends. This has been challenging during the pandemic. I’m planning to schedule more zoom teas with those I’ve lost connection with.

There is a beautiful poem that epitomizes self-care and wellbeing called Song of the Grass-roof Hermitage by Zen teacher Shitou, who lived in China during the 9th century. The poem can be found in a book called Inside the Grass Hut by Ben Connelly. The first two lines are:

“I’ve built a hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating I relax and enjoy a nap…

And, in the last portion of the poem:

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions…”

I suspect that life in 9th century China was immensely challenging and stressful. I love Shitou’s advice of napping, relaxing, opening our hands, and walking with innocence. And I appreciate that he frames living our lives as one interpretation after another, while finding freedom from obstructions.

I’m doing what I can. I’ve begun writing letters for Vote Forward, encouraging people in swing states to vote. Working America is another organization that enables letter writing to encourage people to vote.

I’m listening to talks and interviews:

  • Tami Simon, CEO of Sounds True, has a wonderful 3-part video series with Dr. Tiffany Jana on healing racism.
  • Krista Tippett interviewed John Lewis, a piece called Love In Action. Very inspiring.

It doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m doing what I can.

Anger, grieving, reading, self-care, doing what you can – I hope you are taking good care of yourselves. I hope you are doing what you can.

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