June 16, 2020
Sheltering in Practice

By Steph Blank

Pandemic Response Part I

Sheltering in Practice (with Children)

During the first few days of Shelter in Place Practice at Green Gulch, our children had the idea to build a raft. It was a comforting activity. We harvested a piece of bamboo from the farm and cut it into equal lengths. We wrapped and tied each of the pieces together with rainbow-colored nylon string. With a little putty from the shop we secured an upright mast in the middle with a bamboo leaf for the sail. “Where can we sail it?” they wondered.

As the Covid-19 crisis first began to reveal itself I experienced a lot of painful feelings. I felt particularly saddened by the reports of people dying in quarantine, separated from their loved ones. I felt helpless witnessing news of great suffering from afar. Meanwhile, my children were suddenly with me round the clock, wondering what we could do together that would be fun. Buoyant and bright, they weren’t getting the news like I was.

My job as a Zen Priest and Buddhist Chaplain is to witness the suffering of the world and to concentrate my heartmind on the well-being of those in it. As Mother of two young children during this pandemic, my job is to hold that witnessing inside with care, and to be present and available to the open-hearted young people in front of me who are asking to play.

“[You] feel helpless when you haven’t found your power,” I recall one of my chaplaincy mentors saying. May All Who Are Dying in Isolation be at Peace and Ease. When I remember my power, the prayers keep flowing.

As a family we took our raft to the upper reservoir in the hills above Green Gulch, where the water was peaceful, painted with trees and sky. Orange-bellied newts swam below the surface. We took turns floating the raft from the end of the makeshift dock. May All Beings be Carried to Safety.

Living in residence at the SFZC temples over the years, we have observed other crises and losses; devastating wildfires, fellow residents surviving major accidents, deaths of beloved sangha members. But we’ve never closed the zendo. Zazen has always been stable at the heart of the community. I never imagined a crisis that would make zazen itself dangerous. With the social distancing order our practice of gathering to sit together in one room has not been appropriate. For the first time in my 14 years of residency there is no 4:25am wake-up bell to be heard in the valley. It is okay — my heartmind remembers the sound.

As Sewing Teacher I have begun to teach the Namu Kie Butsu stitch via Zoom. It’s not as awkward as I imagined – I set up one device to show my face and another to show my hands. It is a poignant time to sew Buddha’s Robe, to go for refuge in our interconnectedness and to offer refuge to all beings; to make my effort itself into a prayer for our collective welfare. May All Beings be Healthy.

At the end of the day, our family has a practice of going wandering together. It provides a sense of normalcy in a time when so many of our rhythms and practices have become distanced. As we go walking down the farm road our children delight in running through the garden, picking up the colorful and fragrant rose petals that have fallen to the ground. They collect handfuls and come running back to fling them over our heads.”Mama, make a blessing!” May Those in Need of Comfort be Comforted. They fill their hands again. “Do another one!” May all Children be Beloved. They stack more petals into their hands and toss them as high as they can. May Those that are Alone Feel Held. They pick dandelions and make their own blessings before they blow the silvery tufts into the air. May All Beings be Happy! They pick small red plums and place them on the folded hands of the farm Buddha. May Everyone have Enough to Eat!

As we practice shelter in place, we continue discovering shelter in Practice. May We All Realize and Emanate our Most Beneficent Selves.


Pandemic Response Part II

Prayer for Courage to Speak from Love

When I saw the video of George Floyd’s excruciating final minutes of life, I sat sobbing. It felt utterly painful to watch a human being die under the knee of an officer employed to serve his [my] community. It pained me deeply and intimately that it happened in Minnesota – my home. And that it was perpetuated, again, by someone like me.

I feel awake to the pandemic of racism in this nation and world. It hurts my heart. While sobbing is its own phenomenon without need for interpretation, if I translate it into words, it would be these: This repeated cruelty perpetrated by white people against black people needs to be behind us. It SHOULD NOT STILL be happening. This is not a negotiation with reality – this is my prayer.

I have been sitting zazen for half my life’s years, but I will not be silent while my brothers and sisters are targeted, tortured and murdered over and over again. Let us speak our brokenheartedness and roar our sorrow. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Zen practitioners can speak too.

Show Love to those who show no sign of the Dharma [no understanding of our interconnectedness]. This counsel appeared in a dream that I had in March. At that time I did not understand its specific relevance to the health pandemic that was unfolding. Now I understand to which pandemic it pertains – the abuse of power pandemic called racism which has been demonstrated by people across this world to be even more urgent than Covid-19.

It is my faith that Love Will Transform Hatred – and I look to the Mothers who have lost their children in these horrific crimes, who bear to keep Loving, for the teaching of Love. I look to the families of those who were murdered who dare to say, Be Peaceful, for the teaching of Peace. We have something to learn from them. I pray for their continued clarity and strength.

I ask myself, how can I win the hearts of my own brothers and sisters who deny that racism exists? How can I show love to people who are speaking volatile words? We have seen how the death of George Floyd is changing our world. The time is right for white people to examine how our external ease has always been at the expense of others. The time is right to Respect – rather than ignore, suppress or crush Our Humanity. The time is right to Remove those who abuse power from the offices of power. May we awaken fully to Our Togetherness… and Show Love.