Shortly before this issue went to press, the COVID-19 coronavirus swept across the entire globe, forcing millions into an ongoing period of isolation, deep uncertainty, and concern. As of early April, we still do not know how or when the situation will resolve.
In an attempt to help our readers address the fear and anxiety of the moment, we offered a variety of free resources, including live-streamed meditation sessions, a selection of timely articles, and video dharma talks. We hoped that these offerings would be of benefit, and those hopes seemed to bear fruit when we saw just how many others had been seeking a little guidance, a sense of community, and some peace of mind.
From Iran and Italy to the US and Uruguay, thousands of practitioners registered to attend the live meditation sessions led by dharma teachers such as Insight Meditation Society cofounders Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield, nun Ani Pema Chödrön, Tibetan Buddhist and psychotherapist Mindy Newman, and Zen priest Koshin Paley Ellison. The outpouring of gratitude from attendees was encouraging, to say the least. Participant Ed Peterson wrote during one session, “It was beautiful and exhilarating to sit with everyone in this worldwide sangha. It is a great reminder of how connected we all are, in these troubled times and in all times.” D’Arcy Lyness remarked that the sessions reminded her that we are all connected even when we are apart because of social distancing.
Some, like attendee J.M. Sorrell of Northampton, Massachusetts, shared that such gatherings gave them hope that there may be a “silver lining” in these difficult circumstances, namely, a “much-needed wake up call” for those who forget the importance of compassion as they “scurry around.” “We are [now] more intentional with our love and kindness,” J.M. added. “What is important? Love. What is bupkis? Most everything else.”
We also appreciated the responses to our selection of free articles (“Practicing in a Pandemic”) aimed at helping our readership remain grounded during the turbulent times. One reader, Cliff Erich, said that he was unable to practice because he was too overwhelmed by suffering and anxiety about the future, but there was one thing he was able to do—breathe. Fortunately, that’s all one needs to begin practicing. As Gary Singh remarked after he listened to Sharon Salzberg’s meditation instructions, “The healing is in the return. . . . If you lose your temper in the grocery store, [if there is] panic everywhere, then, like [Sharon] said, the most important moment is what comes after that. Return to the breath.” Slowly, returning time and again to our practice, we can begin to cultivate a state of calm awareness and remember that we’re all in this together.
Meanwhile, the discussion over the benefits and hazards of the secular mindfulness boom continues. A number of insightful reflections and heated debates took place on our website and on social media about the form Buddhism takes in our world. In “In Defense of McMindfulness,” for example, Boston University philosophy lecturer Amod Lele challenged the criticism of popular mindfulness as a cog in an unjust capitalist machine. It’s not that mainstream mindfulness lacks ethical Buddhist foundations, he wrote, but that it’s too Buddhist. Lele suggested that, without clear social doctrine, traditional Buddhist teachings neither condone nor condemn broad economic or governmental philosophies. Reader Susan Zivcec, whose background is in workplace wellness, disputed this point. She said she notices how the practice of mindfulness alone often fosters a socially ethical mindset. “It would seem that ‘McMindfulness’ has a tendency to clarify our personal values and higher purpose,” she wrote, “and as such we are more inclined to function in congruence with them.” For those who practice mindfulness, she asked, “does engagement in ‘right action’ naturally increase?”
In a similar vein, in “Meditation Barbie Wants to Be Your Dolly Lama,” Tricycle’s Web Editor, Karen Jensen, looked into toymaker Mattel’s claims that a new meditating Barbie could teach kids about mindfulness. While Jensen found the doll fell short, she addressed the possibility that an inkling toward awakening could exist even within a capitalist and consumer-driven system. Many readers found this perspective refreshing and balanced, while others argued that Barbie and Buddhism are antithetical. To dive into this debate, we encourage you to read these articles and stay tuned for more—it’s a topic of discussion that’s not going away any time soon.
How old were you when you started practicing?
I was 15, 1975, Biloxi, Mississippi. A progressive nun taught us yoga and meditation at Sacred Heart Girls High School. What a gift.
—Mary Anne Hudachek Deierlein
I was 11, in karate class.
—Koshin Paley Ellison
I was 25—now 50. I was introduced to mindfulness while studying philosophy as an undergrad. I still have the same mentor, who is now 82 years old! Currently we are working on a practice manual for mindful inquiry.
I was 26. Now 40. Been a slow process. Didn’t really think I’d be going to the same Zen temple four or five times a week 14 years later. Work practice, retreats, reading, sangha celebrations. It’s a creeper.
In 1977 I was a freshman at a progressive Catholic high school in New York City, when my uncle, now Roshi Robert Kennedy, helped me write a Zen koan in Japanese for an Asian religion assignment. Wish I had kept it!
—Ellen Mugivan Mullé
I was 16. I’m now 28, and I like the thought that in four years, half of my lifetime will have been influenced by dharma.
For the next issue:
Do you attend sangha meetings in person or online (or a combination)?
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