As COVID-19 restrictions continue to dissolve, Buddhist writer Daisy Hernández has been thinking a lot about refuge. During the pandemic, Hernández found refuge in virtual BIPOC sitting groups, building up her home practice, and being a source of support to her journalism students as they navigated uncertainty and mental health crises. Just as it was then, writing continues to be a refuge for the author whose book The Kissing Bug came out in June, 2021. Now that she is starting to reemerge into the world, Hernández’s practices of refuge are just as important as ever. “The concept of refuge has felt really important these past few years,” she said on the latest episode of Life As It Is, Tricycle’s podcast with editor-in-chief James Shaheen and meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg. “I’m going to need to continue to work with it as I come out of my cocoon.”
Read an excerpt from the conversation below, and listen to the full episode here.
James Shaheen: Generosity really changes one’s state of mind, and it really gets one out of oneself and one’s own personal fears, which can be so imprisoning. I think of your book, for instance, as an offering.
Daisy Hernández: Right now, we’re precisely around the two-year mark where I said goodbye to my students. I assumed that I would see them the next week, and instead, I got the email that said, “We’re all going online. Get out of your dorm rooms, and figure out how you’re teaching this class online until further notice.” I definitely initially took refuge in being of service to my students because it was a shock for all of us, of course, but I was aware that I could stay where I was. For them, they just had a few days to take everything and head back home. For some of them, they could not head back home because they had parents who were immunocompromised or they had difficult home lives. We forget that for many students, college campus is actually the refuge. For them, it wasn’t just about going back to a parent’s home—it was figuring out an auntie or a cousin that could take them in.
In those initial weeks, there was so much goodness in being able to focus on how I could support them and how I could alter the class. We were about to start a module on literary journalism, and usually I have students interview people on campus. We changed it up and they interviewed people in their social circles around how they were coping with the pandemic. It was sort of literary journalism on the spot, but it was a refuge for me. I had to be really careful though—I noticed that after the first three weeks, I was exhausted. I realized I could take refuge in work up to a certain point, and then it’s very easy to lose oneself. So I had to course correct a little bit and notice when I needed to walk away. I started working with a timer. I started really paying attention to my dogs and to stop and take them on walks. I really had to be careful of that.
Sharon Salzberg: I also sometimes think about writing as a refuge, and I wonder if you see a relationship between your practice and your writing.
DH: I can’t imagine writing without a practice, and maybe vice versa as well. I think for me, the writing itself is definitely a refuge. When I was writing my latest book, The Kissing Bug, I was interviewing so many families who have faced a ravaging chronic disease: Chagas disease. The parasite that spreads the disease can often decimate the heart. I spent a lot of time with one patient who had reached a point where he needed a heart transplant and was living with a left ventricular assist device. He spent a lot of time with me, and we talked a lot about what was happening for him as he was waiting for a heart to become available, and then we also talked a lot about his childhood because he had begun to experience cardiac symptoms when he was a teenager. Those interviews were really difficult. It was an incredible refuge for me to know that I was going to be able to incorporate what he was sharing into a piece of work that would raise awareness of this disease. . . There’s a lot of energy and serenity that comes with transforming someone’s story into a narrative that will reach readers around the country.
At the same time, when I was interviewing him, it was really important for me to have a meditation practice, especially a lovingkindness and tonglen practice. In moments like those, I’m there as a journalist. I’m not there as any kind of caregiver. It’s not appropriate for me to try to comfort the person I’m interviewing. They haven’t invited me to do any kind of therapeutic work. They’ve invited me to share their stories. That’s the work that I’m there to do. Sometimes my role is to just allow the silence to be there between us and to silently send someone lovingkindness. There were times when I would actually say out loud wishing him well as he went on his journey. For me, creativity, journalism, and the practice form a triangle. They’re three legs of the same stool.
Listen to the full podcast episode:
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