Lama Döndrup suggests ways to reframe the Covid-19 crisis and offers simple practices to help us connect with the infinite capacities of our minds and hearts.
THE FIRST of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is the acknowledgment of the pain and suffering that is a natural part of our human experience. The COVID-19 health crisis brings this truth vividly into focus. The reality of change and impermanence is an inescapable part of our daily experience. As we watch the number of confirmed cases multiply exponentially, it becomes clear that there is much that is beyond our control.
It is natural that our minds race as we scramble to adapt to new living conditions and concerns about health and financial survival. It is natural that fear and difficult mind states arise. How we meet, hold, and relate to our experience and the experience of those around us as well as the larger, global community will define to what degree we suffer and to what degree we will experience and radiate ease, kindness, and compassion.
One of the lessons I received from living in retreat for three years was recognizing that we are capable of far more than we think. Three-year retreat takes place in a cloistered setting. In my case, I was with one other person. We did not speak to or see anyone other than our teachers who came to visit every one to two months. We did not have access to news, publications, or the internet. Though we did some rituals together, the majority of our time was spent in solitary practice. The schedule was demanding and there were no weekends. While I never once had the thought that I wanted to leave retreat, multiple times I did feel like I simply couldn’t meet the demands of the schedule.
As the practices uncovered deep layers of fear and despair, there were some moments of feeling that I was simply not capable of holding and moving through those difficult experiences. The structure of that demanding schedule and the firm external boundaries of the retreat space again and again helped me to step beyond what I thought was the limit of my capacity. The path forward was always to acknowledge all that was arising in my experience and to hold it in the vast, compassionate space of awareness as I moved forward one moment at a time, one breath at a time, one prayer at a time. Each time I did so, it was a revelation to recognize the infinite capacity of the mind and heart — not just “my” heart and mind, but the hearts and minds of all beings.
There is much that we cannot control right now, but what we do have control over is how we meet each moment. How to do that? When fear and difficult mind states arise, acknowledge them and take a moment to recognize with gratitude that our animal instinct of fear serves to let us know that caution is needed. Heed that caution. Take responsible action to be sure that you and your loved ones remain healthy and do not spread the virus. At the same time, recognize that if we fixate on those thoughts of fear, they will proliferate, much like this virus. If you find this happening, try the following practice:
- Feel your feet on the ground. Allow your attention to rest in the sub-navel center, three finger-widths below the navel. Breathe.
- While feeling the earth beneath you, allow your awareness to open as vast as the sky. Allow your fear and other disturbing thoughts to be held by and melt into that vast, compassionate expanse.
- Before, during, and after these moments of despair, activate your bodhicitta with the aspiration, “May I experience this difficulty so that no other being may have to experience it.”
- You can also call on the guidance, protection, and healing powers of Tara, Medicine Buddha, and the lineage.
Now, more than ever, we have reason be grateful for every breath we freely breathe. Living at a distance from friends and extended family helps us to recognize the preciousness of those connections. As many of our normal activities are stripped away, we have the opportunity to recognize and integrate an understanding of the true source of our refuge. Our external boundaries are limited by shelter-in-place orders or self-quarantine and this is an opportunity to recognize the boundless nature of our hearts and mind when we allow this experience to open our hearts.
You can hold the pain and difficulty of this experience. Your heart and mind are truly boundless. You are infinitely capable of love, compassion, patience, generosity, healing, and more.
We are incredibly blessed to have access to a wealth of teachings and practices that can guide and support us and the global community on this journey. At Sukhasiddhi, we have transitioned all classes, practice sessions, and teachings to an online format so that we can continue to connect and grow together. The ongoing, weekly classes from our Dharma Community Leaders Barbara Juniper, Trinity Sipila, and Gitte Döbrer will continue without interruption, and the Teachers Council has created a new menu of offerings specifically designed to support you at this time.
I will be offering a Calm Abiding meditation followed by the powerful meditation of Tara Who Dispels Epidemics on Facebook Live on Tuesday and Friday mornings, 8:15-9:15am. On April 18-19, I will offer a two-day Medicine Buddha teaching, which is a profound method of accessing our innate healing capacity. In the upcoming Sukhasiddhi Sunday series, we will have the opportunity to practice both the Tara Who Dispels Epidemics and the Medicine Buddha practices together for six consecutive weeks as well as complete the exploration of the five Wisdoms and Working with Difficult Emotions.
To further activate and embody our bodhicitta and compassion, Lama Tashi will be offering a weekly Tonglen practice on Wednesdays at 6pm. Lama Pat will guide us in fully manifesting these teachings moment to moment in the Awake in the World class on April 25. With these tools, we will quiet our minds, cultivate compassion and bodhicitta, and actively pray for healing for all beings as we navigate our way through this challenging time together as dharma sisters and brothers.