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Today's Koan

Today has been an unsettling day. For no reason. For all the reasons. I'm still wearing my pajamas from last night, but with a sweater on so hopefully I fooled my students on Zoom. I bought some furniture on Wayfair, had a cocktail at 3:30pm, and ate wings and mac-n-cheese from last week's leftovers for dinner. I scrolled Facebook and made a deal with a farmer on the local buy & sell group to pick rocks out of his field so I could build a labyrinth in our back yard, rationalizing the endeavor with "I need the exercise" and "I'm getting an excellent deal on materials."


The farmer's field is literally the back 40 acres:

My kids went back to their dad's house yesterday, per our custody arrangement. The transition, even after a decade of this routine, still hits me with tinge of sadness, and I feel even more out-of-sorts after days of them actually being present and engaged in ways I haven't experienced since they became teenagers. Marc is working a double shift today, so I'm spending much of my time home alone. Sometimes when I'm lonely and unsettled, it's easier not to have to share how I'm feeling. But Marc was kind to listen, putting his own anxieties on hold when he stopped home between shifts. After crying and apologizing for my state of being, which I know pales in contrast to the very real front-line stressors healthcare workers are experiencing, I remembered my morning meditation, which delved into the Zen concept of a koan:


"The koan is a dilemma, a mystery which the rational mind cannot solve."


Even with a 24-hour news cycle, access to real-time data from around the world, and expert research and counsel from epidemiolgists, scientists, and countless other experts, our current circumstances must be a dilemma for even the sanest and knowledgeable of rational minds! How do we manage the fear and anxiety, let alone the pandemic itself? How do we stave off economic disaster? How can we continue to care for those in need? How do we cope with the sudden loss of academic, professional, and social engagements? What will we do if we get sick? How do we make sense of my children actually wanting to bake and do crafts with me and tell me their feelings?


And then the gem of the koan's wisdom: "The resolution of a koan requires a certain trust of mystery, a faith that there is an answer which will come in time... Like good science, the resolution of a koan requires a trust in the larger pattern which underlies the happening that the mind does not understand, and the understanding which is gained is often accompanied by a deep appreciation of the elegance of that pattern, the intelligence of the nature of things. A sense of wonder. An appreciation of the very mystery which has frustrated us. A sense of belonging to it."


That last bit..."A sense of belonging to it."


Maybe that's what that unsettled feeling is all about. My spirit is resonating with the restlessness and unettled nature of things, because these are unsettled times. I belong to these unsettled times. You belong to these unsettled times.


I realized awhile ago that, for me, understanding belonging is to BE longing. Longing for connection. Longing for assurance. Longing for hope. That longing is often what draws me forward when I'm restless and frustrated by my circumstances. I doubt I'm going to understand it any better by lobbying congress for more PPE, or helping to stock the local food pantry, or creating a well-rounded routine for my kids, or mastering online teaching, or even meditating more - though there is incredible value and need for all of those and many other worthwhile endeavors.


As this day has worn on, I've started to consider how my relationship to this uncertainty might unfold if could actually allow myself to just BE unsettled for awhile. To notice any patterns that emerge and start to pay attention. Be curious. Be frustrated. Belong.


Who knows, maybe I'll even gain some understanding when I'm picking rocks out of that farmer's field.




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