This past week, both Joanna Macy and Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh have written some beautiful words in response to the crisis in Japan. Each of them helps us to remember the larger context of this disaster, and of our lives and practice.
First, the letter from Joanna, who is no stranger to the dangers of nuclear power and radiation. In 1992, she spent time with the people of Novozybkyov, a village about 100 miles from Chernobyl. Joanna and her late husband, Fran Macy, have been dedicated to the cause of nuclear disarmament and guardianship for many years.
In this hour of anguish we reach out to our Japanese colleagues and all beings of that noble and stricken land. As our hearts unite in prayer for them, we experience our own non-separation from the immeasurable suffering inflicted by the successive earthquakes and tsunamis, and by the nuclear catastrophe these have triggered.
Having just begun the last week of my three-month retreat, I break silence to give voice to my solidarity with you all. By speaking to you, I remind myself of what we can remember in this time of grief and fear.
It helps me to remember what I learned in Novozybkov with survivors of Chernobyl: that is that there are two basic responses to massive collective trauma. One response is to let it destroy our trust in life and in each other, plummeting us into division, blame and despair. The other is to let the shared cataclysm strengthen us into greater solidarity, and deepen our knowledge of our mutual belonging in the web of life. Your communications are evidence already of that second response. Indeed the Work That Reconnects has been preparing us for it.
We remember to breathe. As we have practiced, we breathe through the reports as we hear and the images of disaster. This helps us simply take in what is happening, and not be blocked by horror or the desire to fix or flee.
We also breathe with those who are caught up in this tragedy, in the intensity of panic, shock, and loss. Feel how this breathing-with helps your heart-mind fearlessly and tenderly embrace them.
You see, if we understand and accept the Great Unraveling, we can let it break us open to greater realizations of our innate solidarity. That this realization in itself is a kind of “enlightenment” has been brought home to me in my retreat by two great teachers of Japan.
One is the 13th century Zen master Dogen. He illumines our connections with the ancestors and the future ones, so that we can experience these connections in the immediate present moment. So does the other figure, the archetypal bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, who is beloved in Japan, where he/she is known as Bodhisattva Jizo, with images .everywhere Both of them help us realize that we are not alone in this moment of time, but surrounded by past and future generations ready to help. We who inhabit the present can do what they cannot: that is to make choices and take action/ But the past and future ones are right at our side with support and guidance.
Also, to hold steady and open in this anguished time, try the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects. As I take in the catastrophe in Japan, the Spiral serves to ground my heart-mind, and widen its dimensions. It brings gratitude for all those at work to bring support and clear reporting. It helps me honor the heartbreak, to simply open to it and let it reveals our true nature and mutual belonging. It shows me how solidarity can move us forward, and offer us practical, immediate steps to alleviate suffering and enact safe, sustainable, and sane energy policies. An obvious urgency is to stop US Government subsidies and loan guarantees to nuclear industries, including bills that are before Congress now.
As radiation from Fukushima spreads, I know that protection of self and family is on our minds. I’m asking Anne to append here two kinds of information: about health measures, and some links to breaking news from Japan. See our page dedicated to this issue:
And here is the letter from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Dear Friends in Japan,
As we contemplate the great number of people who have died in this tragedy, we may feel very strongly that we ourselves, in some part or manner, also have died.
The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. And the human species and the planet Earth are one body. What happens to one part of the body happens to the whole body.
An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive. This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue, beautifully, in us.
Here in France and at our practice centers all over the world, our bothers and sisters will continue to chant for you, sending you the energy of peace, healing and protection. Our prayers are with you.
Thich Nhat Hanh
If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.