This is a story I’ve been following for a while — a group of students from the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program returned last week from a trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana. The intention of their trip was to bear witness to the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and to respond in whatever way the could.
This post comes from Penny Alsop, one of the group:
The open space of not knowing is one of the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers lineage. Those who seek to practice this tenet are encouraged to enter into situations, even very difficult and especially familiar ones, with an openness to what arises. We’re asked to let go of fixed ideas and preconceptions in order to pave the way to see things as they are instead of how we think they are; how we wish for them to be.
Much like the distinction between being silent and being mute, there is a difference between not knowing and not caring. Not knowing in this context demands deep involvement. It means holding out for all the limitless possibilities while not clinging to a particular outcome. We are asked to engage wholly with what is right in front of us; just as it’s presented, whether we prefer it or not. Time and time again we make the choice to look with our own eyes and feel with our hearts, letting the judgments, the evaluations, the ideas, the dreams and the dramas take a back seat to being with each unfolding moment.
A number of us, largely Buddhist chaplaincy students, went to the Gulf coast this past week. We chose Grand Isle, LA, as our destination because this little island with only fifteen hundred full time residents has been hard hit by the oil spill. We know that people and animals are struggling there, so we go. We go not knowing for certain that that is enough; if our presence is useful or desired. We go without deliverables or action items. We simply go and set a place at the table with an open invitation.
Not knowing doesn’t allow for the certainty of having helped. We give all that up in favor of being willing to give what is asked for in the moment, whether it is appreciation for perfectly made grits or for working twelve hour shifts, seven days a week to clean oil from boom and sand. We give up the certainty of helping in order to celebrate the opening of shrimping season or the first day that a raft has been sold all summer.
The result of over two million gallons of oil into the Gulf is far from clear and in many ways, this disaster is just beginning. For others, the threat is looming around an ill defined corner. This is a story without a predictable outcome. A story that asks us to go toward it willingly in spite of no assurances; to stand with the inhabitants of the Gulf coast when the reports are missing from the headlines and when we’d like to move on to the next thing.
We can’t be sure of much here except that lives have been turned upside down all along the Gulf coast. They are struggling in ways that we’ll never know if we fail to return over and over again.