Sunday, July 4, 2021

Here's to Freedom (Well, Sort Of)




Happy 4th of July! Celebrate independence!

While honoring this day, let's also take a moment to reflect on where we came from, and the people we exploited and murdered to get here.

July 4th is a bitter pill for the Native American/Indigenous people who had all of their land and resources stolen and were virtually wiped off the face of the earth in a long, intentional campaign of genocide.

July 4th is also a bitter pill for the descendants of enslaved Africans in America, whose backs were broken to build our economic prosperity. A prosperity they still don't fully share in.

As a country that asserts itself as a moral authority in the world, let's start with a searching and fearless moral inventory of our own history, which is bloody and cruel beyond imagination.

We owe apologies and reparations to those whom we've hurt. We all know it. Some of us just don't want to admit it.

And when I say reparations, I do mean money. Because money talks in America. It's one of the only things that does. Our blood is green from placing the value of money above all other things. From Day One.

Why reparations, so long after the fact? Because they are still hurting. Black and Indigenous People of Color in America — the descendants of those who were slaughtered and enslaved — still suffer from mass incarceration, police brutality, restricted access to employment, healthcare, and educational opportunities, economic disparity, and just plain old bigotry.

Let's start using July 4th as an occasion to celebrate all of what we are as a nation, and not to whitewash the past away. Because it's still haunting us. And until we do right by it, it will always haunt us. That's what ghosts do.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

I'm Out of the Closet Now

37 years ago I first met one of the great loves of my life: Tarot cards. I've been studying and working with Tarot ever since. In Tarot and oracle cards, I have discovered one of my truest gifts and one of my life's deepest callings.

But for most of these 37 years, I kept this love hidden. I read Tarot cards mostly for myself, and occasionally for friends. I kept it on the down low. I didn't talk openly about it or present myself as a Tarot reader to people outside of my immediate circle.

I didn't dare.

I doubted myself, my intuition, and my ability to interpret the cards. I felt like an impostor.

And I feared what people might think. After all, the Tarot is mysterious and widely misunderstood, and people tend to fear and mock what they don't understand. Would I be mocked? Would I be rejected?

My own fears and insecurities led me to keep my gift to myself, hiding it from others for fear of how I might be judged. All along the way, I felt a persistent urge to express this part of myself and to share this gift with others. But I suppressed it.

No longer.

This year, in the wake of the pandemic lockdown and some precipitous life events, something shifted within me, and I knew it was time to come out of the Tarot closet. 37 years inside was enough. So I put it out there.

(This reminds me of another chapter in my life, and another kind of closet I had to come out of in order to be my authentic self. But that's a story for another time.)

What has happened since I came out of the Tarot closet has been nothing short of amazing.

I've done more than 100 readings for people in the past several months. A few for friends; most for strangers. Some that lasted 90 minutes; many that were shorter. Some in person; many online. Time and time again I've been astonished by the deep connections made during even short readings, and how the messages that people need to hear keep coming through.

Some people come out of curiosity, for a general reading. Others come seeking guidance for navigating a difficult or uncertain chapter in their lives, or for insights on how to deal with challenges in love, work, or family. Some are struggling with addiction, anxiety, or depression. Some are looking to turn a new page in life and wondering in which direction they should go next.

The woman whose husband passed in his sleep three months ago, and she's having troubles with his kids, relieved to hear from the cards that she is exactly where she is supposed to be right now in her journey with grief and healing.

The musician who wondered about love and relationships, and received a message about childhood trauma and how attachment styles formed in early childhood have shaped her adult relationship experiences.

The Tarot reader who came for a reading, and broke down in tears as she gained insights into some past relationship difficulties.

The CEO of a thriving startup company in finance, constantly taking care of his employees, hearing that he needs to make more time for himself to journey within and do his own soul work.

A woman who lost her twin brother, receiving a card depicting a pair of twins, male and female.

Some people get messages they already knew, but needed to hear confirmed. Others get messages they were not expecting, bringing them to tears of sadness or tears of laughter and joy, or some combination of the two.

And occasionally, someone gets the rug lovingly pulled out from under them, like the New Age person who wants to be all about love and light, good vibes and ascension, hearing from the cards that they need to descend into the dark depths of the psyche and reckon with their own hidden pain and shadow material. Not what they wanted to hear!

You never know what's going to come up in the cards until you lay them out, and look, and listen to the silent, wordless voice of intuition.

And so, I'm out now. All the way out.

Hello, I'm Hunter, and I'm a Tarot reader.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Let Go or Be Dragged

A conversation I had today prompted me to reflect back on one of my previous relationships. It was a really short-lived relationship, only a few months in actual "time" (whatever "actual" time is). But it occupied much more space than that in my heart and my mind. When it ended, I found it very difficult to let go. In fact, I didn't let go. I held on to the idea of it inside, even after it was gone, and that was really painful.

"Let go or be dragged." Some poorly informed sources on the Internet and social media have attributed this quote to the Buddha. He didn't say it, but he might as well have. It's very Buddhist in a quippy sort of way. < Oh, snap! >


Attachment is the cause of suffering. When we attach to things in a fixed way, we create suffering for ourselves, because guess what? Things change. When asked to summarize the Buddha's teachings in a single phrase, Zen master Suzuki Roshi simply replied: "Everything changes." 

And so he changed. He announced he was moving to a different state. And, abruptly, any fantasies I was harboring about our future together were suffocated. But because I wasn't willing or able to let go in my heart, I got dragged. And the dragging actually went on for longer than the relationship did. True story!

"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers," says a pro-gun bumper sticker in some red states like the one where I grew up. For me, just substitute "relationship" for "gun" and the same was true. I wasn't willing to let go of my fixed idea of a relationship that was, in reality, bound to the laws of change.

There's a teaching story in Buddhism about hunters who trap monkeys by hiding a sweet inside an empty shell with a small hole. The monkeys reach inside and grasp the sweet, but then they can't withdraw their clasped fist from the shell. They're not trapped by anyone else. They are trapped by themselves. Because they don't let go.

That relationship was many years ago now, and one of the things that came through to me today when I reflected on it was how perspective changes everything. Looking back now on that relationship, there were so many red flags that I chose to ignore. And I actually can't imagine being attached to that person anymore, or who I thought he was. Hindsight is 20/20.

A certain moment came, as a result of meditation and introspective practices, when I finally (and rather suddenly) let go of any attachment to the ghost of that old relationship. And when I did, I experienced freedom and a renewed lightness of being. But I didn't get that freedom from him. I got it from myself.

I was no longer behaving like the monkey who traps itself by refusing to let go of the sweet.

Nobody else is holding the key to your inner freedom. Only you can hold that key. And only you can unlock the door.

And here's the thing: your capacity for joy and happiness in this life depends on your inner sense of freedom. So what do you want? Do you want to be trapped, or do you want to be free? It's really up to you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Contemplate This


Contemplate the way LIQUIDS move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way SOLIDS move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way GASES move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way GENES move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way MEMES move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way RELATIONSHIPS move through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way TRAUMA moves through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Contemplate the way HEALING moves through you. From the outside world, back into the outside world.


Stop pretending that you are a separate and unique being. You are a CONDUIT for the flow of the universe.




Friday, May 28, 2021

Violence and Non-Violence in Yoga and Buddhism

One of my yoga students approached me with an interesting question today. Here's how the Q&A unfolded....


QUESTION:

"What does “violence” mean in the Yama (Yogic ethical precept) about practicing non-violence? Is violence never justified?" 



RESPONSE:

I’m not fond of translating that particular Yama with the English term "non-violence." It evokes certain things that are not germane to the ethical principle we're talking about. The Sanskrit word for this Yama (which, by the way, is also the foundation of Buddhist ethics, using the same Sanskrit word) is “Ahimsa”. "Himsa" means “harm” and "a-" is a negating prefix, so a more literal translation of "Ahimsa" is simply "non-harming." It’s the ethical commitment to try to avoid creating harm, and to reduce harm as much as possible.

Some people say “violence is never justified," but I believe that (while well-intentioned) this is something of a empty platitude. I mean, look. Reducing harm in World War II meant annihilating Hitler and the Nazis with violence and destruction. This is not up for debate. At a certain point, violence towards Nazis became the moral imperative. Their unchecked aggression and their murderous, genocidal actions were spreading like wildfire, and needed to be destroyed with an equal or greater show of violent force, for the sake of all humanity. Period. Full stop. 🛑  

So while it may not be often, I do believe violence is sometimes justified, in order to protect the greater good and eradicate very harmful situations.

In the Jataka Tales — which are moral stories or fables about the Buddha's previous lives — there's a story about him being on a boat with many, many other people, and knowing that one wicked man on the boat was planning to sink the boat and drown everyone. So he killed that man in order to save the lives of the many other people on the boat. In doing so, he took on the negative karma of killing, but it was in the greater interest of protecting so many other lives from being destroyed. That could be another example of reducing harm.

If you were on a crowded plane and the person in the row in front of you stood up with a gun and a hijacking threat, and you knew (okay, let's chalk it up to your extensive martial arts training and your lightning reflexes) that you had a very brief but viable window of opportunity to take him down through a swift and unexpected attack from behind, what would be the right and ethical thing to do? Would you choose to respect the life and safety of the terrorist over the lives and safety of the other 300 passengers and crew on the plane? Think about this.

In Tibetan Buddhism there are many "deities" or spirits and some are depicted as "protectors" of the teachings and of those who practice the teachings. There are peaceful deities and there are wrathful deities. Most of the "protector" spirits manifest as wrathful energies. They are depicted iconographically as angry, scary, demonic-looking figures who brandish fierce weapons and often hold severed heads in their hands or dance on corpses (which represent the ego and all its bullsh*t). They cut through what needs to be cut through, they restrain what needs to be restrained, and in some cases they destroy what needs to be destroyed.

An example of wrathful protector energy manifesting in everyday life might be the moment when you're about to go into the other room to yell at your spouse or your coworker, but as you're closing the door behind you, you slam your fingers in the door. BOOM! Suddenly you're stopped dead in your tracks, and there's this moment of shock. You didn't want it, but there it is. You've just received a sharp, painful reminder to pay attention to what you're doing.



I have a fair amount of wrathful protector energy in me. People often perceive me as being very gentle and soft-spoken and perhaps a "Yes" man, but in doing so they're only seeing one side of my nature. I can also be very cutting and direct and manifest a strong "No!" energy. In my understanding, it is part of the path of awakening to learn how to experience ALL of our energies, and learn how to utilize them skillfully. Sometimes, skillfully channeling our wisdom energies may look like a peaceful, smiling Buddha or an angel, but other times it may look like a scary demon or a wrathful protector who cuts through what needs to be cut through, without hesitation.

Like, BOOM! Stop it with this harmful bullsh*t, right now! And if you don't, then you're going to face the consequences. And I have a box in my hand, full of those consequences, and it's wrapped up with a bow and it has your name on it. You want to open this box? Are you feeling lucky? It's that kind of energy. 

Wise compassion isn't always syrupy sweet and gentle and passive, being a doormat and letting every harmful situation play itself out endlessly. We have a term for that in Buddhism: it's called "idiot compassion."


QUESTION:

"Thank you. This is good food for thought. I was thinking of this in relation to sports or shows. Lots of what you could consider violence going on."


RESPONSE:

Yes. It’s important to be mindful of the images of violence you consume, and be aware of how they affect your mind and your nervous system. As Ben Okri wrote, "Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world."

I really enjoy some violent movies like Kill Bill, where the violence is cartoonish, and mixed with dark humor, and it's sort of all in good fun. And each viewer, each consumer of images, is unique; I'm simply describing my own tolerance and proclivities here. "Kill Bill" does not negatively impact my mind-stream or leave me feeling nauseated afterwards. In fact, it makes me laugh and I can identify a lot with Uma Thurman's character: her ability to be 100% befuddled and vulnerable in one moment, seemingly hopeless, and then to bounce back in the next moment with a fierceness and a furious commitment to what she perceives as justice.




I DO NOT enjoy movies like the “Hostel” or “Saw" franchises or any of their ilk, which are basically fictionalized snuff films where the violence is pornographic, and you just watch psychopathic people killing and torturing other people because they enjoy watching them suffer and die (we're sort of back to talking about Nazis again) and there’s no point in the depiction of violence other than to indulge in images of graphic violence and killing for their own sake, to derive some very morbid and sociopathic kind of titillation. Those kinds of violent films leave me feeling deeply, spiritually nauseated.  

Likewise, whenever the 45th President of the United States (and voilà! for the third time in this Q&A we are talking about Nazis who needed to be stopped) used to come on the TV screen — and thank God that doesn't happen much anymore these days — I would have to turn it off or leave the room. Or if I'm in a public space and they set the TV to Fox News — same thing. What slithers off the TV screen and into your mind from Fox News is so painfully grotesque and spiritually violent that it nauseates me. 

I boycott these violent images and discourses. They do not have permission to enter or occupy my mind-space. For me, that's part of practicing self-care, reducing the harm that would potentially be done to my mind and my heart by absorbing such hateful and belligerently ignorant rhetoric and images. It's not burying my head in the sand. It's fierce and compassionate self-protection. Ahimsa.


WHAT ABOUT YOU? 


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

An Open Letter to My Fellow White People

Dear fellow WHITE people,

Please explain why (BLACK) unarmed Breonna Taylor, a medical technician who didn’t kill anybody, was shot and killed IN HER BED by police who busted into her house on a no-knock warrant, and still no one has been charged. 

Please explain why (BLACK) unarmed George Floyd who didn’t kill anybody had a man’s knee on his neck choking him to death for almost 9 minutes even when he was saying (caught on video) “I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe.”

Please explain why HEAVILY ARMED Dylann Roof (WHITE) shot and KILLED 9 people (ALL of them BLACK) in a mass murder inside a church during Bible study, and was gently handcuffed and taken into custody. 

Please explain why Timothy McVeigh (WHITE) who KiLLED 168 people and injured 680 others in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was gently handcuffed and taken into custody. At the time of his arrest, McVeigh was ARMED with a pistol in his jacket that was visible to the arresting officer.

Please don’t pretend like you don’t understand why we keep saying BLACK LIVES MATTER. That’s dishonest of you. You know why we are saying it, you just don’t want to admit it. 



And we’re NOT saying other lives don’t matter. We're not saying BLUE lives don't matter. We're not saying WHITE lives don't matter. We’re saying there’s something really disturbing happening here in the way BLACK people are being murdered by a justice system that privileges WHITE people, and it’s been happening for a very long time. It needs to stop. 

We’re saying there is an imbalance in the way people of different colors are being treated under the law, and it needs to be addressed. 

But before a problem can be solved, it has to be SEEN for what it is. It has to be acknowledged as a PROBLEM. 

For 400+ years, BLACK people who were brought here by WHITE people have been enslaved, murdered, raped, bombed, tortured, shot, lynched, burned alive, hung in trees, dismembered for souvenirs, excluded from white communities, excluded from educational opportunities, excluded from vocational opportunities, excluded from voting (until fairly recently). And yet you don't think our American government is AT ALL in the wrong in regards to its treatment of BLACK folk? This continues today in our unequal treatment of BLACK people in the "war on drugs" (invented by the vile, impeached President Nixon as part of the "Southern strategy" for electing GOP leaders) and the evolution of the mass incarceration of BLACK people.

Once the problem is seen and acknowledged for what it is, then potential solutions can at least be discussed. But as long as a vast swath of our society willfully refuses to even acknowledge that such a problem exists, it will continue. 

And as long as it continues, so many WHITE Americans will will continue to poison themselves with ignorance, denial, and hatred. 

And so many BLACK Americans will continue to die unjustly, and disproportionately, under the law. 

That’s NOT okay with me. If it IS okay with you, I would suggest you get in a time machine and travel back to 1939, and live in Hitler’s Germany, because that’s where your HEART belongs.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Gradual vs. Sudden Awakening



Almost 20 years after embarking on an earnest spiritual path of meditation and study of Buddhism and other philosophies and approaches to awakening, I’m discovering (okay....I’m a late bloomer) that the old Buddhist debate about gradual awakening or sudden awakening is a big red herring and sort of pointless to debate. The path is both gradual AND sudden.

I’ve been through stretches in my life and my meditation practice (sometimes these stretches can last for years) when it seems like the practice is not really having much impact, and I’m not really growing very much in spiritual terms. Progress towards the ever-elusive goal of awakening, if it’s noticed at all, is measured in small amounts. And it seems like the obstacles encountered along the way and the hot messes and tragicomic dramas in my life are all bigger than any progress that might’ve been made on the path.

But I’ve also been through times in my life and my meditation practice (and these times can be like the 5-day silent meditation retreat I did around my birthday at the start of 2020, or the 14 weeks I spent enclosed in intensive silent retreat and teachings with Pema Chödrön when I  was a monk for two years at her monastery from 2009 to 2011, or they can be like a week or a day or a single instant when you turn a corner and the unexpected is suddenly right there in front of you) when suddenly the energy of life surges forward unexpectedly in a great leap, and in a single moment you feel the huge momentum behind your meditation practice and your dedication to it pushing everything forward so rapidly that it takes you by surprise. You can observe meaningful changes happening rapidly within you and all around you, in your heart and in your mind, in your world and your sphere of influence. Suddenly all these things feel aligned in the same direction, and a jump forward happens.

It may or may not be THE jump forward, like the fabled one the Buddha suddenly experienced the night that (as legends tell us) he sat beneath a bodhi tree and shot forward like a bolt of lightning through all of the many stages of awakening, and by the following morning he was Enlightened with a capital “E” — fully awakened, fully realized, all his personal obstacles and hang-ups and the psychological shadow material that every human being lives and struggles with, suddenly left behind in their entirety, with no remnant of the life that came before except his consciousness and his body and his memories. But now suddenly omniscient, suddenly fully awake, suddenly at one with all of existence, suddenly free of any psychological or spiritual limitations, suddenly all-knowing, suddenly thrust forward into a moment of awakening that actually has no end. Sudden awakening. Complete awakening. Permanent awakening.

That overnight, cosmic, metaphysical leap forward — into a permanent oneness with the very highest mode of consciousness possible for any sentient being — is not something that I've experienced.

But what I HAVE experienced are the smaller quantum jumps forward. The “Aha!” moments on the spiritual path when you do see sudden progress happening, and you recognize that it’s happening suddenly. Who knows, maybe it's because of all the practice you did in years past that you can experience this little forward leap in this moment of your life. And even if this forward leap turns out to have been a small one when you reflect back on it next week, next month, next year, next decade, next lifetime, that forward leap FEELS big when you're experiencing it. It enables you to see, to know that sudden awakening does happen.

So it's not THE sudden awakening — the big cosmic, transcendent, earth-shaking kind like the Buddha’s, with angels trumpeting in the sky and forest animals frolicking in the dewy grass to celebrate the glory of your divine achievement — but, still, it’s something. Something big (or small) has happened, is happening. And it’s happening....suddenly.

The old debate about gradual vs. sudden paths to awakening is a bust.

It’s gradual. AND it’s sudden. It’s both. It was always this way, you just didn’t know it.

But (suddenly) you know it.


Hunter
February 4, 2020

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Way

by Dennis Hunter
January 7, 2020
San Carlos Retreat Center
Delray Beach, Florida


"The Way"

The way the hummingbird seeks out
the color red, tasting the nectar
of flowers, its tiny heart beating
twelve hundred times per minute.
The way the green grass feels
on the soles of your naked feet.
The way the spider's web is built
of filaments almost too fine to see,
the shocking symmetry
of its architecture, the way
it bends and stretches, holding
to the branches as it twists
in the breeze: its strength
arising from its flexibility.
The way the sound of the water
flowing from the shower head
changes pitch when
the water becomes warm.
The way the warm water soothes
your naked and fragile body.
The way water, softest substance
on earth, also carves valleys
in the stone, eroding mountains
and reshaping the beaten earth.
The way the seed dropped by the tree
carries inside the genetic code, the DNA
for creating a whole new tree.
The way the code remains locked
inside the seed, until the seed
is convinced to extend roots
down into the beaten earth,
and offered water and sun from above.
The way the new tree will bear red flowers,
seducing the local hummingbirds just as its
ancestors have always done.




Friday, January 10, 2020

On How to Be

by Dennis Hunter
January 5, 2020


Be like the water of the lake:
Calm and steady, but fluid,
reflecting the clear sky above.
Let the cool morning breeze make ripples
Across your surface and pleasant goosebumps on your skin.
Watch the ripples come and go
without disturbing the nature of the water.
You do not need to climb down in the lake
with the alligator and the catfish,
and try to smooth out the water's wrinkles
with your hands, like a bed sheet.
Be like the sky above,
clear and bright and open,
the low Florida sun beaming across it,
warming your bones and reflecting
on facets of the rippling water like glittering jewels,
inviting the trees and the grass to stand up straighter,
to reach higher, towards the life-giving light.
Here, there, a cloud dots the sky, lingering,
passing across the open expanse.
The sky doesn't mind.
You do not need to stand up
and wave your arms at the clouds,
gesticulating like a madman, trying
to chase them away.
Only stay. The way the lake stays,
ripples not disturbing its deeper stillness.
Only stay. The way the sky stays,
holding space for clouds to come and go.
Only stay, the way the sun stays,
bringing light and life to each part
of the turning world, this part then that part,
each corner waking and sleeping, sleeping then waking again.
Each new day that breaks is an invitation
to root down in stillness like the water
and to stretch open in welcoming like the sky,
to both root down and stretch open like the trees and grass.
But look, now. You stood up too fast,
and startled the catfish
in the muddy shallows at the water's edge,
where she had come, like you,
to warm her scales and blood
in the morning sun.



Wednesday, January 8, 2020

How Are Your Alligators Doing?

I've just returned from a 5-day silent meditation retreat, and I want to share the first meditation instruction I received when I arrived at the retreat center, before the retreat even began. This sage advice was posted on several signs surrounding the lake behind the retreat center: 

"Do not molest or feed the alligators." I never saw an alligator while I was there, but it's practical advice, given that we are in south Florida. This is gator country.

As the lessons of this retreat rippled within me, I realized that this pragmatic warning is also a teaching. The theme of our retreat was the Five Hindrances — the five cognitive and emotional blockages that, according to the Buddha, keep us from being fully mindful and present, both on the cushion and in our lives:

  1. Sense Desires (the attachment and craving that arise from them — the grasping state of mind)
  2. Ill-will (aversion and anger — the pushing-away state of mind)
  3. Sloth and Torpor (the dull, murky state of mind, like falling asleep or being in a fog)
  4. Restlessness (agitation, anxiety, and the worried, fidgeting mind)
  5. Doubt (the confused, hesitant state of mind that doesn't know which way to go)

These Five Hindrances are the alligators in our minds: the creatures that attack from the dark depths of our unconscious, thwarting our practice, upsetting our lives, holding us trapped in their powerful jaws. When these alligators attack, there is nowhere to run and no way to escape, because the alligators are us. At times it can feel like we are under assault by all five alligators at once, the hindrances in our minds confounding us from every direction. We joked during the retreat (during the times we weren't in silence) about "multiple hindrance attacks," but our laughter was a way to diffuse the tension of recognizing how often we all fall under the spell of the hindrances, and how much suffering they cause for us in our relationships and our lives.

"Don't molest or feed the alligators" is good advice. We are the ones who molest our own minds with the Five Hindrances, and our afflictive emotions only have as much energy as we feed to them. 

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this advice is not of much practical value when we find ourselves under attack by the alligators in our minds.

Here's the thing about alligators, though. Their ghastly jaws are fearsome and strong when they chomp down on their prey. But the opposing muscles of their jaws, the ones that open the mouth, are quite weak. The powerful jaws of the alligator can be held shut with a simple rope or elastic band.

That rope or elastic band is our meditation practice. To the extent that we are able to be mindful and stay present with our experience and fully open ourselves to its energy — even if it's painful and chaotic, or perhaps especially if it's painful and chaotic, because life so often is — letting go of the storylines and drama that we habitually attach to our experience, then we are able to at least partially subdue the alligator's attack by binding its jaws. 

I came back from silent retreat to the news of Iran launching ballistic missiles into Iraq, attacking U.S. bases, and the devastating earthquakes in Puerto Rico, already afflicted so much by the hurricane two years ago. The president is being impeached, while at the same time instigating *another* war in the Middle East by ordering the assassination of one of Iran's top generals. This world we live in is angry and confused, full of sloth and ill-will and worry and agitation — ravaged and devastated, in other words, by the Five Hindrances.

When Thich Nhat Hanh was fleeing Vietnam, he said that the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats would sometimes encounter storms or pirates on the journey to safety. During these crises, everyone would start to freak out and panic. But he said that if just one person on the boat could stay calm and centered, not freaking out, it could diffuse the panic and, as he stated, "show the way to survive."

I am that person on the boat. If you've read this far, *you* are that person on the boat, too. It's up to us to bring the mindfulness and compassion we cultivate in our practice into this aching, burning world of pain, and offer it to those around us, showing the way to survive. Each of us who lives with conscience in this suffering world bears a huge responsibility. This is the world we are in. This is the world that needs the healing gifts each of us can bring. 

As one of the teachers at the retreat, Piero Falci, kept reminding us, "This moment is the first moment of the rest of your life." What are you going to do with this precious moment? And this one? And this one? And this one? And this one?