When Zen Meets Covid

By Christopher Keevil

We are here with Covid, and it is here with us. 

I have met Covid. 

My sister, a nurse for newborns, stayed home, and suffered for weeks. I could hear her coughing on the phone. She got better. Back at her work in the hospital, they moved her to staff a makeshift ICU with overflow Covid patients. “I am so tired,” she told me.

My sister-in-law caught it from her 20-year-old son. He was fine. She struggled. “I felt completely powerless,” she said. “It had a deep, deep grip on me.” Now, the effects linger, but she laughs as we make small talk during our monthly family video calls.

“Covid is getting closer,” a friend told me the other day. “The husband of our past company President died last week. He went into the hospital, and three days later he was gone.” We sit in silence for a few moments during our video call together. “I’m so sorry,” I say. 

I have practiced Zen for thirty years. What does it bring now?

It lays bare the sorrow, not easy to handle—a great swirl of sorrow over our country, over the world. Heartbreaking.

It illuminates the fear: fear of sickness, fear of loss, fear of our government, fear of those who fear the government, fear of “what will happen to us now?”

It highlights the compassion: cheering for healthcare workers, food deliveries for the homebound, more words of kindness at the checkout line.

It reflects love arising: days on end with family, more time to listen, and growth in the inner world. 

Zen has nothing to change. It invites me to sit face-forward with all things, as they are. Change is always happening, of its own accord. Each thing arises and passes away. This breath comes, and then it goes. This year finishes, and a new one arrives. This Covid rises, and it will subside. 

How defeatist! 

But is it?

With still, present awareness, a miracle emerges. The remarkable miracle of just this—before words and thoughts, before joys and sorrows. 

To know this miracle, it can be found in stillness, in the quiet, still center in me, in all of us. Rest in the vast miracle of just this arising. 

And from this comes action. Action that is right: listening and encouragement to my sister, attentiveness to the family zoom gatherings and the good hearts gathered, going for a Covid test so as to reassure others, calming a friend who sees our government as Stalin. 

A great heart of compassion grows, reaches out, and gives succor. The energy is powerful, and not personal. I don’t own it. But if I rest in that quiet, still center and receive the miracle, I can offer it to others. 

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Christopher Keevil is an ordained Zen teacher in the lineage of his teacher, Zen Master Bo Mun. His book Finding Zen in the Ordinary: Stories and Reflections will be available after March 1 on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble and wherever books are sold, or visit www.johnhuntpublishing.com for more information.

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