For a year, I have contemplated and practiced living in the gap between urgency and timelessness, between the urges to hurry and inner calls to slow down and breathe. Life is short and I do not want to squander it. But in order to not squander, I need to keep my eyes on what really matters. The practice asks me to unflinchingly bear witness to the reality of the world as it is.
Sometimes the world I saw was terrifying, at other times, poignant: the ecological crises; a bitter partisan schism; a growing intimacy with my daughter diagnosed with aggressive cancer; an awareness of my own aging body and deaths of friends.
- The world was the news of wildfire raging in California, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia. The cities, mountains, and jungles burned at a rate never seen before.
- The world was NASA’s report that Greenland has lost nearly four trillion tons of ice since 1992. The earth is scorching and flooding without time to recover.
- The world was another Black man killed by white police, 865th in the year 2019.
- The world was missing and murdered Indigenous women.
- The world was asylum-seeking families separated at the U.S.-Mexico borders.
- The world was waking up to the news image of drowned Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 2-year-old Valeria by the bank of Rio Grande, trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas, the daughter’s arm wrapped tight around her father’s brown shoulder as they floated face down.
I feel profound grief that seems hardly containable in this one human body.
In bearing witness, my body shakes and limbs jitter. The body wants to release this energy of fear and concern. Do something, it says. The threat to the integrity of the bodies — our individual body, the collective body of our humanity, the body of the earth and the ocean — fills me with a sense of urgency. Unless we do something, things will get worse.
The fears lodge as trauma in the body. The clock seems to tick, tick, tick, towards irreparable destruction. My heart beats like a rabbit in fright.
To the rising instinct of fight, flee, or freeze, I resist. I must get grounded like the tortoise. I bring my attention to the breath. The inhale swells my chest. Space expands in my body. Exhaling, the inner space meets and resonates with the outer space.
Dainin Katagiri Roshi, the late founder of Minnesota Zen Center, wrote, “In the realm of time, everything exists separately from everything else. In the realm of space, all beings are all interconnected. We are interrelating and interpenetrating each other from moment to moment.”
Once I encountered a maple tree whose black trunk glistened in the misty rain. Its ten thousand branches reached up to the sky with green shades of fluttering leaves. The wind touched the limbs of the tree, and mine. An invisible force made itself known. My breath deepened. The maple exhaled. I inhaled her. The magnificent tree in the breeze restored my singed heart.
After not speaking with my father for twenty some years, he called from the other side of the continent. I heard his voice say, “I made mistakes. Please forgive me. I love you and cherish you.” At 92 years old, blind, he saw the light. “I…, I…,” he stammered, weeping, “I can … just be myself now.”
His pensive effort at self-acceptance led to the utterance of love for his daughter. In that moment, we reflected the sun in each other’s hearts. It took a lifetime, but as Katagiri reminds us, there is connection moment to moment.
It was inconceivable that my father and I could meet eye to eye, voice to voice. He abandoned me most of my life. He claimed me as his daughter 70 years after my birth
What was torn asunder, mended, became the fullness and goodness of being alive.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist declares, “There is hope. I have seen it. The people who have been unaware are now starting to wake up, and once we become aware, we change. That is the hope.”
Hearing her youthful determination, I heal some more. The sharp edges of terrifying images fade.
More stories of courage and beauty come. I bear witness to moments of indescribable grace. In such space, ticking time stop pressing. I touch things that can’t be destroyed. Ever. Not by fire or flood, not by hatred or despair. I sleep better at night. In the morning, I wake with energy to do this day’s small work of love and justice.
Kyoko Katayama is the featured writer for Wisdom Ways 2020 spring publication. Find the full version of her excerpt there.
Tapestry — Annie Hejny: In Nature
Ecosystem — Silent Spring: Ecology and Economics
Health & Healing — Kyoko Katayama: Urgency and Timelessness
Art of Living — Beaudelaine Pierre: La Régle des Trois Unités
Perspective — Siena Iwasaki Milbauer: This is Personal
Action = Change — SeeDo: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day
WomensPress.com — Stories You Might Have Missed
Cover Artwork: “Growing Community,” 48’ x 60’, Alison Price, alisonpricestudios.com