Print: Mayumi Oda, Samatabhadra

Someone takes you skydiving as a birthday gift. You learn all the safety procedures, but just after you jump you discover that you have your backpack instead of your parachute. What do you do?

~Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

Fundamentally, we know in Zen, that the universe is deeply at play, and that the scenery, no matter what it holds, is stunning, and splendid. The above koan is a dilemma koan, and like most koans, the answer is in the question. It simply is in the free falling.

Our world community has most often responded to the current COVID crisis with action, selflessness and bravery. Yet at times, I can’t help but feel that that community is also in a free fall, with no answers for all our questions. Salvation and safety lay in herd immunity, requiring at least 60% of the population to develop active antibodies to ward off the virus. But no one, including the experts, seems sure of how we will get there. Should we adopt the Swedish model: expose our strongest, the young, to build up a protective barrier for the weakest, the old and sick? Or should we hunker down and allow the in-rolling waves of contagion to break over us until one of a dozen, or so, leading vaccine trials moves forward? Normal-way development times for a vaccine are about 16 years, according to the New York Times. A best-case scenario for a COVID vaccine would provide for mass inoculation by about August 2021. Free falling.

Recently, I was appreciating this koan with a friend and he recalled a scene from the 1980s movies, The Gods Must Be Crazy, a story that begins with a Kalahari bushman who finds an empty Coke bottle dropped from an airplane. He takes the bottle back to his village, thinking it a gift from the gods, but it creates discord and strife, so he vows to go to the edge of the world to dispose of it. In one of the scenes, a hostage is blindfolded, taken up into a helicopter, and threatened with being shoved out the door unless he gives up some critical information. The hostage refuses to cooperate, so he is kicked out the helicopter door, screaming. He free falls, hits the ground, but survives, because the chopper is hovering only a few feet up in the air. “We can’t know how far we will fall in our lives,” my koan friend said. “It is just – ah, ah, ah – what a view!” Falling and flying.

Please see this Jeff Bridges clip of his song Fallin’ & Flyin’, from the movie Crazy Heart (2009).


I was goin’ where I shouldn’t go/ Seein’ who I shouldn’t see

Doin’ what I shouldn’t do/ Bein’ who I shouldn’t be

A little voice told me it’s all wrong/ Another voice told me it’s all right

I used to think that I was strong/ But lately I just lost the


It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/ For a little while

Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/ For a little while

I got tired of bein’ good/ And started missin’ that old feelin’ free

Stopped actin’ like I thought I should/ And went on back to bein’ me

I never meant to hurt no one/ I just had to have my way

If there is such a thing as too much fun/ This must be the price you pay

It’s funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/ For a little while

Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’/ For a little while

Check your backpack. There might be a candy bar in there.