“A fierce wind blew the ship off course and set it drifting toward the land of the demons.”

~ Entangling Vines, Case 42

For obvious reasons, this has been a popular koan in Zen circles of late: frightening winds, a sense of lost bearings, of drifting helplessly toward danger. All of those feelings have visited my life in recent weeks and months. But rather than struggling to beat up upwind, perhaps we should turn about, unfurl our mainsail and head directly to the land of demons. We cannot know what lies on that shore, but if we approach with it courage and openness, and a kind of expansiveness, perhaps we will find our way once more.

I have an Iranian friend who decades ago came to this country to attend college, stayed, became a successful engineer and raised a wonderful family in Silicon Valley. He is the epitome of the suburban soccer dad. Yet stirred by the recent ban on immigrants from seven Muslim states, he spontaneously went to the airport to protest. The people he found there ~ from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds ~ moved him deeply. “I was truly amazed at how warm and supportive people were,” he said. He had charted a course ~ while remaining open and expansive~ for the unknown, and he found his way.

In talking with my Zen friends, it seems to me openness and expansiveness ~ of a kind of greater than words ~ are the qualities that our practice can bring to these times. That actually is the point of this koan, which is about a government official who becomes angry because the teacher would not tell him the answer to the koan. His anger was the narrow and small, and in the end showed him his demons. Let’s go meet the demons ~ including our own ~ on that approaching coast and with our openness and courage, perhaps we can make it ashore safely.