Chao-Chou asked Nan-chuan, “What is the Way?” Nan-chuan replied, “Ordinary Way is the Mind.”
~ The Gateless Barrier, Case 19, paraphrased
“These are extraordinary times.” I have heard and read that line time and again over the last several weeks regarding the Corona virus pandemic. Certainly, they are not easy times. But perhaps these are not extraordinary times, either. Perhaps right here and right now is the ordinary way. How do we deal with our ordinary life? Chiao-Chou was also asked, “When great difficulties come upon us, how do we avoid them?” He responded, “Welcome.”
In my three decades as a financial analyst, I have experienced four stock market crashes that were called “the biggest since the Great Depression.” It was only five or six years ago that a well-regarded professor at U.C. Berkeley, after several years of almost no rain in California, declared a 500-year drought. In each of the last three fire seasons, California has experienced historically unprecedented destruction: in 2017 the Tubbs fire destroyed 5,600 structures in Sonoma and Napa counties; a few months later, the Thomas Fire burned an area four times greater in Santa Barbara county, and then the debris flows came; the next year the Camp Fire in Paradise eclipsed them all in damage and death; and then last year the Mendocino Complex set a new record, followed by the Kincade Fire, which swept over our ranch, destroying most of the neighbors’ homes. Fires in Australia, ice melting in Antarctica. No, these are not extraordinary times. These are ordinary times.
Perhaps what has most impressed me about these ordinary times is how life continues to greet us. It finds a way. In this warm spring, my new potato, onion and garlic starts are pushing through the soil dampened by much needed spring rains. The squirrels seem to know little of COVID-19 social distancing.
We developed a family plan to shelter together against the Corona virus. We would bring our two children back to our house and spend some weeks here, if necessary, all together and safe. I looked forward to gardening and baking with my girls. And then one daughter, a senior in a Los Angeles college, took part in a mock graduation ceremony put on by the seniors. In her judgement, she hugged too many people, which may have heightened her risk in catching the virus, she felt, so she decided to self-quarantine elsewhere.
And then my other daughter, who entered a new and deep love relationship two months ago, decided to spend this dangerous time living with her friend. I too, was in my early 20s, when a close family tragedy ushered me into the arms of a new love, as the craziness of the outside world raged with the Iranian hostage crisis and the Jonestown mass suicide. We found shelter in each other, and it was wonderful. As concerned as I am for my daughter, how could I refuse her that experience? A short while ago, she drove off in our old-pickup truck, entering a new life.
So, in these ordinary times, life will continue to find a way. And we should welcome that.
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