Dear Sangha,

Staying Connected While in Isolation. It’s Wednesday. Typically, I would be thinking, researching, writing, and otherwise preparing for our Wednesday evening discussion and meditation service. There is no service this evening as a result of isolation due to COVID-19 . As notified last weekend we will not be meeting for the remainder of March. While we were thinking of having a modified service for the next month or so, we must rethink that in light of more recent information. We, other sangha members and I, are working on a virtual substitute for gathering together. This would use teleconferencing media. More about that later.

When I woke this morning, my thoughts were taken back to 9/11. That morning shortly after the attack I was driving down the picturesque West Center Road toward Bard College at Simon’s Rock on my way to teaching for the day. The image of the airliners crashing into the Twin Towers kept repeating over and over in my mind. Remember we did not know, is there more to come, is this just the beginning of a horrible new chapter of asymmetrical warfare that might visit us everywhere? The sheep pastures and neat well maintained houses of the New England countryside were such a contrast to the carnage rolling over in my mind. Could I imagine aircraft crashing in these fields, is martial law going to be the norm, what is going to happen?

Later that morning, and for the rest of the day, I tossed out my class plans. Rather, I tried to reassure students, listen to their fears,  even though I did not feel very assured myself. It was necessary to ‘Stay calm and carry on.’

The current crisis is very different in the sense that the danger is not from an aggressor that we will fight off with military or other forces. It is a novel disease that must be met by planning on a national and state-by-state basis. We know the enemy, though we don’t know many important characteristics of the disease, for instance when does an asymptomatic person with COVID-19 become contagious.

Another big difference between the 9/11 tragedy and this is that in the days that followed that Tuesday in September 19 years ago we gathered for mutual support. We reassured each other, shared stories of our losses and experiences, our anxieties and we felt a shared sense of grief. During this occasion we must voluntarily isolate. We can’t gather in person. We don’t have that same sense of sharing, that sense of solidarity. That is a large part of what makes us a sangha, that makes us human.

To be sure no one knows with any certainty the course this pathogen will take and the ways in which we must respond. We will know more in two weeks, and even more in a month. Though it is surely going to get worse before it gets better. The best information is that the peak of the cases will likely be in about 45 days. There is always the possibility that this disease will be one that reoccurs virulently after a period of relative inactivity. The pandemic of 1918 followed such a pattern. We may nail it and what seems like draconian measures may pay big dividends. In the meantime, we are looking at the anniversary event in June that is planned and we wonder if we will be able to hold it at that time. Maybe we will need to postpone until later in the year or next year.

What we do know for a fact is that we as a sangha will stand together in this time of distress. We will assist anyone who needs help, both in the sangha and in the community at large. We must be follow the bodhisattva path now more than ever. Please consider doing the daily service this evening, then sit meditation this evening with the Four Brahma Vihara: Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. Contemplate sending these four qualities to our loved ones, our neighbors, and our leaders, locally and nationally. Finish by sending an email to someone you know is alone and offering them encouragement.

In the next few days we will have established teleconferencing capabilities and we will be able to hold our classes, discussions, and even our meditation service through teleconferencing. Please do not hesitate to contact me to stay in touch and if needed ask for assistance. That is what a sangha does for each other.

Love and gassho . . . Monshin