Three Downs to be Up for These Times
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Three “downs” to be up for these times

Ginny Whitelaw talks about the revelations of our tumultuous times and shares ways to be “up” for the tasks at handJuly 2020

“Without inner change there can be no outer change, without collective change, no change matters.“ Rev. angel Kyodo williams

It’s all unraveling. Pull on the thread of racism, and you get the same exploitative mindset that is heating up the earth. You see how poverty and white privilege work together to polarize access to education, wellness and wealth. You see how not talking about racism perpetuates it, how not talking about the profit motive in healthcare cements it, and how not talking about ecological collapse contributes to it. You see how not talking prevents collective action.

What’s trickier is that we can retreat in any moment to not seeing, not talking, and certainly not acting, as our attention gets riveted by the busy-ness of our day, trying to keep ourselves, our families, patients, and colleagues safe and strong. Our conscious awareness takes but a tiny sample of what’s going on to fill our mind with the grist it will mill into reality. Filled by our habits of attention, our daily routines and to-do lists, our outrage at the latest tweet and opinions about the opinion-makers, we may have scant mindshare for a radical rethink of what is going on.

Until now. Many have said that Covid-19 has held an X-Ray up to society and we are seeing its brokenness in ways we didn’t see before. So much has been upended and exposed we are afforded a new view of the whole circus. As you may know, we recently ran a webinar series on Resonating a Better World to talk about these issues, and how Zen and Zen leadership can help us face into them. I’m grateful to my IZL colleagues for how rich and generative these sessions were. Yet it would be a mistake to say we tied a ribbon around any of these matters. Indeed, resonating with this time has filled my own body with feelings of heartbreak, inadequacy, shame, anger, determination, and love. An emotional fruit salad. Three reminders have guided me and I share them with you in the hopes that they help you co-create with this time and contribute to the healing that can come through you.

Slow down. Give space for listening. Even though I’ve been busy writing and re-vamping everything we teach at IZL, without all the travel and moving about, the pacing of my day feels slower. I’ve had time to read books, watch videos, and feel into the Zeitgeist. Like tuning into a radio channel that was once out of range, once I hear it I wonder, has this always been playing and I just ignored it? Pretty much. Nothing like perpetual busy-ness to keep old habits, old systems in place.

Writing the book, Resonate, reminded me that our capacity to act is directly tied to our capacity to sense; that sensing brings energy into our conscious awareness. Slow down and give space for taking in energy and we have a chance to resonate with what is ours to work with.

Take down. Take down the walls of othering, of dualism. Take down the barriers you might think keep you safe or in control, but in fact cut you off from your whole self and reinforce the delusion of a separate self. When you turn away from difficult conversations about racism or wicked issues like inequities in healthcare (because there’s nothing you can do, this has always been with us, these systems are so entrenched…and on and on the rational mind chatters) notice in yourself what retreats to comfort? What feels safer by staying on its side of a barrier?  

Zazen is excellent practice for unflinchingly facing into our delusion of separateness. It cultivates a warrior spirit – not a retreat from but a facing into what is. Radical Dharma describes this spirit of training in angel Kyodo william’s dojo in a way that is deeply resonant with our own: “In order to embody the practice of sitting meditation as if I were on the edge of a battlefield awaiting my cue to combat rather than atop a mountain in the clouds, I had to come to see what all I feared to face in my practice, in myself.”

Take down the illusion of separateness and we act attuned to the Way: one-with the whole picture.

Drop down. Drop down into your hara. Drop down into deep and slow hara breathing*. Let the suffering of what is drop clearly through your body; give it back to the earth. Don’t try to fix or figure it all out in your head and shoulders – it doesn’t solve that way. Rather, drop into your hara and feel the connectedness with what is, catch the vibe, and let it naturally move you. Into combat. Into the dance. Into an outward expression of your inner healing.

* If you’re not sure how to find, set or breathe into your hara, learn how in this 3-minute video on One Breath. This is the first of 12 companion videos to the book, Resonate, all of which will be available on in coming weeks.  To learn more about hara development, see also

Racial Justice Summit by YWCA Madison, allied organization

Our friends at the YWCA Madison have invited our members to deepen learning, practice and community around racial justice.  This year’s Racial Justice Summit Sep 29, 30 and October 1 will be building on the theme of Reconstruction Period: Centering Blackness, they are shaping a mostly virtual gathering place for deep learning, practice, vision casting, and movement building for transformational justice together with featured keynotes: Alicia Walters from the Black Thought Project, Winona LaDuke from Honor the Earth, dr. john a. powell from the Othering and Belonging Institute, author Charlene Carruthers and Rev. angel Kyodo williams, as well as guest facilitators, artists and more. Stay tuned for updates and registration opening at the end of July.

Welcome to the virtual Dojo

Chosei Zen recently created a new Virtual Dojo, headed by Rev. Heather Meikyo Scobie. Born out of necessity during COVID-19, the group is learning how online Zen training can be used most effectively. The Virtual Dojo is envisioned to complement in-person training and broaden outreach beyond the pandemic.

In addition to Daily Zazen (7am and 7am CDT, 7 days a week), a schedule of webinars, online zazenkai (1-2 days intensive training), and keishin (4-7 days online intensive training) is being developed. Please provide input on what you’d like to see offered through a quick (5 min) survey.

Please note that the Introduction to Zazen class is now being held at a new time, 9:00 – 10:30 am Sundays, CDT. You’ll be able to find the latest information and schedule of upcoming events on the new website. All are welcome!

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