“Breathing in, I know I am breathing in, Breathing out, I know I am breathing out,”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
After a week of real spring on the mountain—weather so warm it melted the two-foot drifts in the yard and opened the path through the woods where I hike with River in the summer, drying the six inches of mud gumming up the road—a mild, late-season snow settled in overnight and threatened my potted herbs and flowers. Last week, I was sitting outside in the sun, reading books in the hammock, clearing garden beds, raking and planting seeds, wandering the woods with my dog. I’d even bought plants for pots on the deck while there were plants still to be had among the suddenly garden-crazed inhabitants of the Front Range—all champing to do something during quarantine. And now snow.
My first thought at first light was to get the hummingbird feeders out and up. It was 32 degrees and the snow wasn’t deep, but I love hummingbirds as I love all things wild—ardently, unreasonably, and with buckets of joy and the full muscle of my heart. My sister recently confessed she’d discovered an orphaned bunny in her yard that she had been feeding flowers and leaves—things it seemed to like to eat. Then she sheepishly confessed she’d ordered rabbit food online.
“Call me, when you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the bunny,” I said thinking about the sleepless nights I’ve spent pondering the fate animals I’ve encountered. Not just my dog who has a tendency to vomit at 4am, but the pair of foxes who went missing just after my neighbor called to say something had slaughtered his chickens and he was setting traps, or the bat I fished from the fireplace and carefully placed in the darkest spot beneath the deck.
The snow turned out to be a mostly wet event that now drips from the fingers of pines and the hopeful green-lit tips of aspens in the morning sun. Hummingbirds happily crowded the feeder closest to the house and so, settled into the details the morning has to offer, I go about another day practicing staying at home.
Just as I have a writing practice, a yoga practice, a meditation practice, in the time of Coronavirus, I have a stay at home practice. I’ve written at length about how my daily writing practice, which begins each morning with the details of weather and birds, has enlarged my life. In observing and writing down what I see, gathering the details of the day like laundry from a line, I root in one moment and the next, in the day and then in the place around me. Each day has it own imperative, its unique constellation of stars. Over decades of doing this one thing each day, my mind has learned to orient itself toward wonder. Not only at the beauty I see, but at my ability to simply see, to witness. Curiosity makes me feel more buoyant; my capacity for ebullience is increased.
This is no small thing, particularly for me, the woman who is forever anticipating the killing blow, who loses sleep about the worst-case scenario, has been having a parade of Covid-inspired dreams for weeks, and often lives in a half-crouch ready to respond with fists or fighting words, whose first response is always, “no.” It’s far too easy to follow the minefield of negative thoughts riding the ticker-tape in my brain—what I don’t want, don’t like, can’t stand, what I am afraid of. Instead, paying attention—both the practice and the act of it—creates distance between me and my shit-colored glasses and lets a little joy in.
As a result of seeing staying at home as a practice, I appreciate it right now in ways I never imagined, which is different from loving it. Appreciation means my mind turns more easily to count what I have instead of what I don’t have: I have a safe place, my bills are paid, I have silence enough to write and think and read and can locate myself in a community of dirt and sky with wild creatures in between. Whereas loving implies pleasure and a pleasurable response, appreciate means seeing it for what it is.
Right now, it might just be a life saver.
At this moment in history we must all create a home practice. It can take any form of doing—baking, gardening, reading more; new paint on the walls, rearranging furniture, a new creative endeavor—or not doing–making a mental list of the ways in which home is holding you right now in these perilous times, sitting and staring out the window or doing porch or star gazing. We must cultivate an appreciation for the place we’ve chosen to lay our heads at night. In doing so we might discover a rich and certainly deeper experience.
In my meditation practice, I repeat a mantra silently for 20 minutes each day. Some days, my brain runs rough shod over the practice as I worry about X or Y or plan my day and what’s for dinner and before I know it, I’ve been dragged down a dirt road behind the buggy of my thinking mind. Other days, the mantra carries me to a place of no thought at all, a place where the world enlarges. What I’ve learned is not to prefer one over the other, to realize it’s not the destination, but the practice that is important. The practice tills the field and makes the ground fertile, then its plants seeds and waters them and I don’t have to do a thing but keep practicing.
The late Ram Dass most famously said: Be Here Now. In the age of Coronavirus, I think he might have amended his slogan to Be Home Now.
That means be present with what is. It can be fear, joy, boredom, relief, happiness. Just stay with it. One real way to practice this is to stay at home. I can’t help but think all the going out that is going on right now is simply a way to distract ourselves from our very real very human responses to the pandemic. To make a display of how put out we’ve been by the sacrifice we’ve been asked to make to keep ourselves healthy and others alive.
What would happen if stopped the practice of seeking pleasure out there? We might discover a rich and deeper experience in here.
If you ask me, I’d say the pandemic is an opportunity for a sea change in the way we live our lives. Let it begin at home.