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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 51 feelings of a terrified five-year-old boy and learned to console him and provide him with a new sense of security. I rekindled my studies in the Pali Canon and sought out retreats with monks who seemed to embody the kindness and balance I so desperately needed. I stumbled across the Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, then start- ing the New York chapter of Dharma Punx, and I attended every class, barraging him with questions and objections, while he remained unruffled and accommodating. Slowly, I stopped seeking the shelter of external distractions and turned toward the despairing, self-loathing thoughts. Eventually I could sit and ask myself, “What does it feel like to be rejected? To feel unloved?” I’d watch an array of sensations and memories arise and, though the trem- bling in my stomach felt like it might take over my entire being, I found that my mind was always a little larger than the feeling. I wasn’t as vulnerable as I feared. I prac- ticed an unconditional form of compassion that could greet any inner demon that arose, no matter how ugly and intrusive. With Kathy and a couple of friends, I started a meeting group that focused on real-life challenges and solutions, rather than stifling evangelism. I sought out new, wise friends who could listen to suffering without trying to dismissively solve it. Meetings are still very much a part of my recovery, even after more than seventeen years of continuous sobriety, but I con- sider my Buddhist practice and community to be the founda- tion of what sanity I can claim for myself today. I never think of myself as “cured” or “entirely free” of depression or the possibility of panic attacks and disabling anxiety. Rather than avoid these experiences in my dharma talks, I discuss them whenever appropriate, as the fear of remission diminishes when it’s addressed in a supportive environment. And, similarly to my alcoholism and addic- tion, I view depression and anxiety as the inevitable results of a consciousness that doesn’t take time to turn inward and listen to what needs acceptance. My sanity, like my sobriety, is a daily reprieve born of effort and diligence, rather than a birthright. And, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. JOSH KORDA has been the teacher at New York Dharma Punx since 2005. He has also taught at New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and New York Insight Meditation Center. The Gift of Connection It was just a pitiful privet hedge in the front yard of a house in the suburbs. But it saved MARGARET ROACH from darkness. “BE UP, BE DOING” was how my mother began each morning, calling us from our twin beds. It was apparently an adaptation of a line from Longfellow, one not so different from her own mother’s daily invocation that I still hear echoing in my mind’s ear, too, even now: “Busy hands are happy hands,” Grandma Marion used to say. I was in my mid-twenties when my mother stopped reciting her version of matins, or doing much of anything unsupervised. Early onset Alzheimer’s was the fate of the young widow, barely fifty years old, and so began a period of great difficulty for our tiny family. “Come home, something’s wrong with Mommy,” my sister said in a call to California, where I was living. I packed up and reset- tled in the East, in my childhood home, precisely, to puzzle out what we—my sister and I, for there were no other relatives left, no “grown-ups” to rely upon—should do. Nothing could change the facts, nor the outcome, and so our efforts were mostly aimed at compassion and understanding. But such situ- ations often take more victims than merely the identified patient, and that was one place where we could maybe, just maybe, beat the odds. Tethered more days than not close to home, I craved distraction or some personal occupational therapy, and took to reading books on gardening, a subject I knew nothing about. If not for the pitiful privet hedge that ringed the suburban house’s front yard, I suspect I would have fallen all the way into darkness, too. Instead, spurred onward by the same locomotive mantra as my female forebears and suddenly PHOTOBYGIANNALEOFALCONPHOTOBYSANDRAE.CHOW