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Lions Roar : July 2016
mal.” When she heard a talk by Paul Haller at the San Francisco Zen Center in 2001, she says itwas“likeafishhookandIwasafishthat was hooked. I thought, ‘This has what I need.’ I’ve been hanging around there ever since.” Solnit’s Buddhist influences have come from many traditions. “ There’s this interest- ing American project of creating a kind of hybrid Buddhism, not necessarily between the lineages, but more attuned to contem- porary American realities,” she says. “Ambi- ent Buddhism” is how Solnit likes to describe the Buddhist themes that appear in her work and inform her understanding of hope and despair. “Buddhism is acceptance that you’re not totally in control,” she says. “Then there are psychoanalytic and other perspectives where you have to recognize that you contain immense depth and darknesses. You don’t even know yourself completely, so how can you know someone else? We don’t even under- stand the present, so how can we understand the future? This gives you, on the one hand, a kind of confidence that maybe what we do matters and also helps us see that we don’t know if it matters or not.” She says one of the many joys of Buddhism is its comfort with paradox. “And being given multiple lifetimes is very helpful,” she laughs. Coming to Buddhism dovetailed with other avenues of thought she was exploring. “The central idea of ecological thinking is that everything is connected to everything else,” she notes. “Buddhism has another version of that truth—non-attachment and compas- sion—which are really important parts of my political writing.” Another Buddhist teaching that informs Solnit’s work is that empathy arises through understanding interconnectedness. “Whole societies can be taught to deaden feeling, to dissociate from their marginal and min- ority members, just as people can and do erase the humanity of those close to them,” she says. “Empathy makes you imagine the sensation of the torture, of the hunger, of the loss. You make that person into your- self; you inscribe their suffering on your own body or heart or mind, and then you Last year, Solnit joined Roshi Joan Halifax on Upaya Zen Center’s annual medical pilgrimage in Nepal, trekking to remote villages in the Himalayas with a team of Western and traditional doctors. PHOTOBYCHARLESMCDONALDPHOTOBYNOAHROSSETER LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 43