sheltered in place

January 20th, 2021

They say Shakyamuni Buddha was enlightened after a week of sitting under a tree. How well I can picture a canopy of leafy branches giving cover from hard rain and heat, fear, doubt, fatigue, and the nearly irresistible temptation to give up.

It’s been almost a year of what we call stay-at-home or lockdown, but I rather like the sound of shelter-in-place, a phrase that means “seeking safety within the building one already occupies.” It’s hard to believe that the best place to be is the one you’re in, but that’s rather central to my faith. Is it possible to be sheltered in this flimsy, fragile world? Well, we’ve made it through a tumultuous time just now and the center held. The center held.

Four years ago—and many times in the years that followed—we might have felt the urge to flee from this country’s terrifying descent. Where would we go: Canada or France, Norway or New Zealand? We fumed and we fantasized, but nearly all of us stayed. We stayed, but we got to work on changing things. We put in time and effort; we set aside selfishness and cynicism; we were guided by a belief in truth and empowered by persistence. In short, we took responsibility for the whole rotten mess.

Today, it seems like it worked. Of course, we don’t know, but for now we feel the cool shade and shelter back over our heads.

There is a ceremony in Zen called Jukai, which means “taking precepts.” It’s when a student takes vows to live in peace, patience, generosity, respect, and truth: the enlightened path. Sometimes taking the precepts is called taking refuge, which reminds me of sheltering in place. When you take Jukai you don’t go anywhere and you don’t get anything, but you make a conscious turn toward doing good and away from causing harm. Because of COVID, my practice group went totally online this year, and during that time we’ve had several people take Jukai. I always give a talk about the person and their new Dharma name, a Japanese Buddhist name that evokes an attribute of enlightenment. It’s been one of the most encouraging parts of this pandemic for me. Because the talks are personal, I usually keep them off the blog. But I’ve changed my mind. You might find something to take from them — a moment’s rest and a way to keep going while going nowhere at all.

Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

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“Opening the Eyes” dharma talk for Kirsten Kaigen Sopik
“The Best Days of Your Life” dharma talk for Doreen Mitsu Kunert and David Munen Sparer
“True Peace” dharma talk for Ranya Ansho Mike


  1. I am humbled by every shared moment with all of you. You are so many things to me: teacher, guide, friend. You’re a brilliant writer and I am forever grateful for your kindness, your passion and your practice. Thank you for writing tonight. It has been an amazing day and the generosity of your words have added to this beautiful, beautiful chorus of voices. Hallelujah and hot damn ! I may just sleep tonight.

    Comment by Bonnie Rae Nygren — January 20, 2021 @ 8:04 pm

  2. Sleep well, little one.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — January 20, 2021 @ 10:17 pm

  3. “The irresistible temptation to give up” resonates with me, especially at 77, and in retirement “bubble” far too long. By the way, when will you let your hair grow out? Often wonder what you’d look like with it.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — February 10, 2021 @ 9:19 am

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