“President” Trump,

This morning I went to visit the “new 21st Street Buddha” – the one that lives on the porch on the west side of 21st between 73rd and 75th Avenues NE. This Buddha is super cute; it’s one of the little ones that looks like a bald toddler. It stands upright and wears a trim little monk robe and holds a little tiny walking stick like he’s heading out to beg for alms. As far as Buddha statues go, it’s a pretty relatable one.

When I got to the beginning of this Buddha block it looked to me like the Shasta daisies mid-way up had fallen over and were completely covering the sidewalk. My brain immediately started trying to remember where the walk-ways are on the intervening nature strips since there aren’t driveways right along there. After I’d taken a couple of steps, though, my perspective shifted a tiny bit and it occurred to me that maybe what I was seeing were two separate clumps of daisies leaning in from either side of the sidewalk rather than one big, delicate obstacle. Well, it was indeed two separate plants and there was plenty of open sidewalk upon which to walk. From far away, though, it definitely didn’t look like that and my brain initially didn’t see that there were other possibilities besides a big mass that would have to be circumnavigated.

Last night I listened to the first 50 minutes of Sister Dang Nghiem’s 5/31/20 dharma talk entitled “How to Grieve” (I’ve got another 33 minutes to go on it). Laura listened to it the other night and before she left on her walk last night she encouraged me to listen too – we’ve become pretty serious Sister Dang fans.

So in her inimitable style, Sister Dang teaches how to grieve using the Four Noble Truths as a frame. Weaving in her own experiences with devastating losses she reminds us that the First Noble Truth is that there is suffering, that the Second Noble Truth is that suffering has causes (it doesn’t just arise out of thin air), that the Third Noble Truth is that there can be an end to suffering, and that the Fourth Noble Truth lays out the path to the end of suffering.

Along the way, Sister Dang teaches about perception by unpacking the Chinese characters that make up the concept; on the upper left is the symbol for tree and on the right is the symbol for sight while underneath is the symbol for mind or heart. She told us that by themselves, the tree and sight symbols represent pure sight – the basic biology of seeing a tree, or a person, or some daisies – but with the mind in the mix we get perception and with perception we get to grapple with the fact that how you see a tree likely differs from how I see that same tree. The basic idea is that our individual perceptions are shaped by our learning histories, motivations, and pretty much everything about us. To this point, I realized after I got home this morning that I likely saw those daisies as an obstacle because they are on the same stretch of sidewalk where I tripped and fell running a few years ago. I wasn’t aware of that experience influencing my perception or that it might be the source of the little wave of panic I felt at the sidewalk looking blocked right there – but I’m sure it did.

I just finished reading the minute-by-minute account of AG Barr’s order to violently clear Lafayette Square for your Highness. At first it was told by various protestors and people there to support them and then the article started interlacing the perspectives of various of your supporters. It was quite a jolt to have their voices in the mix and it was an incredibly powerful way to illustrate just how far apart we are when some of us look at what happened as a mortal threat to democracy and others look at that same situation and praise God that you’re such a powerful and strong leader who will surely save them.

This isn’t rocket science or anything new at all, but I needed to lay it out for myself again so that I could maybe find some compassion for those who I perceive to have deeply messed up perceptions and for myself and all of us as we grapple with what is very heavy, very old suffering and our fears that there may not be a way out.

May we be safe from tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash grenades.
May we check our perceptions against the litmus test of love.
May we stay (or get) strong – we have a long road ahead of us.
May we challenge our fears and not let them win, ever.

Tracy Simpson

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