Turn your guilt about being privileged into solidarity

It feels like all I’m doing is waiting.

For enough testing and a vaccination. For another spike in cases to overwhelm hospitals. For a text saying, “I’ve got the virus.” For the Trump administration to help front-line workers. For the sun to warm the garden soil. Most of all, to get back to “normal” life.

But this morning I grew tired of waiting so I went for a walk. Wind stirred the trees. Birds spoke in all directions. My feet scraped the driveway gravel. I should do this more often, I thought, squinting at the sun.

I thought about the American Dream, how it numbs us to the discomfort of waiting. It tricks us into moving, going, building, innovating, conquering, working for someone else, heading west, faking it until we make it. Anything but waiting. Hence the (right-wing, corporate-bankrolled) protests to “reopen” the economy. Americans can’t wait.

The truth is many of us can — because we have to. The single mother working two jobs. The son using drugs under an overpass. The 40 percent who don’t have $400 for an emergency. The more than 50 percent who are unhappy with their jobs. For the vast majority, there are just dreams put on hold. “One day.”

If enough of us stopped dreaming and slowed down, stayed put, came together, this capitalist economy would crash. That’s why the rich and powerful are so afraid of unions and other ways of coming together. That’s why they keep selling the dream.

A hawk’s shadow crossed the driveway, pulling me out of my head. Dogs barked. Winter wheat swayed in the fields.

I felt the never-ending space all around me and thought about my luck. I was born into a middle-class family who supported me through college. I survived the Great Recession working for companies contracting with federal government. As a writer, I’ve been working from home just fine. I’ve even been teaching meditation to students from around the world. No one in my family has lost their job. As far as we know, no one has had the virus.

Guilt bubbled up inside. But solidarity did too, and it was stronger. I felt connected to everyone feeling impatient — to those waiting for the virus to leave their body, to those waiting for their nursing shift to end, to those standing in the food bank line. I noted in my mind to donate more money to restaurant workers, rent strikers, sex workers, immigrant families, indigenous people — the most vulnerable.

“Birds are in the garden eating bugs,” my dad said as we passed. He walked to the garden and started the purple tractor, which knocked until it warmed to a steady purr.

I remembered one of my favorite stories about the Buddha. As a young boy, he visited a farm and caught a glimpse of mindfulness, being fully in the present moment, connected, free, in awe of the world. He sat under a tree and watched laborers till the land. He saw a bird peck at a worm in the fresh dirt and then an eagle swoop down on the bird. Compassion overwhelmed him.

“How can be it right that the laborer should toil and the master should live on the fruits of his labor?” he thought. He also realized that had the laborers not been tilling, the bird wouldn’t have seen the worm, and the eagle wouldn’t have seen the bird. Everything is connected and all actions have consequences, he thought.

What am I waiting for? This is it — it always is.

As Dogen, the 13th century Zen Buddhist master wrote:

The real way circulates everywhere; how could it require practice or enlightenment? The essential teaching is fully available; how could effort be necessary? Furthermore, the entire mirror is free of dust; why take steps to polish it? Nothing is separate from this very place; why journey away?

Get my free ebook on meditation

My ebook, How to Get Out of Your Head, will help you start or stick with a regular meditation practice. Get it for free here.

Listen to my podcast

On Meditation for the 99%, I take mindfulness out of faraway monasteries, expensive retreat centers, and Corporate America, and bring it to work, relationships, and, especially, politics. Listen everywhere podcasts are available.