Magic and Stillness

Preparing for a Pandemic

By: - Feb 27, 2020

The cultivation of stillness has many far-reaching effects on daily life, and previous essays have discussed some of them.  As I was reading the news this morning, especially about the coronavirus, I was reminded of another effect.

It is sometimes said that a person who follows Dao knows magic.  While I know I have no magical powers, I understand where this notion comes from. Simply by using the best of one’s abilities and being in the right position, one who follows Dao can enjoy the clarity that comes from the cultivation of stillness to see into the future.

A person who lives high in the mountains and who is not affected by too much drink, or poor health,  or greed, will be better able to see events in the distance than one who lives a closed life with eyes only on his or her own obsessions.  Cultivating stillness opens our eyes to everything around us as it is, brings us into this present moment, and allows correct action to arise on its own.

Storms do not come upon us abruptly; rather, we can see dark clouds in the distance as they approach.  The high vantage point of clarity that comes from stillness prepares us in advance for what is coming. It is because of this that a follower of Dao appears to know magic.

“High in the mountains” is metaphorical, of course.  It just so happens I live in the mountains. I use that phrase to mean living with full awareness in the moment, and keeping our senses open to everything around us.

I was not especially comforted by the President’s words last evening, and I am certainly not comforted by the Vice President’s role as point man on the government’s readiness preparations for pandemic.  Abstinence will not prove effective against it, as one commentator noted facetiously.

I returned from China in November of last year, less than two months before the first cases in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where my temple is located.  But I have many friends in China, all of whom have been inside their homes since the first of February. I speak with them most every day to see how they are.  They have a stash of masks and gloves, alcohol wipes for door knobs and elevator buttons, and 10 days of food supply they replenish with another 10 days’ worth at a time.

We are sitting high in the mountains.  We can see dark clouds in the distance, and sense they are coming our way.  They will not arrive abruptly, and there is time to prepare for the storm. We have the opportunity to get our masks and gloves, and our alcohol wipes and a two week supply of foodstuffs with good shelf life.  

It is not magic.  Rather, it is the clarity that comes from the stillness we cultivate that enables us to see what we must do to prepare.  In a short poem, Deng Ming Dao wrote:

Distance ridges, far away clouds,

All events come from a distance.

With a high vantage point,

Foretelling the future is elementary.

On the subject of vantage, from Deng Ming Dao

Please be in that moment.  Please see what you must do now, well before the clouds arrive.  Masks, gloves, wipes, food. This is what the moment requires. This is Dao.