COV19, Prairie Dogs and the Existential Questions

I recently returned from my semiannual retreat in Connecticut that focused on none other than The Point of Existence. Yes, it asked those big questions of  “Who am I?” “What am I ? if I’m not the conditioned familiar self of my history and culture. I began this work of knowing who I AM through the Diamond Approach seven years ago (and started even as a teenager scribbling in my diary.) But this retreat brought home to me a sure conviction. I need to slow down in all aspects of my life to self-realize—in the way I get up from a chair, in the speed of my speech, in the incessant planning in my mind, what I and when I buy anything, how I read a book, the way I cook food, the style of my writing, the rate of movement in my exercise. It is THE pivotal way to invite presence and awareness into my life—to nothing less than to transform.

And during this same retreat, I became aware of the burgeoning fear around COV19. One of my colleagues had flown in from Milan and had to be quarantined at the retreat center. I flew home wondering if I would become a carrier and went into two weeks of quarantine. Despite the drastic difficulty the virus is causing in the world and in my own life, it has also been an ally in my becoming. I had no choice but to slow down my life. I’ve come to our wilderness cabin where there is nothing I have to do and the Internet connection isn’t easy. Watching the mountain turn colors at sunrise and sunset takes some hours. Watching snow fall is an exercise in considering my place in the universe—a single snowflake, part of the whole. Planning the day by simply taking the next step. 

Yesterday I listened to Terry Tempest Williams talk about her work as a naturalist doing research on prairie dogs, a species now endangered by environmental policies. During her days of watching the prairie dogs from sun up to sundown, she observed a prairie dog ritual; at sunrise, the prairie dog community comes out of their burrows, turn to the east, press their forepaws together as if in prayer, and stand absolutely still for 30 minutes. Then they return to the burrows. At sunset, they come out, press their forepaws together, and face west for 30 minutes. Then return to their burrows. 

This image is so alive in me today. I can envision it as if I am there. To be still, turned to the light, in prayer as daily practice. And then, returning to just being a prairie dog, doing what is natural. 

Returning to my True Nature, what is really “natural” for me has been so obscured by wanting to be loved rather than loving myself, by being so busy and multitasking rather than just being, by being desperate to change myself rather than allowing myself to be changed— is my deepest desire. I couldn’t have imagined that the COV19 virus and prairie dogs would be my friends on that path. But that is what intrigues me about this journey—it’s never how I thought it would be and yet it is MORE.  

Williams remarked at the end of her talk that the greatest edge is becoming fully who you are—and from that place, to be of use. I translate that as, instead of knowing who I AM by what I do, I know myself as I AM and then follow what compels me.

What is compelling me now is writing and reading poetry; it’s the only thing that makes sense to me in these days, most days, always. The following addresses the fears of our world in the wake of the virus. This poem was written in 1997 when the fear of what would happen to all the computers when the world began marking time as the year 2000. Remember that fear? 


Almost the 21st century,

How quickly the thought will 

grow dated, 


Our hopes, our futures, 

will pass like the hopes and futures

of others.

And all our anxieties and terrors,

nights of sleeplessness,


will appear truly as they are—

Stumbling, delirious bees in

the tea scent of jasmine. 

Jane Hirschfield from The Lives of the Heart” collection

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