It Would Be a Pity to Waste A Good Crisis

Zen teacher JOHN TARRANT offers seven guidelines for taking advantage of life’s crises and surprises.

Zen Student: “When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we greet them?”

Teacher: “Welcome.”

The new world looks surprisingly like the old one, except that it’s different. Two years ago housing prices fell off a cliff and mortgages went underwater. Today, the hardware store is still quiet and the busy suburban hairdresser is empty on a Friday. Phobia about spending makes other people phobic too—a great university declares a hiring freeze, and a clinic is threatened with shutting down because it can’t afford to replace a receptionist who earns $9.00 an hour. The construction sites have filled with water and the bulldozers are silent.

We are now in the new world. In the new world, winter is still cold, summer is still warm, bread, cheese, pickled onion, and a glass of ale is still a ploughman’s lunch, the sky still has windows of translucent distance at sunset after rain, and a wet dog still smells like a wet dog. Perhaps it’s fine in the new world. Perhaps we don’t have to waste this crisis in wailing and gnashing our teeth.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before,” said White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Not wasting the crisis might mean finding happiness without having to change the outer circumstances. If we are at risk of being blown up, well, today is a good day to be happy. If we are poor, the same. If we now have to drive little cars like they do in Sydney or Paris, well, what’s wrong with that?

The beginning of being fine is noticing how things really are, and in my case this comes from having a practice, from meditating, from noticing life without blame or outrage, or fear, and if there is blame, outrage, or fear, noticing that without blame, outrage, or fear. With such noticing, compassion enters.

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