‘Open Up The Thatch’
“If the thatch is leaking, open up the thatch.”
– The Buddha
The above words are found in the Pali cannon and have for many years been one of my favourite sayings attributed to the historical Buddha. While I have usually thought about them in relation to the craft of meditation, they strike me now as having wider connotations. As many of us find ourselves in solitary splendour in these strange times, it seems to speak to the heart, both in terms of taking heart and opening the heart. Along with the highly infectious nature of the virus there is an equally infectious mind contagion called panic.
The term panic comes from the god Pan, the only major god of the Greeks that had a part animal form, half goat of course. Pan represents the wildness of nature, the instinctual, forces outside of human control. It might well be that some of us have recently noticed that such forces are not just outside of us but inside as well. Perhaps you have done just a little bit of panic buying or found yourself more anxious than usual. Well, if so, Pan is the god for you. Pan is indeed the god that we need to pray to – after all it is a pandemic that we are all facing together even if we are alone.
Being alone is no real hardship for me and I am not anxious about running out of bog roll. But I have a 93 year old mother who I fear would not survive catching the virus, although she seems to be pretty stoic about it all. I also cannot help thinking of all those millions of people that face terror through war and other calamities every day of their lives.
So I am thinking to myself, what would it mean to ‘open up the thatch’ as our consumeristic culture reveals its cracks and strains. My generation, I am 65, has been such a privileged one. I have never had to worry that leaving my house might mean being blown to bits by a barrel bomb. I have never had to queue for hours for a loaf of bread or walk miles for water. It feels to me that through this present situation I’ve got a little dose of reality into my life, just the homeopathic dose, just enough to open my heart a little more in this world.
I got an email from a friend in Ireland the other day, someone who has been on many retreats with me. They reminded me that I had at some point said that it is at times of difficulty and crisis that the importance of our meditation practice shows itself. She added that although she understood what I meant on an intellectual level, this current ‘crisis’ had helped her to understand it on a far deeper heart level.
So perhaps when we sit for meditation we should just sit and open the heart and allow ourselves to be open to the suffering of the world and trust in the mysterious alchemy of how our fear and anxiety can transform itself into love and compassion for both ourselves and others.
When you take the posture be aware of the wildness of the natural world, maybe you can hear bird song now that the city has quietened. Breathe in and enjoy the fresh air as the normal levels of pollution have lessened, notice the absence of aircraft noise, think of the fish enjoying Venetian canals, give a nod to that old goat god – open up the thatch.