Holy shit! If you really want to learn how to live rural you will have to live zen! Rural life requires the ultimate meditative calmness and acceptance in the face of daily onslaught of life obstacles. No kidding! 

Zen: meditative calmness and an attitude of acceptance

I said in an earlier post that I believe that the next great American leader will come from a rural region. It’s so true! There’s nothing quite like the calmness and acceptance required, on a daily basis, to navigate the contradictions of  wealth and poverty, privilege and disparagement, extremes of right and left, the trench-in and the can’t-get-outs.

There is a rural way that defies all city logic. Life, from the outside might look simple, but it’s quite the opposite. There are layers upon layers of historic disparity, economic instability, environmental crisis. Just like in big cities there are allegiances and alliances. But here, the consequences are far more apparent.

I have found myself, again and again, inadequately equipped for the challenges I face. I marvel at the ability of people to navigate the stress of life in these regions with a candor rarely experienced in the city. 

The cool part is that slowly, oh so slowly, I’m finding that I’m learning fragments of the zen of rural life. 

There is a way that to survive and thrive in this land: you must be so solid in yourself when the very place you are lacks stability. When there is so little, with so many challenges, I’m slowly learning to let go and accept what is. As my mishaps happen, I take stock of just how fortunate I am. I am just a traveler, but in this land of uncertainty and instability can leave whenever I choose. I choose, and keep choosing, to stay. 

Throughout all of this, I feel sometimes like there is a higher power at work here. It’s challenging me, “Are you really committed to learning about this life?”

“Sure”, I say. 

“Are you really committed to immersing yourself in these communities?”  

As a test of my zen, when my window was broken and the replacement glass didn’t come, my higher self said, “I can do this. I can be with this.” As days turned into weeks, I felt the weight of literal stuckness.

“Can you be with this?” the universe said. 

“Yes. No. I can’t.”

The weight of stuckness clouded my life.

I’m learning that the only way to survive and thrive is to let go of any expectation that something will work out a certain way. I’m learning, on the most visceral level, how the concept of not-doing is about NOT getting enveloped in the struggles of the story and just doing what is to be done. 

I’m learning, ever so slowly.

Here in this land of extremes where third world problems live astride first world inconveniences, I can see ever more clearly the gift of privilege that I have been dealt. Putting myself in an economic structure to understand the challenges living with kindness amidst the daily onslaught of life tumbling with uncertainty, has helped me see why people get engulfed in fear. 

Here in this land where so much is needed to change for communities to get healthy, whole and economically whole, I don’t yet have the words for how people navigate their discordant life other than they have a unique rural version of the buddhist teachings of  “being with” what is. Here in this land, plans will often not be as they are planned. Here in this land, falling apart is normal. You just start again and, hopefully, have a new chance to learn and age-old lesson. Here in this land, those of wisdom know that it will take generations to bring their communities out of desperate conditions. In the meantime, they—those who I am inspired by—bring a small piece of hope to their determined effort to bring their community back to life.

Therein lies the zen.

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