A Quiet Path Out of the Coronavirus Shadow

Eleven years ago, I sat down across from a man named Edward Espe Brown. I had returned home to Texas from a four-month stay at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, endured a breakup, and was feeling adrift. I told Ed that I was struggling with powerful feelings of sadness and loss. I didn’t know what to do.

I’ve thought often of the conversation we had that afternoon, as the coronavirus pandemic leaves unprecedented uncertainty, anxiety, pain, and fear in its wake. Ed looked down at the table between us, which held two glasses of water, and nodded. His face was impassive, a sort of deep neutral. I waited for what he might tell me. I wanted to know how to deal with these painful emotions. I hoped for some insight that might empower me to overcome them.

IT’S BEEN EMOTIONAL: Mental health researchers have called the wave of depression and anxiety resulting from the coronavirus a “second pandemic.” A stunning 25 percent of young adults, according to one survey, reported that they had contemplated suicide in the last 30 days.Katakari / Shutterstock

Years before, Ed had also gone to Tassajara. In the summer of 1966 he took a job as a dishwasher at what was then Tassajara Hot Springs. The rustic encampment, tucked deep in the Ventana Wilderness of California’s central coast, was 16 miles from the nearest paved road, and still is. A few months after Ed arrived, it was purchased by the San Francisco Zen Center and transformed into the first Zen monastery outside of Asia. Ed stayed on. He became a renowned Zen priest and teacher.

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