Melody Babbitt lives on Main Street in Pueblo, Colorado, a city of 106,595 once described as the “Pittsburgh of the West” but now enduring hard times. One of several Pueblo residents profiled on the PBS program Need to Know (October 5, 2012), Melody is an outreach specialist for the state of Colorado. She helps disabled Americans find work. Melody earns $40,000 a year and carries health insurance, but after three required abdominal surgeries that her insurance didn’t cover, she found herself deeply in debt and filed for bankruptcy. Now she needs a fourth operation and doesn’t have the money. “I’m procrastinating and postponing the surgery,” she tells journalist John Larson, the program’s narrator, as she sweeps her front porch. “I will eventually. But I can’t right now. I just can’t afford it.”
Melody Babbitt’s plight is compelling, but no less compelling is the image we are left with: that of an American woman in her late forties, telling her story of hardship while sweeping her front porch. In the midst of financial constraints so severe that she won’t allow herself to go to the movies, she is sweeping her porch. Faced with economic conditions she had no reason to expect and is virtually powerless to control, she is taking care of her home. By extension, it might be said, she is also taking care of her life.
That is an abiding purpose for most of us, I suspect, and it is also a central purpose of Zen meditation. People often come to Zen practice because their minds are unsettled and their lives are in disarray. After a few months—or even weeks—of daily practice, many find that their minds are becoming calmer and clearer, and that order is returning to their lives. And should they continue beyond that point, setting aside at least ten minutes a day for meditation, they may also find that the practice which helped them regain their balance is also helping them sustain it. For in three distinct ways, Zen practice can help us take care of our lives. (more…)