America: Redirecting our fears to beauty and growth

Zen monk and author Geri Larkin talks about refocusing fear. Photo: David CrummPACIFIC COAST: It doesn’t take a psychic to know that America’s greatest problem at the moment is fear. But, just to make sure, we actually asked a psychic and she insisted it’s true—and with good reason! From best-selling author Marcus Borg to a woman opening a brand new store in hard times, our stories throughout the week mirrored our collective anxiety.

But there’s hope, too! Everyone seemed to be summoning advice as quickly as anxiety. For example, the psychic Raia, who we met in Yachats, Oregon, said, “If you want to survive this, you’re really going to have to concentrate on the positive. If you take on the world’s negativity, you’re going down with everything else that goes down.”

Among the most positive people we found this week were foreigners visiting the U.S.

Lobsang Gyatso from Tibetan was working in a booth called Key to Tibet at a roadside farmer’s market demonstrating the long, clear peals produced by traditional Tibetan singing bowls. “This is what sells best,” he said, sounding a large bowl with a padded mallet and standing silently until its tone finally faded. “Meditation is what clears our minds and brings healing and a better way of life.”

A Danish family touring lighthouses at first claimed they had no advice to share. “I don’t think I’ve seen enough of your country to give advice about America,” said Peter Bergsagel, who works for an oil company back home.

Peter and Rikke Bergsagel tour Heceta Lighthouse with their family along the Pacific coast. Photo: David CrummThen, his wife Rikke Bergsagel, a teacher, said something pretty wise, after all: “I don’t see a need to worry. Your country is so beautiful, so very beautiful. Can’t you see it?”

Buddhist monk and author Geri Larkin, once a leader of Buddhist centers in Ann Arbor and Detroit, moved to the Northwest several years ago and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. Living in a small home, she writes for magazines and volunteers at community feeding programs that serve the poor.

We asked Larkin: Is fear really America’s biggest problem once again, much like it was in the Great Depression?

“Absolutely. Positively. That’s it,” she said. “Everybody has fear right now. And you know what? It doesn’t do anyone any good. Fear doesn’t really change anything and it muddies our thinking. If you’re in a situation that scares you, then you simply can’t think clearly.

“From a Buddhist perspective, there isn’t anything I can do but pay attention to right now and be as helpful as I can right now. So, here’s how I translate that in practical ways: I work in a food bank and I always carry food in my car for homeless people. I carry granola bars and other things that are good for people but also are easy to carry around and hand out. Everyday, someone gets food from me.

“With fear, the issue is not whether we’re feeling fear. Yeah, there’s fear. But, to that I say: So what? The issue is how do we live our lives right now so that the Earth isn’t harmed and people around us aren’t harmed. When people are afraid, the next thing that happens is they start spinning around, looking for who they can blame. That’s a big problem, when we turn the energy from our fear into blame. Instead, we should turn it into more energy for digging in our gardens and planting more food to feed more people.”

Today, Sunday August 15, we reach Los Angeles, where we are invited to talk about our journey at Covenant Presbyterian Church, an unusually creative congregation. A year ago, Covenant began inviting its mostly older parishioners to begin bringing their beloved pets to church with them on a weekly basis. So far, church leaders are limiting the invitation to dogs. Comfortable pet pads now are interspersed between seats for people.

Who knows? Perhaps such human-animal interaction holds hope for American unity. You can read about it this week as we pass through Los Angeles and eventually turn east, trace a stretch of the old Route 66 and head toward New Orleans. Follow our adventures daily.

You can purchase a copy of Geri Larkin’s latest book, “Plant Seed Pull Weed,” via Amazon.

(Photos and story by Editor David Crumm and his son Benjamin who are devoting 40 days and 9,000 miles to circling the United States and talking with Americans about what divides and what could unite us.)

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