When Hurricane Ida passed through New Orleans, it caused devastating damage to my beloved home, Rose Apple House. Rose Apple House was built in the early 1870’s, however some structures date back to 1840. The 150 mph winds pushed water into the siding and created numerous holes in the roof. The water soaked the original plaster walls and over time the plaster literally began to melt off the walls. This began a journey that I could have never imagined.
The water of course lead to mold. This lead to a professional mitigation of the damage. For four months, room by room, my home was demolished. I watched all of my previous renovations and belongings being thrown out or damaged. Day in and Day out. Then after no help from my insurance company for months, the damage worsened. Then there was more demolition. Another three or four rounds of demolition. The demolition just ended, seven months later. My home is 100% gutted.
The rubble in this photograph is in what was my bedroom.
This time of immense disruption, loss and grief has been a time of deep practice. In the suffering, is the awakening. I heard this so many times over my 35 year journey on the Buddhist spiritual path. I offer this observation of deep looking and compassion for contemplation.
The beautiful house was built by the hard work and struggle of many people, all of which were immigrants to New Orleans. They immigrated for what are very basic human rights - safety, shelter, a better life, and freedom. Many left their families, many fled for their families welfare, many fleed from religious persecution or genocide.
It was not easy for them. They lived and worked under extreme circumstances—disease, tropical weather, food scarcity, and poverty.
And, it is just the same now.
Due to the damage of Hurricane Ida, for this structure to survive, the entire interior has been demolished. The mitigation company that did the initial work was comprised of a wonderful group of Cuban immigrants from Miami, then can the group of workers currently rehabbing this home they are immigrants from Guatemala, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Portugal, and Brazil. Their lives are the same as the original people that built the house - struggling, trying to find their way, while living through incredibly challenging conditions. They’re escaping dangerous circumstances in their country and have to be separated from their families. Some are working to send money to family members that are ill in their home country.
They work tirelessly to send money back home—so sick family members can get treatment, so their loved ones will be safe, so their children can have an education and medical services.
It’s not easy for them.
For me, I am uniquely qualified to persevere under these harsh overwhelming conditions due the causes and conditions of my human life. Also I am a third generation immigrant of Lebanese, Italian, Spanish and German descent.
Just like them, since the hurricane I have been separated from loved ones - my sangha, my monastery, my fellow yogis, my doctors, and literally all of my physical comforts. I am camping on a construction site for seven months, struggling with my own safety, health, finances, and well-being.
We all suffer the same. This is human suffering. We all lose loved ones, we all become ill, we all age, we all want to have food and shelter, and we all want to be safe and free.
Funny how it doesn’t always look that way; especially when we allow our unskillful mind to compare what socioeconomic circumstances we have been fortunate or unfortunate to experience in this historical dimension.
For example, from an early age we are shown images that celebrate wealth at all costs. Those people are happy, safe, and secure. We’re then shown images of a starving child in another country. Those images are dire. Those people are so sad, so not happy, not secure in any way.
The truth of human suffering is the same for everyone.
Dissatisfaction, attachment, loss, illness, and death… these sufferings are present for all human beings as a result of being born into this human life.
Being the caretaker for this old house and having been fortunate to have access to the teachings of Buddha and Jesus (along with all spiritual teachers that have lived), I now truly understand that in the suffering is the awakening.
My access to the teachings and my practice are what we call a precious human life. My obligation—even when it’s not easy—is to offer it outward, to open my heart and love the world even more. This is my Bodhisattva calling and vows.
I am the construction workers, they are me.
We are in this together. There is no “other." We are products of our ancestors' hard work and struggle. And we continue.
Being a human being has never been easy. We are here to wake up together. And that’s only possible when we dissolve all beliefs that we are separate, that our suffering is special. ’Cause it ain’t.
I have this storm damage just like everyone else. So I practice with the phrase – Why not me?
I have to rebuild this property under dire circumstances. So do so many. People all over the world suffer from weather disasters.
I’m not special.
We all are going to have illness, we are all going to lose our loved ones, and we are all going to die.
We suffer the same.
This all makes the next word I say, the next thought I think, and the next action I make so important. Because, as I type this from my trailer in my backyard, this is life right now.
I hear birds chirping, I hear dogs snoring, I hear streetcars, I hear trains, and I hear church bells from the nearby churches… this my life. Messy, yet beautiful and perfect, just as it is.
I’m feeling my body breathe. I am alive. THAT is a source of happiness.
You are breathing. We are breathing together. This moment is perfect.
I am alive and breathing with all life on this wonderful difficult treacherous planet and this is a source of boundless happiness. I have fallen in love with the world even more.
Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Sid Montz.
Sid Montz was introduced to Buddhist Meditation and yoga in 1987 in La Jolla, Ca while studying at University of California San Diego. From that time on, yoga and Buddhism has been an integral part of his life.
Through the all of twists and turns in life, Sid practiced many styles of yoga and many lineages of Buddhism. Eventually, the he was certified at Yogaworks LA where he became a RYT-500 YACEP yoga teacher. He's been fortunate to study and train my many senior yoga teachers over the years in quite a few disciplines. His specialty is Yin, Restorative and Yoga Nidra which he blends mindfulness practices in a lighthearted atmosphere where all are welcome.
While Sid trained, practiced and taught in many Buddhists traditions over the years, his primary teacher for over a decade is Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn. Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics and peace. Sid is an ordained into the Order of Interbeing of this lineage.
Sid also taught 6 through 12 graders meditation and yoga at Tree Academy for Creative Arts, New Technology and Social Justice in West Hollywood, CA for 2 years.