April 28, 2013

Sitting with Terrorism: Notes from a Boston Meditator. ~ Shelli Jankowski-Smith

photo: lifesheimagined.tumblr

It’s Friday afternoon, and Boston’s been locked down all day.

I can hear the TV downstairs now, but I’ve taken to keeping the volume low. That way I can half ignore it, yet sense when something dangerous or horrible may be happening again. Downstairs I know SWAT teams are converging on another Watertown neighborhood, and the 19-year-old-boy-terrorist might be close to capture. Or death.

Or not.

I feel that wave of sadness again, the one that’s been washing over me at unexpected times over the past five days. By now I’ve learned to honor it, just let the wave roll and then let it pass. The phone is ringing again, but I won’t pick it up this time. I’m writing.

Today started with a 6:15 a.m. call from a frightened sister in Indiana, telling me to check the TV because Watertown was being evacuated. Then the pattern started again—the one so many of us living here have been following all week. Glue yourself to the TV, try to live with half your focus tugged and nibbled by fear, pain, worry, anger, pride, defiance.

Check the Facebook feed, post reassurances to family and friends. Be a part of this larger community to which you feel closer than ever this week. The string of phone calls, because we all want to hear one another’s voices. My oldest son and daughter-in-law, newlyweds, live in Watertown. They live less than a mile from the hot spot.

I’ve been afraid for them all day.

By noon I was worn out, hooked in. It felt important to keep watching, to know what was happening. But on Friday afternoons my practice is to go to the Marblehead Zen Center and sit with my sangha. To be honest, sitting felt much less important today. To be honest, it felt smug, selfish. I should be doing something!

Yet, finally, I went. The world can go to hell in a hand basket, yet still there is this thread of a practice.

Sitting, I face the wall. I’m not ready for this. My mind is racing. What about my kids? What if I’m not there to….well…to do what? What if Boston blows up?

Look down, your hands are slipping. Re-form the mudra.


Breathing in, I know that I am feeling stressed.
Breathing out, I accept how I am feeling.
Present moment,
challenging moment.

The white wall glares at me. It is pissing me off.
Outside the windows, wind blows through the trees.
So much suffering.
So many people hurt, so badly.

Even the uncle of the accused brothers today, so angry. So much pain.
Breath again. Look at the wall. Impatience bubbling.

No. I feel compassion for myself.
I feel compassion for everyone.
That hurts.
A beeping sound from the street. Wind.

Quiet. A center.
I think to myself:
“I am sitting quietly, staring at a white wall…
Take that, bad guys!”

For a while, this thought seems incredibly funny to me.

I smile to myself.
Present moment.
Police sirens outside, several. Sudden. Moving fast.
Fear, as if it had been sitting coiled someplace secret all along.
An alarm bell sounds somewhere in the building.

Just once.

Do I look around? Am I in danger?
Would looking around be bad form in the Zen-dō?
I feel foolish.
I notice I feel foolish.
I sit and look at the wall again.


The wind huffs outside.
Light and shadow bloom and fade on the white wall.
A crow cries out, overhead,
Flying past.


Shelli Jankowski-Smith is the owner of Sunflower Reiki and Wellness on Boston’s North Shore, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at Northeastern University, where she teaches meditation to health care professionals. She is also a sangha member at the Marblehead Zen Center on the North Shore. Shelli holds an MS in Education from Indiana University, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and is a Reiki Master Teacher.



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  • Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing
  • Ed: Brianna Bemel
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