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Words to Wash By

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Here are some alternatives to the Happy Birthday song which, as you know if you haven’t been living on Mars for the last two weeks, we’re supposed to sing twice while washing hands to ensure that we scrub for the mandated twenty seconds. It’s annoying enough to put up with the dry skin caused by all this washing, but who wants to sing Happy Birthday a zillion times a day?
Ethan Nichtern, a Buddhist teacher, suggests that we replace Happy Birthday with some version of a loving kindness meditation, such as:
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be safe
May all beings be content
May all beings live with ease.
Say it twice, and you’ve done your twenty seconds.
I like that the prayer includes not just me, or my family and friends, or humanity in general, but all beings–the fox and the weed, the bee and the stone. It is such a sensible set of wishes, too, progressing logically from the essential to the contingent. Health comes first, since if you’re sick nothing else matters, followed by safety—you may be the picture of health, but you won’t enjoy it if you’re anxious all the time. I also love the modesty of the wishes expressed. The prayer says nothing about happiness, but settles for the more humble, attainable, and reliable contentment, and ends with the wish that all beings may live with ease—not successfully, or interestingly, or excitingly, but simply with ease.
What does living “with ease” mean, exactly? I imagine myself floating around the house in flowing garments, watering the plants, brushing the cat, and facing with smiling equanimity whatever unimaginable trials The Virus may bring. It’s something to aim for anyway, which is why it’s good to repeat the prayer twenty times a day.
I have also timed, for your convenience, an abridged version of a prayer by Saint Teresa of Avila, which soothes me with its rhythm. Say it twice, and then rinse:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing,
God alone is sufficient.
On a more secular, ecological note, and especially if you are stuck in quarantine, you could recite twice this bit of loveliness by Emily Dickinson (I’ve cut one line to fit the time):
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.
Dame Julian of Norwich was a medieval anchorite—she self-quarantined with her cat in a cell attached to the church—and lived through the Black Death and other horrors, so she knew what she was talking about. Here is her capsule of stubborn optimism:
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
This one you have to say three times to hit the twenty seconds, but feel free to mutter it throughout the day, if you’re feeling stressed.

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