Monday, September 27, 2004

Compassion Heals

I'm reading a book now by Pema Chodron called "The Places That Scare You."

My meditation teacher turned me on to it. When she first told our meditation group about it, I thought: "Yipes, even the title is scary. Do I really want to read that?"

Anyway, it's really all about embracing the hurt, the fear, the depression or anxiety from which we tend to run. Chodron's not saying we should revel in feeling depressed or anxious, but rather to accept it as part of our human experience, just as we accept happiness, joy, peace. Her point is that when you learn to accept and be with these emotions or difficulties...they become less immense, less daunting to our experience.

Early on in her book she talks about a Buddhist concept called bodhichitta, which is defined as our innate ability to recognize pain in others and feel compassion. Bodhichitta wells up from within. It is God within, if you will, and it enables the hardest of hearts to connect--on at least some level--with others.

I recognize this. I feel bodhichitta especially when I see other people doing divine things, some little charity -- like the time we were at a barbecue in a park, and I saw my mother pile on a plate of food for a homeless man. I feel it, too, when I'm around children and I'm just surrounded by their innocence.

I also thought of something I recently saw that touched my heart deeply and brought out a whole room full of bodhichitta. I was spending the weekend away in the country with a friend and her two children. The youngest is a four-year-old girl -- a precious angel and very affectionate and sensitive.

One night, we were playing a board game on my porch. Outside, it was thundering, and the house actually shook with each strike. It was pretty wild out, and I had two old oil lamps lit because I knew it was just a matter of time that the power would fail.

We took a break from the game to peer out the window at the bursts of lightning that stretched across the black sky. Each time a long finger of lightning struck it would momentarily reveal the shape of the far off mountain tops and valleys below. We were awe-filled.

Suddenly, out of the blue, the little girl put her hand on the chimney of the lamp. It was of course very hot, but not being used to the workings of such antiques, she was unaware that it would be hot.

What happened next made me want to cry -- the humanity of it. She recoiled from the touch, and yelled "owwww." Then she stretched out her two arms and said, as if to hold us back from rushing to her side, "I'm okay...don't worry!" But no sooner did she get out the last syllable of that short sentence when she buried her head in the chair and sobbed.

We all jumped from our seats to comfort her, and we carried her in the house and ran her hand under cold water and put ice on it. She was indeed fine, and she didn't need medical attention. Nor did the burn cause blisters.

I think what brought out my bodhichitta, aside from feeling compassion for her pain, was her attempt at placating us initially. Perhaps she was afraid she'd be scolded for touching something she wasn't supposed to. Or, perhaps she just didn't want us to worry about her or make a big fuss. Maybe she was embarrased. But, as the pain became too great for her to hide, she acknowledged it and cried out for her mother.

The range of emotion she displayed in three seconds brought me to tears.

And if I can have bodhichitta for this little girl, can I have it for myself?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Loving is Remembrance

What do we remember about who we are? Once, in God's mind and heart and breath...even in his sweat...we were God, too. we are little bits of God spread out over the in shells that breathe, eat and think.

I believe that when we love, we are actually remembering. Compassion is what we learned then...and what comes leaking through now.

Look, have you ever had the experience of judging someone who you think has done something bad, perhaps something that is totally repulsive to your morality? You are convinced of the way you feel about this...and there is no budging. You are right.

Then, by some accident (or perhaps it's not an accident), you learn another little bit of information about the person; maybe it's a story about some suffering they themselves endured...maybe as a child.

Something unexpected happens; something surprising. Suddenly you feel compassion for them. You make room in your heart for sorrow for the perpetrator, as well as for the victim.

Aren't you shocked by what wells up inside you -- this remembrance of compassion? I know I am sometimes. And doesn't that complicate your thinking.

Maybe this sudden appearance of compassion...of a remembrance of when we were in union with the Creator.

And the remembrance is a reminder that we are still part of him and he of us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Unconditional love

When I try to remember who I am...who I was...part of the the universe...filled with His divinity...and no thinking...just being,
I wonder what the love was like.
Then I think of how I held sleeping baby Robert in my arms...his little body held close to my chest...face at rest...fistful of heart beating...causing my ribs to tingle...
His breathing was deep behind still eyes and closed, heavy I remember the wave of love I felt...rushing past and over...completeness.
God's love. But just a little.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

A Warrior

Today, I made up my mind to be brave -- to be a warrior.

What happened was this: I heard a story about a relative who made an anti-semetic comment. She's a cousin. And I heard that when she was told that one of her acquaintances--who is Jewish--had a baby, my cousin asked: "What did they name her?"

Sarah-Jane was the baby's name.

"Not bad for a Jew," said my cousin.

At that moment, when I heard that comment, I decided to become a warrior against stupidity. Maybe 'stupidity' is the wrong word. It's 'ignorance' I want to stand up to, really.

I have suffered through too many jokes or negative comments about blacks, gays, jews, polish, irish. It's been going on too long for my personal comfort -- beginning with dumb stuff I heard as a child.

And I know a little bit about that hurt. When I was a kid, I was mercilessly teased because I had a soft, tender voice. Take your pick...they called me everything: fag, sissy, girl, queer. It hurt...deep.

Now, when I hear a kid speak like that, my heart breaks because I know what their school day is like.

As an adult, while this kind of garbage may not be coming out of my mouth, I am complicit every time I silently smile or change the subject quickly without addressing what was said.

Why can't I say, "Boy, is that an ignorant comment!" Or, how about: "How would you feel if someone said something like that about you?"

I can't because I'm afraid. Afraid I'll be rejected, left out, criticized. That's the plain, awful truth.

But you know what, is it such a risk being rejected by people like that?

But do I really want to play Big Brother (ala 1984, not the TV show) and be in charge of monitoring others? No.

But if I do this right I won't have to worry about other people. Rather, I want to decide how I want to live my life. Do I want to hang around people who say negative, stereotypical...and damn it, hurtful, things about others? No.

And while I'm busy making those important decisions, hopefully I'll get better at being aware of the content of my own thinking.

I'm no angel. Maybe I'm not verbal, but I sure can be cereberally ignorant. Every time I make a judgement about somebody before I've sat down with them and listened to what they have to say, I'm guilty, too.

Monday, September 06, 2004

So much to work on

"Judge and ye shall be judged"...

"Who am I to judge"...

"Grant that I may not judge another man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins"...

Judgement -- of something or someone. Sometimes it's necessary...but I think that usually it isn't.

Even though I've been taught the above platitudes since I was in short pants and buster browns, I've grown into adulthood with the bad habit of judging something as I'm experiencing it -- or worse, even before I experience it. I think that ultimately it restricts me...keeps me from experiencing life...people...situations.

Maybe judgement stems from fear...maybe from a sense of deficiency in myself rather than a perception of something negative I see in others. So, the problem is in me, not outside me.

I don't know if I'll ever figure out why I do this.

But what I'd like to try and do is keep from judging as much as possible -- to experience things...simply to live them. No perception. Maybe it's like the mediative technique of being present with your breath. The focus is on feeling the breath in whatever state it is in...not manipulating it or expecting something of it.

Imagine a day from the time I rise til the hour I sleep again -- with no judgement.

I've read that this will help me be more at peace and more in the present. I hope so.

Could this be what Jesus was practicing when he sat down with tax collectors and theives and prostitutes -- to the dismay of many of the religious authorities of the time?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Who we really are

Did you ever sense that there was more to you than just your concept of who you are, the sum total of your likes, dislikes, opinions, judgements, feelings and moods -- all the things we know and learn about ourselves. It's who we think we are, no?

If you want, you can refer to this as the "me."

I believe that there's more...there's the "I," and it's a deep presence within us that doesn't think -- but knows. It's been there always, and--long after we die in our flesh and blood shells--it'll live on in the universe.

I believe it's God, although my definition of God is changing. I used to perceive God in human form, and, while I still find myself using terms like "Him" when I talk about God, more and more I have trouble picturing a human form in my head. Now I sense God...I feel God...and I think of God as an etheral spirit-eternal residing temporarily in my body.

God is always present...and he (there I go again) is limited only in my capacity to experience God in each and every moment.

Here's a quote from Eckhart Tolle's Stillness Speaks, from a chapter on "Who You Truly Are." I think it perfectly encapsulates this concept...and explains the difference between "me" and "I":

"...The truth is: you don't have a life, you are life. The one life...the one consciousness that pervades the entire universe and takes temporary form to experience itself as a stone or a blade of grass, as an animal, a person, a star or a galaxy."

And later in the chapter, speaking of things we see, like a tree, and being aware of the tree as a result of seeing it, Tolle relates something that's really extraordinary:

"...The truth is you are not somebody who is aware of the tree, the thought, feeling or experience. You are the awareness or consciousness in and by which those things appear.

"As you go about your life, can you be aware of yourself as the awareness in which the entire content of your life unfolds?"

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Breath

When I practice meditation, I've always had some degree of difficulty with my breathing. It varies. Sometimes I find myself trying to change my breathing...make it fuller, shallower, whatever. Sometimes it's not such a concern.

However, recently I read something extraordinary that helped me free myself of the notion that I need to do something with my breathing.

In "Stillness Speaks," in a chapter on the power of nature to bring us beyond ourselves, Eckhart Tolle writes:

"The air that you breathe is nature, as is the breathing process itself.

"Bring your attention to your breathing and realize that you are not doing it. It is the breath of nature. If you had to remember to breathe, you would soon die, and if you tried to stop breathing, nature would prevail."

As a living, breathing human being, this is something that I knew physiologically. However, intellectually, it is a new concept to understand that I don't have to worry about controlling or modifying my breathing during meditation.

As long as I can know that it is something that my body will handle, I can be free to focus on what it feels like to breathe -- not the act of breathing. Wow!

With this in mind, I began meditating...and sure enough, I found it easier to focus on the feeling...the experience... of my body rises and my nose and lungs feel.

Almost immediately, I began to feel a much greater depth of spaciousness. Profound!

Alas, as if to underscore that I need to keep working on this, the spaciousness was almost too great. I became aware of my fear of that depth. And it was over.

I'll come back to it.