Holding Yourself in Kindness

I’m reading Jack Kornfield’s book on Buddhist psychology, The Wise Heart.  It’s come at a good time for me, because I’ve been ignoring physical signs that all is not well.  You know when you want something really badly, and you rationalize and theorize about how it’s going to work out and how it’s going to be fantastic, but then your body is telling you otherwise?  Have you ever had that experience?

Recently, I’ve been flummoxed over a decision in my life.  I made the decision–that was the easy part!–based on my mind exclaiming over the opportunity, the possibilities, and yet at the end of the day, something wasn’t sitting well with me.  Once I was able to verbalize why my stomach wasn’t cooperating, it was as though a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders.

Right away, of course, I berated myself for not being mindful enough, not seeing things clearly from the get-go, but then I had to remember to be gentle with myself.  I can only understand what I can understand right now.  I’m practicing every day, to be present, to watch, to listen, and those skills take time.  Who knows?  Given another time, another place, I’d be fine with the decision, because I’d be a different person.

Kornfield puts it this way.  “Each of us has our own measure of pain.  Sometimes the pain we suffer is great and obvious; sometimes it is subtle.  Our pain can reflect the coldness of our families, the trauma of our parents, the stultifying influence of much modern education and media, the difficulties of being a man or a woman.  As a result, we often feel that we have been cast out.  To survive we have to cover our heart, build up a layer of clay, and defend ourselves.

“We lose the belief that we are worthy of love.  The mystic Simone Weil tells us, ‘The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.’ Compassion reminds us that we do belong, as surely as we have been lost.”

Compassion to ourselves also requires courage.

“As children, many of us were taught courage in the form of the warrior or the explorer, bravely facing danger.  In the Buddhist understanding, however, great courage is not demonstrated by aggression or ambition.  Aggression and ambition are more often expressions of fear and delusion.  The courageous heart is the one that is unafraid to open to the world.  With compassion we come to trust our capacity to open to life without armoring.  As the poet Rilke reminds us, ‘Ultimately it is on our vulnerability that we depend.’  This is not a poetic ideal but a living reality, demonstrated by our most beloved sages.  Mahatma Gandhi had the courage to be jailed and beaten, to persevere through difficulties without giving in to bitterness and despair.  His vulnerability became his strength.”

So, today I do a very hard thing for me.  I have to tell the truth to someone else.  My truth.  And that’s the scariest thing in the world for me–not being able to ensure that he’ll/she’ll be okay.  I know that his/her response is not my “hoop,” but I can’t help but worry about it anyway.

Because I need it…because you might need it…I offer these words up for you today…

May you be held in compassion.
May your pain and sorrow be eased.
May you be at peace.

This is my offering to you today.

[Post image: Detail of Kindness of Strangers by Michael Leunig]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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