Yesterday afternoon, Boston was privileged to host gentle Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Thousands of people gathered in front of Trinity Church in Copley Square to sit in silent meditation, to learn from Thay-teacher in Vietnamese, how to abide in peace and love, so that we can attract the same to our lives and create a critical mass enabling us all to live in a more peaceful universe. The monks and nuns of Plum Village, where Thay resides gifted us by chanting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, while we all listened and received their blessings. A truly magical event punctuated by the concept of looking within for the love and compassion we feel for ourselves so we can be fully present and helpful to those who need us.
Compassion is the ability to see and understand how others feel. Compassion enables us to see their pain, because we see its source and can offer deep love and warmth. It does not mean we excuse them if they have harmed us. It is that we see in their hurting us, a deeper pain; feeling unloved. When we understand that love comes to us when we are full of love for ourselves, and that it does not come from others first; we can focus on helping others and create peace and harmony in our lives.
In other words, it is difficult to focus on someone’s pain when we are in pain. Problem is that most often, we do not know we are in pain. The pain is hidden underneath the stories that constantly ran in our minds about what the “other” has done to us. The other can be our country, our president, our family, our co-workers, our neighbors, our friends, etc. Thus, it is nearly impossible to look at someone in the eye and see their hurt when we do not understand our own. Blame is a weapon we tend to use when we feel wronged. At the other end of the spectrum, we busy ourselves in a full schedule, attend to others’ needs and causes, overwork at the office, and lay sleepless in bed. These behaviors also mask a lack of self-love. We think that if we are indispensable, we are lovable. Despair and depression is another tool we summon when we are at a loss to quell the physical and mental anguish caused by feeling less than others, ignored, unloved and lonely.
We do not know how we came up with these “stories” that we now live by, but is a safe bet that at some point in our lives when we were feeling vulnerable, and did not know how to protect ourselves from a perceived harm, our emotions etched this mechanism that is now ingrained in our psyche. The circumstances that contributed to feeling small and weak are by now, mostly forgotten, and re-surface only when we encounter the same or similar feelings in a relationship. It could be the one we are involved with or, we could be witnessing it in someone else, or in a movie or book we are reading. In the face of present events, we label good ones and bad ones, and we are the GOOD. Pretty tough to be fully present in a relationship when we feel so mighty! Our ego gets involved in keeping us regal.
Through the mind training techniques of meditation, we learn to see how our mind works. Abiding in deep contemplation, we realize that it is about how we think, what we believe and how we feel that allows us to meet today’s life situations and the people who come into our circle with compassion and true love. Meditation leads to awareness. We can use it to assess what shows up and know that it is our interpretation, based on stories we believe, that determines our response to the events. Creating art works has always provided me with a way to become aware of the source of my pain. It has also been the fountain of joy and passion that fuels my inquiry, and a way in which I can be of service to others.
The piece embedded in this article is about letting go of these stories. It is accepting that the stories appeared solid and real, and that we truly felt hurt and may have even been bloodied. Yet they are like the drawing of a hand; just a sketch of a time in our life’s continuum. We can forgive, heal, and learn to see our relationships without the trappings of the past. We can offer our hands and hearts fully opened and be there to those who are willing to accept it. To quote poet Mark Neppo, “as long as we see what has come to pass as being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of what might have been” We can tear the prison bars because we were the ones who imprisoned us and decide to be fully present, loving, and helpful to those who needs us. No strings attached.