Friday, July 06, 2007

safe harbour

Sydney Harbour - courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

I leave today for one month retreat in upstate New York; only the kindness of my Teacher and my friends has made this even possible. I have no idea what it will be like - this will be my fifth year of attendance, and each time is so very different. What I do know, without a doubt, is that it is an extraordinary blessing, no matter how it 'feels' to me. Right now, I know I need to be nourished deeply, and that this is the only place for me to be. It is my safe harbour, as the sea has been stormy and the boat rocking.

I probably won't do a post until I return mid -August, though who knows- if a computer comes my way, perhaps I will. The month stretches before me an open canvas, and I am not even trying to determine its colours or textures.

So wherever you are - on the road, in a tent, in your home, at the beach, with your family, with your cat or your dog, may each and every one of you also find safe harbour: not just today, or tomorrow or next year, but deeply and fully within your heart.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

gentling of the heart

The last few weeks, moments, days, months - even the measurement of time is so ephemeral - have often been difficult for me. There have been periods in this last year where the very act of breathing has sometimes felt like a challenge. There are many reasons i can offer - ordinary and spiritual - for the ebb and flow of my life, yet ultimately none of them in and of themselves means a lot. When the day is heavy, i try and wade through it, to reach the other end, knowing my heart is still beating, and that beat, no matter how it feels, is the rhythm of compassion and wisdom. Merely muted to my deafened ears.

Two blogs I read this week have scratched my thoughts. One, by Stephen, is tender and reflective, a most intimate offering, of yearning for his children who are lost to him, one through death, one through her choice. His words are steeped in love that defy time or even mortal existence; more subtle than simple memory, they reflect bonds that are so intimate yet invisible they cannot be defined. I have never had children, though not by choice - I longed and tried for many years - yearning for that which never bore fruit; in a sense, perhaps, I tasted a little of the pain and anguish, over and over again. The final decision to cease any attempts was tortuous, for I had to relinquish a longing, the roots of which were deep in my heart. I have moved on from that place long ago, but through that process I briefly glimpsed the foundation of love for a parent to their child.

I know nothing of the circumstances of Stephen's or his daughter's lives, but his post made me think of times I turned from my parents. Bitter, blameful, angry, resentful - an array of negative emotions that swiftly constructed an inflamed wall where once there had been love. As is so often the case, my reasons seemed valid - my life and theirs were aligned to different circumstances, values, point of views and I reacted to this by turning my heart and my life away. I know this was painful for them, but I refused to see that. Most especially in the case of my mother, for whom this was a more frequent occurrence, I know it was a sword in her heart. We danced back and forth at times, then I would withdraw all contact and she would beg for even acknowledgement that I was safe and well. Often I ignored her pleas. I weep for this now - for those times when the hardness of my rebellious heart caused anguish to someone whom I know loved me deeply, always - no matter how things were playing out in our lives.

Even in the months preceding her death from cancer, when I lived with my parents and helped nurse my mother, our roles reversed, a deep anger burst forth, and I felt justified - she laying in bed - to blame her for things in my life for which I held her responsible. Momentarily I felt release, but of course the dynamic between us was deeply entrenched, and although she blanched at my wrath, it passed and I questioned what I had accomplished. Venting my anger brought no relief to me, and only added a layer of pain to her suffering. I am so grateful we still had weeks to share, and that our final moments were bathed in love for each other, not grievous hate.

Juxtaposed in my mind to these reflections is Edamommy's post on compassion for those we may wish to hate, or feel anger towards. This can be tough, because, as with my mother, anger can feel justified. People do things which harm us, sometimes horrendous things, and the self-righteous shutters in which we hide our hearts are stiff with judgment, so its easy to leave them closed, and instead respond with venom or blame or simply turn, forever. But each and every time we turn away, and we keep the shutters closed, we are really turning from ourselves, from the open and gentle kindness that is who we truly are. We gain nothing, and lose so much. If we can teach ourselves to respond instead with even one simple breath, one heartbeat, one fleeting thought of compassion, we will have softened our hearts, as the sweetness of gentle rain softens the parched drought-hardened earth.

Compassion is not out there, it is not something we need to create. It is who we are, what we are. The ease with which we offer it to some - the sorrowful stories which touch our hearts - and not others - the people we think don't deserve it - is a reflection only of the constructs of our world. Compassion itself has neither boundaries nor distinctions - that is its potency and gift to each and every single being. The judgments we use to determine where it should be offered are misplaced and misguided. And tragic. For every time the heart stays closed, we have lost an opportunity to know a kindness that has no limitations.

The habits are deep, and our society tends to reinforce them. They run so deep that we even learn to hate and blame and judge ourselves; I struggled painfully with bulimia for over a decade, my life continuously tortured with self-hatred. For this I blamed my mother as she lay dying.

There is no-one to hate or blame, not ourselves, not others. If we listen and look deeply we will see this truth, for it runs in our veins, it whispers in our hearts. It yearns for us to see and hear, as a parent yearns for the child who is lost. It will never cease to call us, to be present in our lives, not ever. It is my heart and yours, it is every heart. When we know and share this, and no longer turn away in blame or judgement, then the suffering that separates you from me will vanish, the walls of hatred crumble and the well-spring of boundless compassion quench every aching heart.