Lopsided crescent moon
framed in cobalt clouds.
It’s been raining for days,
the storm of life relentless.
A temporary clearing,
a smile, a sliver of hope.
An invitation to notice
this smile in others
when everything else
Lopsided crescent moon
framed in cobalt clouds.
It’s been raining for days,
the storm of life relentless.
A temporary clearing,
a smile, a sliver of hope.
An invitation to notice
this smile in others
when everything else
I thought we would be friends forever. I thought we could overcome any obstacle of hurt. Maybe I was wrong.
A dear friend and I recently exchanged words that left us both feeling angry, stunned, and upset. I tried to bridge the gap of misunderstanding with acknowledgment of my contribution to the confusion. I also tried to respect her perspective without compromising my own. It was my idea of a peace offering. For her, it was a bomb that had sadly backfired. I was dangerous, and she didn’t want the enemy anywhere near her.
My thoughts would not stop trying to console me. They ranged from extremes of self-righteous positions blaming my friend, and inferior positions blaming myself for my heartlessness. Judging us both was painful, so painful, that I longed to think my way out if this tangle. What Buddhist practice could help me unravel this confusion? Was it the three characteristics of existence, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, understanding of the Middle Way, or something else?
The harder I tried to understand, the tenser I got. During a weary morning sit, a voice reminded me to let go, surrender, and relax the resistance. That is the moment I began to heal with an embodied presence as opposed to a spiritual bypass. Over the next few days, I reached out to Sangha to help me process what happened. The above Buddhist concepts were no longer mental gymnastics that weakened understanding, but strengthened it through R.A.I.N.
I know in my heart that seeds of understanding are being watered, nurtured, and sprouting in silence. I don’t know what will happen to the friendship. Emotions of anger, fear, and sadness still rise like tidal waves threatening to drown and submerge my clarity in cold darkness. But I will no longer say no to them. I’ve been here before – past lives, previous relationships, praying for freedom. The heart must be irritated to form pearls of wisdom.
I’m tired of trying to change you,
rattling the bars around this heart prison
expecting you to have the key.
Where’s the sunlight, connection, and joy in that?
What if i am an open door allowing
you to come and go as you please,
not trying to cage you with small thoughts,
but spacious awareness that sees everything?
What if i get to know you, understand you?
Would i choose to stay?
Dear Universe, help us find each other,
eyes meeting in peaceful resolve
till the first words spoken are kind.
May I be patient with this process of learning. May I be kind and gentle with myself, not taking these exchanges so personally. May I remember my sincere wish to wake up and attract relationships of wise, mutual understanding.
May the Universe support your need to be heard and understood. May you be happy, well, safe, peaceful, and at ease. May our eyes meet in peaceful resolve till the first words spoken are kind.
May all relationships (family, friendships, acquaintances, strangers, perceived enemies, animals, plants) be held in wise reflection, wise exchange, wise effort, till the first words spoken are kind.
When I got married almost nineteen years ago in July, I still had some romantic fairytale pixie dust mixed with classic chick flick movie moments clouding my vision. My Braveheart husband would take care of everything. This notion, coupled with my Tenderheart optimism, would conquer any insurmountable problem. Was I naïve!
Marriage is not a Mary Poppins musical. It takes work, patience, clarity, curiosity, forgiveness. Not just love (unless your definition of love is expanding to include more virtues:). The following reflections are by no means a perfect prescription for marital bliss. They are pearls I’ve picked up from personal experience, needing a good polish every time I forget.
Are you still holding on to the good ol’ days when your partner was a perfect gentleman, lady, or person? Have they suddenly turned into someone you barely recognize? Ah, dear one. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but things change. People change. It doesn’t mean he/she/they stopped loving you. Like you, they are a beautiful being growing in the direction of what nourishes them most. The challenging part is that you both may be growing in different directions.
Once you can see this clearly, with curiosity and without judgment, it’s possible to make space for who you both are in this new chapter of your lives. Certain life events (the birth of a child, the death of a parent or other loved one, major illness, career change, big geographic move, etc.) can blast any deep subconscious discontent out from the landmine of living. Suddenly, you’re so tired of the struggle, and there’s no place left to hide. Arms up and out in surrender, what can help you pick up the broken pieces, make a mosaic of healing out of suffering?
Begin by defining who you are, what matters most to you. Engage with people and practices that support your growth. But be careful! Who you are isn’t better or worse than your partner. He/she/they are growing, too. Get curious about what feeds them. Be patient with their response. This doesn’t mean you become a doormat or a punching bag in the relationship. It’s called a relationship for a reason, implying healthy connection, not disabling connection or hanging on by a thread. You will find the balance between shouting vs. whispering to be heard, between taking the backseat or insisting on being the driver.
Make time for this new dance you are choreographing together. It’s easy (and tempting) to fill the calendar with work, social engagements, the children’s activities, caring for aging parents, and time for self-care. Sometimes you both will fall into bed after a long and tedious day with nighttime silence as a welcome reprieve. Eyelids drooping, the lips can barely formulate a Good night honey or I love you. Please don’t make yourselves the last priority! You are the sun and moon of your family planet. You will each take turns shining warmth on a joyous day or being that third eye in dark times to calm restless tides.
The poet Mark Nepo said, “To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”
When I listen to my partner by leaning in softly with a willingness to be changed by what I hear, I am no longer the Wise or Gentle One. He is no longer the Logical or Tough One. We are simply one man, one woman, Braveheart and Tenderheart, trying our best to live in sync with Earth’s eternal heart.
Chances are we'll be the combination
Chances come and carry me
Chances are waiting to be taken, and I can see
Chances are the fascinations
Chances won't escape from me
Chances are only what we make them and all I need
Let’s take a chance. You be you and I’ll be me. Let’s listen to each other. Let’s grow. Let’s dance. Let’s be the sun and moon for our family. Thank you for taking a chance on me.
During our first few days in Costa Rica, I experienced some gastrointestinal upset. What followed was not patience and kindness, but irritation and blame. Instead of appreciating the lush rainforest rich with biodiverse species of flora and fauna, my mind was fixated on problems. My body wasn't behaving the way it should; my tween daughter was moody; I should be snapping out of this funk faster than I was.
Eventually, I could find some balance with a little help from mindfulness and self-compassion practices. Though the forecast called for sunny skies on the latter half of our trip, a small gray cloud still threatened to unleash a torrent of judgements if I wasn't careful.
Stop being so anxious! Never mind that your sleep schedule was thrown off from day 1 of this trip and that your body is slightly dehydrated from diarrhea and this weather.
Who cares that your gastrointestinal issues started in residency with call and sleep deprivation years ago. So what if your digestive system is still sensitive when your sleep schedule is thrown off. You should be over this by now!!!
On our flight home, I listened to an insightful dharma talk on patience. It reminded me to ask the right question. Instead of Am I behaving like a mindfulness master right now?, Is kindness here? might be more helpful.
Sylvia Boorstein writes, "Patience is more the moment to moment adjustment to unpleasant circumstances done in knowing they cannot be any other way. This is wisdom."
In Costa Rica, I was making moment to moment adjustments to unpleasant circumstances. I was soothing my body with food, hydration, Pepto-Bismol, and self-compassion. I was renewing my vow each day to be kind in speech to my daughter, myself, and others. My gratitude radar was on the lookout for beauty and kindness.
Maybe my mind wasn't entirely fixated on problems this whole trip. Maybe I was asking, Is kindness here? more often than not. Maybe my heart is as brave and beautiful as a Costa Rican sunset sinking in darkness to rise again.
May we all ask the right question. When we forget, may patience guide us towards wisdom.
This flurry of snow thoughts
inside my mind-globe is continuous
no room for sunlight, warmth, peace.
I’m stuck inside a pattern I can’t control
unless I see the woman trapped inside
and the one holding the globe--
the choice to shake it up again
or cradle the scene in her hands,
till all the cold flakes have settled
and quiet serenity abounds.
This poem was written before November 8, 2016, before Donald Trump’s acceptance speech after winning the 2016 Presidential election. It still gives me some a sense of peace and hope. Though there is so much uncertainty filling our collective hearts, and we are experiencing a whole range of emotions from anger, fear, disappointment, hurt, and doubt, we don’t have to stay stuck inside a pattern we can’t control.
At my Mom’s yoga group, we sat in a circle sharing our reactions. It felt like our cozy lives were being shaken again and again, so much that I was quivering from a flurry of snow thoughts and a contracted belly of fear. I felt a little bit of warmth and grounding as we sang “This Land is Your Land” to all the illegal immigrants, LGTBQ community, Muslims, Jewish people, women, children, and men everywhere without exception.
Through the power of song, words, and prayer, I don’t have to be a woman trapped inside this mind-globe of post-election confusion. I can also be the one holding the globe, cradling the scene in her hands till quiet serenity abounds. This quiet serenity cannot come from hate or division, but only from acts of kindness and compassion seeking to unite gender, racial, ethnic, sexual, and class diversities.
I still don’t know exactly how the recent Bodhisattva vow I took to be mindful of wise speech each day will help to heal the hurt in every heart I meet. Do I need to do more, say more, be more?
Driving to work Wednesday morning, I found myself sending metta to both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, to all beings everywhere who want to be happy, well, safe, and loved exactly as they are. Friday morning as I was driving to work, I heard the following metta prayer waiting to be spoken for myself and all beings everywhere:
May we make space for all that is moving through us.
May we be kind.
In the words of Diane Ackerman from her poem “School Prayer”:
I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.
Billions of beings, one Earth, one home. May we all be kind.
The Seed by Michelle Janean Pier
What does it mean to practice present moment compassion? It's a question I have been contemplating lately.
When a family member, friend, or patient comes to me with a story of suffering, I look into my cloudy crystal ball mind and agonize for a clear image of their future. What can this fortune teller say or do that will mitigate their suffering?
But present moment compassion does not work this way. When I am attached to a fixed outcome for them, I completely miss what is right in front of me. I cannot offer an open, spacious listening presence that allows healing seeds to be planted in the present moment. I'm too busy envisioning a perfectly manicured, comfortable and safe future garden haven for them because I have said and done the right things now.
That's one hell of an ego trip. Though I care deeply and want the best possible outcome for them, do I even have that kind of power?
What if we plant this future garden together? What if their words of suffering are watered by our collective tears? What if I am the silent space surrounding their stories, sensing when and where certain nutrients, sunlight, and rain are needed? What if we recognize and allow life to be here just as it is, patient for the seeds of longing to grow in their own way, in their own time?
May this contemplation nurture healing presence in myself, in all beings everywhere without exception.
It’s hard to appreciate the whole story when you’re fixated on a page, a paragraph, a few lines that keep repeating themselves like flashing neon lights inside a dark mind. It feels like someone has ripped out all the other pages from the book. You frantically search for them, hoping this isn’t the way the story ends, that something will change soon, and fast.
“He doesn’t get me. She isn’t listening to me. It’s all their fault. It’s my fault. And there isn’t enough time to fix this.”
You might have a different set of repeating aversive thoughts, depending on the day, your experience, and energy level.
“My body isn’t behaving like it should. The car won’t start. It’s not supposed to rain today.” And so on.
What if there’s more to the story? What would happen if you kept reading? What would happen if you turned the page? What if there were also moments of connection – joy, gratitude, kindness, compassion, patience, forgiveness? Would it be worth the wait?
Thanks to some wise mothers from MBSM Moms, I’m learning that my story does not have to end on a tragic note. I can keep reading. I can turn the page. I can even pencil in simple words to bring more equanimity to my character.
I can use concise, clear, and compassionate communication with my tween daughter to covey my care for us both.
“I see you. I hear that you are feeling (fill in the emotion of the moment). And I need for you to treat me with kindness.”
These words are like magic. Though they make logical sense, they aren’t always intuitive when you’re tired, irritable, hurt, or in a hurry. They say, “I see you as a valid, vulnerable being who experiences difficult emotions living this human incarnation. And I don’t want to be treated like trash.” These words aren’t rocket science, but a real help when you are at a loss for comforting words because you are looking for a sharp comeback that aims to draw blood.
I know that I will continue to ride the highs and lows of life: basking in the warmth of sweet connections with others, shivering uncontrollably in the gray apocalyptic pictures my thoughts paint after moments of disconnection from those I love most. During those love moments, may I pause long enough to allow joy to fill me completely. After moments of disconnection, may I pause long enough to allow the following mantra to fill me completely with compassion:
It’s like this right now.
It’s not my fault.
May the repetition of these words create space for body and breath, for self-compassion to be a salve soothing wounds, for this lotus heart to blossom open when it’s ready to give and receive love again.
Image by Unsplash
How I’ve missed you! I miss you when you visit the past trying to make sense of how and why things played out the way they did. I miss you when you visit the future wanting to know the exact details so you won’t be swallowed by a potential land mine. I miss you when you fantasize about an alternate reality that sounds better than this one.
I know that most times I am not all that exciting. The few times that I am, you’ll want to fly into the future imagining more moments like this and where they might lead. If I’m challenging, you might revisit the past and feel weighed down by much more than what is actually happening right now.
Kaveri, you don’t get a demerit for leaving me. I’m not like a ruthless god or angry parent who will only pay attention and care about you only if you’re perfect. I understand the temptation to leave. It’s in your genetics, your blood, your bones. To reach for me, to return to the freedom and peace I offer takes a great deal of patience and courage.
Thank you for remembering me today. Thank you for stopping periodically to connect with me, to receive my benevolence and well wishes for you on the inbreath, releasing past, future, and fantasy on the outbreath. It is a radical act of kindness, of perseverance, of faith unlike any other.
May you know that no matter how often you leave me, you are always welcome here. How I’ve missed you!
Your Faithful Friend on The Journey,
You are the best meteorologist gauging emotional weather systems before my mind can even make sense of them. But I don’t always treat you with kindness and respect.
At Yellowstone you tripped over a log and fell on your left hand side, bruising easily. You were excessively cold and couldn’t sleep comfortably in the cramped RV bed with little space to move or sit up comfortably without bumping your head. You couldn’t digest all the meals with ease. For most of the trip, you felt heavy and tense like the dead weight of a rotting tree trunk instead of light and joyous the way I expected you to be. Why couldn’t you just go with the flow the way Yellowstone’s chromatic hot springs, rivers, and waterfalls did? Could you really forget your True Nature so easily? What was wrong with you?
I realize now that my attitude towards you wasn’t helpful at all. Instead of infusing your being with the healing flow of self-compassion, I was adding fuel to the fire and fanning the flames of anxiety. But I can change that now. Now that everyone is back home settling into routines of work and school, I can listen to you. I know you weren’t causing these discomforts to hurt me on purpose. It was your tender cry for help. I’m so lucky to have you as my personal meteorologist. Emotions like anger, fear, sadness, and embarrassment aren’t the enemies, but signals to pause, listen, make space, and deepen compassionate attention.
There were some fleeting moments of sweet conversations between you and me. Looking up at the crescent moon and remembering our wholeness lost in shadows. Attempts at yoga and meditation some mornings and evenings. Massaging the left side of you with care and concern. Witnessing the flow of water and sensing the flow of benevolent intentions within me. Calling a friend and emailing a supportive group of amazing women.
The ocean of compassion is bottomless. I know this now. No matter how long I have studied or how much I think I know about mindfulness and compassion practices, there is always room for more experience, more awareness, more patience, more love. Thank you, dear body for supporting me faithfully, for letting me know exactly what you need with persistence, for being patient when I ignore you. When I forget, may the moon, bodies of water, my own breath, someone or something else always bring me back to you.
With Love and Gratitude,
"The path is not about perfecting the self. The path is about deepening compassion for the self."
Our limited views imprison us. We paint our reality from a palette of color preferences. We live in a large eclectic museum of artists. But if we stand admiring one painting for a lifetime, ours and ours alone, we'll miss multiple opportunities to appreciate other points of view.
I have the great fortune of sharing my life with a husband who constantly challenges my point of view. Our disagreements used to scare me. I was afraid that the cracks in our conversation would form canyons, where the distance would be insurmountable. Any words spoken would not be heard by the other, but echoed back as an internal reverberation of fear.
Hello, hello, hello!!! Is anyone there, there, there???
On a recent hike on the Palomarin Trail in Bolinas, my husband and I stopped for lunch at a clearing off the path. The clearing overlooked a lake dotted at the surface with several lotus blossoms. The scene was perfect, as if I were witnessing a real life version of Monet's Water Lilies.
Until I spotted some Starbucks paper napkins several feet away from us. Suddenly, the perfect painting changed into a picture I no longer wanted to see. Mother Earth's sacred ground was polluted by a careless, ignorant being (or group) who had no regard for anyone but him/herself. I sent some nasty words out to these nameless, faceless beings that was the exact opposite of metta.
My husband watched my self-righteous performance in silence. After some time, he painted some alternative possibilities for me. What if the wind blew the napkins out of a hiker's open back pack? What if a group was having a picnic like we were now, and one of the group members got too close to the edge of the cliff, slipped and fell, while others left in a hurry to find help? What if someone intentionally littered because they had been hardened by life circumstances, and no longer considered anyone or anything sacred? The possibilities were endless.
I looked away from the lotus blossoms. Though I preferred a serene scene sans scattered Starbucks paper napkins, I was beginning to open to other still life possibilities. Once we finished eating and packed up our belongings, I walked over to each napkin and picked it up. I wasn’t the perfect environmentalist or Buddhist practitioner, but a humble being who was given the opportunity to deepen compassion for herself and the being(s) who left the napkins behind.
Our limited views imprison us. We paint our reality from a palette of color preferences. We live in a large eclectic museum of artists. If we walk from one painting to another, we’ll have multiple opportunities to appreciate other points of view. We might even visualize the napkins as a possible part of Monet’s Water Lilies, and get curious about the folks who left them behind.
Kaveri Patel, a woman who is always searching for the wisdom in waves.