Suffering does not occur in a vacuum. It always occurs in relation. The patient who comes in with chest pain and high blood pressure because a beloved relative died of COVID complications in India and they cannot grieve or participate in last ritual rites with family. The patient who expresses grave concern for their son’s safety in returning to work during a pandemic, policing, and protests. The friend who practices medicine in a part of the United States where political division is threatening peace. The Earth still offering oxygen and sustenance despite continued abuse and neglect.
Healing also occurs in relation. It’s hard to heal if there is a sense of disconnection from ancestors, biological and spiritual family/teachers, the land, each other, and ourselves. How do we re-connect, re-awaken, re-member? While healing is a journey and there is no perfect answer, the following practices are offered as possible places to begin the contemplation.
Embodying Kuan Yin
Kuan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, the One who listens to the cries of the world. Embodying her feels like a tall order sometimes. How can I listen to others if I can’t hear what’s happening within? Life is overwhelming and overscheduled. How can I unplug from the endless to do and to be list?
I’m learning that Kuan Yin is not only the One who listens to the cries of the world, but also the One who stays till there is ease. There’s a sincere commitment to listening, to staying with the experience for the purpose of understanding. This does not mean that pain disappears, what’s broken is easily fixed, or questions have clear answers. The ease feels like a deep stillness beneath surface waves of experience, a stillness that patiently waits for the waves to dissipate for clarity. As I learn to stay with personally challenging experiences, there is more capacity to be with the suffering in others.
Connecting with the Natural World
- Find something from the natural world inside or outside of your home. This might be a leaf, a rock, a seashell, a piece of fruit, a grain or rice, a feather, etc.
- Practice internal mindfulness by noticing what’s present in breath and body with eyes closed for a few minutes. Then slowly open your eyes and practice external mindfulness in relational with this object. How are you different than the object, how are you the same?
- Then with reverence and humility, listen to what the object has to tell you. What does it have to teach you?
Here is poem written on retreat in relation with a seashell:
she picked you up from the wet sand
because you looked pretty,
her keepsake from the RV camping
trip off the Mendocino Coast
you were once the home
of a precious sea-being
just as her body is her home,
how she wouldn’t want
to be taken without consent,
how next time she can ask the water
or lift you up to her ear--
your mollusk spirit whispering
home is always sacred
no matter how small
or large you are
The Five Earth Touchings
Touching the Earth is a practice developed by Thich Nhat Hahn to fill your heart with remembrance of family, spiritual, and land lineage, so blessings of abundance can be offered to those you love, and the process of forgiving those who have hurt you may begin. It is practiced ‘to celebrate the positive and transform what needs to be transformed’.
This practice may precipitate unwelcome, unpleasant feelings, especially if you have experienced trauma or other feelings of disconnection. It is offered here as a healing modality to practice in a safe space with others, a trusted teacher or therapist. It is not meant to spiritually bypass what is true for you. Please honor your direct experience.
Questions for Inquiry
The following questions can be used for reflective journaling:
- Think of your country(ies) of origin (ethnic roots). Now think of the country where you reside. Is there anything about the history of the country where you reside that needs to be narrated differently or questioned?
- How can you be in reciprocal relation with life? What does it mean to set an intention of minimizing harm to other beings, the Earth, yourself?
Deeply nourished by recent retreats, water is humbly offered to trees in the backyard. It’s a small gesture of gratitude compared to their teachings on grounding, rooting regardless of external or internal climate, on letting go with trust that what’s needed will grow in season.
(Deep bows to Erin Treat, Brian Lesage, Amma Thanasanti and Kaira Jewel Lingo for sharing these teachings, and to their teachers and respective lineages. Suffering does not occur in a vacuum. It always occurs in relation. Healing also occurs in relation.)