The sunny side of the heart
is where we all want to live,
avoiding the shadow at any cost,
the chill of loss and loneliness
that lingers like thick fog.
What if true wealth
is not in the address
or the ratio of good to bad,
but the coin in your pocket,
with heads for joy
and tails for compassion?
May compassion transform pain
into the possibility of freedom,
understanding that a moment’s
richness was never dependent
on an external sun.
It’s the 7th straight day of waking up with a headache and some heartburn. What the hell is going on? Am I sleeping enough? Am I eating too much? Maybe it’s something on the taboo list. Too much chocolate? Am I worried about something? I thought the homeopathic remedy was working. Maybe I need another dose. What’s wrong with me???
As a physician, it’s easy for me to quickly analyze symptoms, form hypotheses for possible causes, and rule out conditions that don’t fit the diagnosis of what I am experiencing. It’s how I was trained. Western medicine is great for this kind of flawless, clear cut analysis. But is it so flawless and clear cut? And does this help a human like me with real fear and personal judgements about what’s going on?
In working with patients, I’m finding that astute clinical acumen is not as important as the ability to listen and appreciate their stories. A patient naturally wants an accurate diagnosis and therapy that will help them feel better. But the fears they share, the self-judgements that add layers to their suffering, aren’t easily alleviated with a quick prescription.
As humans, we desire security, satiety, sanity (and so much more). We want to live on the sunny side of the heart, avoiding illness, aging, loss, all dissatisfaction at any cost. I am no exception. I’d rather wake up with a clear head and belly ready to digest anything that comes my way with ease.
The thinking mind is helpful if it’s willing to ask wise discerning questions with curiosity and kindness, patient for the answers that come. It’s not helpful when the mind acts like a merciless lawyer interrogating me on the witness stand for a crime I didn’t commit.
What if the true wealth of this world, this life is not in the address of where you’d like to live, who you should be, or the ratio of good to bad moments? What if the coin in your pocket has joy on one side and compassion on the other side? Joy typically isn’t a problem for most of us. It’s the shadow side, the challenges in our lives that ask for compassionate attention.
We crave for things to be a certain way, cling to certain ideals. When we get what we don’t want, or push away things as they are, the heart space is filled with struggle. Only compassion can transform this pain into freedom. We don’t have to like what is happening. We do need to love the life that is being affected by the struggle. When we understand that a moment’s richness is never dependent on an external promise of happiness, we begin to trust our internal capacity to simply bear witness.
It’s the 7th straight day of waking up with a headache and some heartburn. What the hell is going on? Before I pop an Advil or Zantac to prematurely block the inquiry, I sit still. Question marks and exclamation points float like balloons through this sky mind. Placing a hand on my heart, I breathe till the breath is not so constricted by fear and the judgments that follow. I feel compassionate presence growing stronger.
Though I’d rather celebrate a moment of pure joy, the realization slowly comes like a good friend tapping my shoulder to point out something I’ve missed. Among the question marks and exclamation points, images of Padmapani and lotus hearts begin to emerge.
When our thoughts are stuck on the spin cycle of Samsara, we can press the pause button and use a different washer to purify these thoughts. Before we place the laundry coin in, we can notice how compassion and joy are two sides of the same coin, this vast heart that has space for it all. Welcome or not, each moment has the potential for full engagement, because of the coin in your pocket.
(Note: This reflection is not meant to minimize or gloss over the intense suffering that comes with chronic illness, loss, social unrest, environmental degradation, etc. It’s an invitation to explore the smaller inconveniences in life, to cultivate a compassionate presence that stays when the larger waves hit, to appreciate the flip of compassion to joy, and back to compassion, depending on what each moment requires. May the benefits of this inquiry be shared by all beings everywhere without exception.
If this reflection is not helpful, let it pass in the sky mind till images that are useful to you appear. May your spiritual thirst for freedom lead you to your own fountain of meaning.)