A useful exercise to practise and increase the amount of compassion in the world.
A useful exercise to practise and increase the amount of compassion in the world.
I used to think about – and still do – what the meaning of existence is. It appears that we simply live for a period of time, go through some events, and then we die.
I used to wonder about (and sometimes I still do): what is the point of being happy when I will be sad due to changing circumstances? I mean, it’s like the moment I am happy when something good happens, there will come a time when something disappointing happens, and I will be sad again. So, life is like – happy, sad, happy, sad, happy, sad… and then we die. So why be happy? Why be sad? For example, why rejoice over something like the birth of a child when we know the child will die one day and we will mourn the loss of a life? Wouldn’t it be better to remain emotionally frozen or frigid and not feel anything at all, in order not to be manipulated or held hostage by the circumstances that are often unpredictable and uncontrollable?
Then again, if I were to apply the same logic to eating, I will need to ask myself: why eat when I will be hungry again? Isn’t life also a matter of being hungry and filled, hungry and filled, hungry and filled, and then we die? So what’s the point of eating when I know I will go hungry again?
Maybe one way to answer this question (or dilemma or koan) is: well, I can still choose to eat because eating can be a pleasurable activity, other than getting nutrients and staying alive. Similarly, while I can still survive without expressing happiness or sadness, at least I get to express my emotions or feel my feelings. I suppose feelings or emotions are there for a reason. Animals, for example, have feelings too – they feel happy at times and they feel sad too. But I don’t find animals mulling over the seeming futility of life. They live in the moment, or so it seems.
So, maybe the meaning of existence is to create my own meaning and choose to live in the moment. To live in the awareness that I have the ability or the gift or the opportunity to at least feel alive. Emotions or feelings may be Nature’s gift to us to experience that aliveness. After all, dead people can’t feel anything – they can’t laugh or smile and they can’t cry too. But I can. And you can. We can be happy if we want to. We can be sad if we want to. It sounds basic and simple, and I may well be stating the obvious here, but then again, I wish life is that simple… Well, perhaps it is, and it is us human beings who are complex and mysterious creatures.
One final thought: the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.””
So, indeed, if I apply the same logic above to this observation, whether I am wise or whether I am foolish, I will still die one day. So the question naturally arises: If the same fate befalls both the wise and the foolish, and both will inevitably die one day, why be wise then? Why be foolish? It will all be in vain, won’t it? Or is it really in vain? Maybe like Proverbs 9:12 says, if I am wise, let me be wise for myself, so as not to bear the folly of being foolish. So yes, I will still die one day, whether I be wise or foolish, but at least, I can tell myself that I have chosen to live well, or live wisely, or live consciously, as much as I can. What remains to be seen is: How do I go about doing that? That is my ongoing challenge and mission in life.
Comfort, or comfortableness, in a sense, can be detrimental as it may lull me into a false sense of security and stability, when in reality, nothing is permanent and nothing is fully guaranteed in life. Everything can change with a twinkle of an eye. It is like cycling on the road – no matter how smoothly one may ride on a bicycle, all it takes is a moment if one loses focus or an errant vehicle that sidesweeps the bicycle or any other unforeseen circumstance to cause the cyclist to stumble or fall from the bicycle. It behooves me then to stay vigilant at all times.
What I send out to the universe, whether in thought, deed or action, will come back to me, through the workings of the natural law of cause and effect. It is like farming – what I sow and water will grow and bear harvest. Jesus said to let my yes be yes, and no be no, and James said to not be double-minded in order to be stable in all my ways. So if I say I will do something now, make sure I do it right away, whether it makes me look or feel silly, such as when I am in the middle of eating or doing something.
I am the universe, and the universe is me. So if I am honest to the universe, I am being honest to myself. If I am gracious to myself and not be too hard on myself for my shortcomings, I am being gracious to the universe as well. By examining my thoughts and intentions in my heart and articulating them in words, I am learning to make the unconscious conscious in order to live a more conscious and meaningful life.
I have tried a radical experiment recently. I call it: THE EXTREME LOVE EXPERIMENT.
Whenever I have a dark thought — a “forbidden” thought, like anger, jealousy, resentment, lust, shame, contempt — I immediately say to myself, “I love the part of you, Liz, who is full of anger right now.”
or: “I love the part of you who is ashamed of yourself right now.”
or: “I love the part of you who can’t stop judging yourself right now.”
or: “I love the part of you who feels weak and helpless right now.”
or: ‘I love the part of you who just had an explicitly violent fantasy about watching that person who is talking loudly on her cellphone suddenly have her head blow up.”
or: “I love the part of you who is still having an argument in your head with a man you haven’t talked to in 15 years.”
or: “I love the part of you who broke your New Year’s resolution on January 4th.”
or: “I love the part of you who believes that she is such a spiritual hypocrite, it’s ridiculous.”
or: “I love the vain/insecure part of you who stands in front of the mirror lifting up the dangly flesh on your neck and wondering if there’s some kind of plastic surgery for that.”
or: “I love the part of you who is jealous of that other novelist for winning that big award.”
I used to try to banish all those parts of myself. Because they were BAD. They were WRONG. They were UNEVOLVED. They were NEGATIVE.
But banishing the parts of myself that I hated has never worked. The more I try to banish them, the stronger they grow. The more I hated these parts of myself, the more they multiplied. It’s like my self-hatred was fertilizer — creating a dark, warm, nourishing environment for all those “bad” thoughts and impulses to grow…and as they grew, they destroyed me.
Now I just say to the dark thought, “I love this part of you”…and the dark thought loses its power.
I understand now that I am not a SELF. I am SELVES. I am thousands of different selves — and all of them are worthy of love.
To say, “I love you,” is the only force strong enough to diffuse darkness.
And here’s the crazy thing — this habit is starting to spread out of me, and I can now do it toward others.
For instance, I now have the capacity to think: “I love the part of my husband who is constantly interrupting me. This is just his weird humanity at play.”
Followed by: “And I love the part of me who gets so freaking irritated about how my husband is constantly interrupting me.”
Followed by: “I love the part of me who doesn’t really BELIEVE that I love the part of my husband who is constantly interrupting me.”
Followed by: “I love the part of me who is saying that this EXTREME LOVE EXPERIMENT is total bullshit, and it will never work.”
Followed by: “I love the part of me who wonders if I will ever truly love myself.”
And it goes on like that. But I go on, too. I just keep throwing love at everything that comes up…until finally it all gently quiets down.
And it does all finally gently quiet down.
I love all these dark parts of myself not because they are wonderful and adorable and perfect and fantastic, but because they are THERE. My dark bits are with me and they will likely always be with me. Just as your dark parts are with you and will likely always be with you. All that is there needs to be loved.
As they say: “It’s not a bug; it’s a FEATURE.”
Our humanity is not an ERROR. Our crazy thoughts are not MISTAKES. Our scary longings and giant failures and ongoing disasters are not ABERRATIONS.
This is merely what it is to be a person — messy, weird, inconsistent, doubtful. This is how we ARE, and that has to be OK, or else nobody is OK.
We are not some early Dell Computer Operating System, here to be de-bugged. We are not some new product for sale, here to be perfected. The goal is not to become an immaculate golden orb. The goal is to return to a place of kindness, where you can be gentle with yourself and others, no matter what arises. This requires, I think, a friendly sort of loving humor about who you are and who we all are. Why does the Dalai Lama have such a twinkle about him? Because he gets it. He gets that it’s kind of funny, how we are. Even when it’s terrible. The whole thing is…very, very strange. And that’s OK. It’s strange, but it’s sacred.
And I believe there no is gentler or safer place to stand on this earth than in a place where you can say to yourself, “I love every bit of you, you beautiful freak.”
The Buddha said it better, of course. The Buddha said, “You can search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of love as yourself.”
In other words: Be good to you, OK?
Please put down the knife you have been holding to your own throat. You don’t deserve that kind of abuse, and it won’t help.
Just try it. Try saying to your scariest bits: “I love this part of you.”
And then say it again to the next part…and the next part…and the next part…and the next part…and ONWARD.
Good luck in there.
I have read this in-depth post by Elizabeth Gilbert and found it both amazingly timeless and timely – timeless because loving and accepting ourselves in the fullness of our humanity is an ongoing process for time and eternity, and timely because I have been exploring my shadow lately as I continue to delve deep into my soul to experience greater intimacy and authenticity with myself, and also with others as a result.
I realise the more we awaken to who we really are and free ourselves from expectations of society and organised religions, the more we will come to appreciate and accept ourselves completely regardless of what we do or think because we no longer measure our worth based on our actions or accomplishments or mistakes, or based on what other people think of us, or based on what we think of ourselves; instead we simply rest in the wonderful truth that we are worthy simply because we are Love, and therefore we are worthy of love every moment of our lives.
I like her suggested meditation or practice or experiment of extreme love because it is immensely practical and relatable as we all would have experienced or done or said something that society or religion or our own inner critic would frown upon at any point of time, and it is indeed vital that at that very moment we think we fall short of any kind of self-imposed or others-imposed “standard”, we can choose to love that part of ourselves that “falls short”, and it would lose its power over us, and we will indeed experience a deep sense of peace within ourselves, like taking a warm relaxing bath of endless and unfailing love.
I have been musing on wolves’ howling at full moon lately as it occurred to me that a wolf’s howl sounds somewhat like a long OM, AUM or OHM chant. I googled on this and came across these interesting websites.
~We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolves and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and the dolphin, the beautiful Orca and the salmon…
Wolf Moon Attributes
Tarot: The Star
Herbs: holly thistle, nuts and cones
Colors: white, lavender, blue-violet/indigo, black
Stones: garnet, onyx, jet, chrysoprase, rose quartz
Animals: bear, fox, coyote, wolf
Goddesses: Freya, Brigid, Persephone, Inanna, Sarasvati, Hera
Medicine: awakening, envisioning, beginning/conceiving, rest, protection
Holy Day: Imbolc
As we draw closer to the new moon day on 8 February, may we continue to set our intentions for what we wish to manifest in this new cycle. Indeed, may unconditional love, delicious joy, overflowing prosperity and fulfilling intimacy flow into our life, for we are truly worthy of all the good things coming to us. May all our intentions of positive affirmations of love, joy, prosperity and intimacy be sealed and realized.
May we continue to move forward by staying optimistic with resilience and deep sense of joy and hope that the world and all of us will be OK.
“Together we are creating beauty, healing and change. Together we are celebrating this precious life and uniting in remembrance of our wild and sacred feminine power.
Sister, the world needs your voice, your inspiration, your expression and your unique gifts. Dear one… This is your medicine. Your voice matters! Yes you.”
“When we begin to breathe mindfully and listen to our bodies, we become aware of feelings of suffering that we’ve been ignoring. We hold these feelings in our bodies as well as our minds. Our suffering has been trying to communicate with us, to let us know it is there, but we have spent a lot of time and energy ignoring it.
When we begin to breathe mindfully, feelings of loneliness, sadness, fear, and anxiety may come up. When that happens, we don’t need to do anything right away. We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognise it. We don’t tell our anger to go away, we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.
Our suffering reflects the suffering of the world. Discrimination, exploitation, poverty, and fear cause a lot of suffering in those around us. Our suffering also reflects the suffering of others. We may be motivated by the desire to do something to help relieve the suffering in the world. How can we do that without understanding the nature of suffering? If we understand our own suffering, it will become much easier for us to understand the suffering of others and of the world. We may have the intention to do something or be someone that can help the world suffer less, but unless we can listen to and acknowledge our own suffering, we will not really be able to help.
The amount of suffering inside us and around us can be overwhelming. Usually we don’t like to be in touch with it because we believe it’s unpleasant. The marketplace provides us with everything imaginable to help us run away from ourselves. We consume all these products in order to ignore and cover up the suffering in us. Even if we’re not hungry, we eat. When we watch television, even if the program isn’t very good, we don’t have the courage to turn it off, because we know that when we turn it off we may have to go back to ourselves and get in touch with the suffering inside. We consume not because we need to consume but because we’re afraid of encountering the suffering inside us.
But there is a way of getting in touch with the suffering without being overwhelmed by it. We try to avoid suffering, but suffering is useful. We need suffering. Going back to listen and understand our suffering brings about the birth of compassion and love. If we take the time to listen deeply to our own suffering, we will be able to understand it. Any suffering that has not been released and reconciled will continue. Until it has been understood and transformed, we carry with us not just our own suffering but also that of our parents and our ancestors. Getting in touch with suffering that has been passed down to us helps us understand our own suffering. Understanding suffering gives rise to compassion. Love is born, and right away we suffer less. If we understand the nature and the roots of our suffering, the path leading to the cessation of the suffering will appear in front of us. Knowing there is a way out, a path, brings us relief, and we no longer need to be afraid.
Understanding suffering always brings compassion. If we don’t understand suffering, we don’t understand happiness. If we know how to take good care of suffering, we will know how to take good care of happiness. We need suffering to grow happiness. The fact is that suffering and happiness always go together. When we understand suffering, we will understand happiness. If we know how to handle suffering, we will know how to handle happiness and produce happiness.
If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born. When the energy of compassion is born, right away we suffer less. When we suffer less, when we have compassion for ourselves, we can more easily understand the suffering of another person and of the world. Then our communication with others will be based on the desire to understand rather than the desire to prove ourselves right or make ourselves feel better. We will have only the intention to help.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Art of Communicating”
“I spoke about our relationships as flowers that need watering with love and communication to grow… we all need a friend to remind us…. Nourishing and healing communication is the food of our relationships…. We may not even know what we said or did that started to poison the relationship. But we have the antidote: mindful compassion and loving communication. Love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. With mindfulness we can produce thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them grow and thrive.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Art of Communicating”
Where there is breath, there is compassion.
Where there is breath, there is gratitude.
I find this guided meditation video helps me to focus on being aware of my breathing.
I learnt from the video that mindfulness can be referred to as heartfulness, which is an awareness or a non-conceptual knowing that goes beyond the five senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. According to Jon Kabat-Zin, when we hear the sound of a bell, what we hear is not the bell as “bell” is just a name – what we are hearing is the sound in its original spirit, and on the top of the sound, the mind adds the thought to identify the sound as the sound of a bell. He added that instead of experiencing our life in the bare actuality of the senses, we are actually more experiencing life through our thoughts about our experiences, and our preferences, fears, worries, concerns, etc, and in essence, not really inhabiting the full spectrum of our innate capability. He said that it involves a certain kind of discipline, and it is actually remarkable that so many people are now moving to want to cultivate mindfulness in their lives.
And yes, perhaps mindfulness or heartfulness is about living and experiencing the world in a non-conceptual manner that transcends the limitations of language. On one level, we all associate meanings and concepts with sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touches – these concepts have their place as we use them to interpret and communicate to ourselves and one another, which engages the five senses. At the same time, these concepts may well be a finger pointing to the moon, or a boat leading us to the destination, to the direct experience of life or existence itself, and when we touch that ultimate reality, we no longer need the boat. We enter into a wordless realm that can only be experienced and understood with our intuition or sixth sense, so to speak. This somehow reminds me of the flower sermon I came across some time ago, in which Buddha used a flower without words to teach mindfulness. I think I came across this flower sermon in Anthony De Mello’s “The song of the bird“, which I find intriguing and inspiring.
“Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.
But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water.
The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching.
When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.
“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor from that day forward.”
(From “Flower Sermon“)
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change” ~ Buddha