Normally we think of mindfulness as a peaceful experience. But there is an unbearably painful side to this practice of waking up. For me, this happens when a story from the news comes to life and pierces my heart like an arrow. The other day I heard details of the rape and murder of a young girl. Now, it haunts me, a gnawing background pain that suddenly flashes in the middle of the night, a sharp stabbing sensation. The pain is so intense I can feel myself trying to shut it down, to go numb. But simultaneously I feel a mother’s need to bear witness, to stay present, even though the events are unfolding only in my mind. In my mind I witness this helpless child, the traumatized parents, the deranged couple who committed this incomprehensible crime. I hear my teacher’s words: waking up to our lives isn’t about staying comfortable. I know I’m addicted to turning away from pain. But at the same time, waking up isn’t about torturing ourselves. Allow the pain just be there like a burning coal in the middle of my heart.
Holding steady, other imaginings arise. I see myself scooping up this child, embracing her, protecting her. I restrain those drug-crazed attackers, holding them until they come to their senses. I envision the parents, and all bereaved parents, being comforted and at peace. Waking up from this fantasy, overwhelmed by helplessness, I remember the mantra, or prayer, of Avaloketeshvara, the compassionate buddha, who symbolizes wakefulness. It is said that this buddha sees clearly and weeps a million tears, making the vow to liberate all beings from suffering. At this moment, all I need is enough support to keep my heart open one minute longer. Making the wish– the promise–to break the chain of violence in this world is the only way I can do this. Where do I begin? Poised here on this razor blade of nowness, I trust in the power of bearing witness. Not closing my eyes and heart is all I can do. At least for this moment.