Listening to pain

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.


Listening is love

I’m grateful to have been invited to join the radio program  An Organic Conversation  on March 17.   The topic is  listening as love.  To me, this is the magic of mindful communication. Here’s a simple formula for this:  Stop!   Look!   Listen!

STOP:  The first stage of mindful listening is to work with our speed and distraction.  We need to simply stop, let go, make space.  We spend our lives running away from open space, from the ‘dead air’ of silence.  Before we can listen to another human being, we need to be capable of listening to ourselves.   This is why sitting meditation is so important.  The meditation journey trains us relax and let go of distractions.  We unmask the boredom and restlessness to discover what our minds are really capable of.  Gradually we learn to settle down peacefully, able to listen.

LOOK:  There is a certain moment when our attention shifts from ‘in here’ to ‘out there’.  Imagine that our attention is like a beam of light.  At that moment, it expands outward, illuminating the space around us.  Before we listen to someone’s words, we listen with our eyes, all our senses.  Our natural communication system of Awake Body, Tender Heart and Open Mind tunes into the whole environment, a signal that we are open.

LISTEN:  Now that we’ve opened the senses of our body, the vulnerability of our heart and the curiosity of our mind we’re able to have a fresh experience.  What is this fresh experience?  Being completely open like this, with no hidden agenda is not a dry, empty exchange.  When we’re openly listening to another human being, the space is warm and tender.  Because the ‘me-first’ barrier has dissolved, this space is a mixing zone where you can’t find the dividing line between ‘me’ and ‘you’.  Instead there is awakeness, which lets you be who you are.  There is tenderness, which enables me to feel what you feel.  There is curiosity, which asks you to go on, ‘please tell me more’.  Whether this is a short conversation with a stranger on the bus or a life long conversation with a partner, listening openly like this is what it means to love.

Tune in on March 17 and we’ll see where this goes.

Love to you all.