Holding all in our heart

More thoughts prompted by recent weather events….

Yesterday all exterior talk was of storms and wind and damage. Interior talk was of loss and holding onto to what really has worth.

What if we allowed our hearts to keep opening, even in the face of storms and uncertainty, until our hearts were big enough to fit all experiences inside?

We could learn to stop when the sun goes down and when the sun comes up. We could learn to listen to the wind; we could learn to notice that it’s raining or snowing or hailing or calm. We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves, and we could realize that it’s sad. The sadder it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it’s smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it’s rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea.

Pema Chödrön

That magical sense of being at rest

Just a beautiful autumn poem…

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 1999, VII for LV

A story about fear

Today is the feastday of St Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226), a town I visited just a month ago, so a story from his life about working with difficult emotions.

We are told that there was a wolf terrorizing the town of Gubbio, attacking and killing several people. The townsfolk locked their doors, afraid to leave their homes. Francis heard about this and went to Gubbio . When he came upon the wolf, it lunged at him, about to bite. Francis stood calmly and greeted the wolf, calling him “Brother Wolf” and told it not to harm him. The wolf stopped and lay down at his feet. Then Francis and the wolf made a deal: the town would provide food for the wolf for the rest of its life, in exchange for the wolf’s ceasing to attack. We are told the wolf placed its right paw into Francis’ hand, and lived in peace with the people of Gubbio for the rest of its life.

These legends speak to the different parts of our lives. We all have many fears that push us to close our doors and withdraw. And we have emotions that arise within us and scare us, like anger, jealousy and the stuff that relationships bring up in our lives. Our normal first response is to be disturbed or frightened by these strong emotions and we move to push them away. However, in themselves, these are not the problem, but it is our mind’s relationship to them that is. So what we learn from Francis is to approach the things that frighten us – the frightening wolves within us –  by looking at them directly, as if they are part of the family – “brother wolf”, “brother anger” “brother fear” – and welcome them to the table. This is the practice: to first experience the anxiety as an embodied feeling, with no shoulds or shouldn’ts about it. Our fears do not need to become a moment for showing ourselves further violence.

We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become  increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. .
We always have this choice
Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

Accept yourself


The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another

Barry Magid, Leave yourself Alone

Challenges and struggles

One of the most toxic new-age ideas is that we should “keep a positive attitude.” What a crazy, crazy idea that is. It is much healthier, much more healing, to allow yourself to feel whatever is coming up in you, and allow yourself to work with that anxiety, depression, grief. Because, underneath that, if you allow those feelings to come up and express themselves, then you can find the truly positive way of living in relationship to those feelings. That’s such an important thing…..It’s not  about some “spiritual experience” of being high all the time. Not at all. It is about living with the ongoing stresses and strains and difficulties – and joys –  of life, but doing so in a way that we feel whole. Living in relationship with the struggles of life is what makes us human.

Michael Lerner, The Difference between Healing and Curing