As the darkest day of the year approaches, I’m finding hope in the darkness.
My own darkness, that is.
I’ve been silent because it’s been hard to put words on a page. Hard to express what I’ve been experiencing.
A couple of months ago I entered a darkness, a place where I felt hopelessly negative and stuck. And it was painful.
Despite the pain, I recognized it as an invitation from Spirit. Draw near. Delve deeper. There’s more to discover. More that hinders you from fully realizing all that you are in Me.
So, I reached out for help.
I’ve no idea where this will take me, but I’m willing to go deeper. I’m willing because I believe my faithfulness in saying yes to this invitation will allow the manifestation of what longs to be born in me.
“The birth of the Word in the soul,” as my Living School teacher Jim Finley puts it. Through our fidelity to these yeses, to what shows up unexpectedly in our lives, Christ is incarnate in the world, he says.
But, for now, I sit in the Advent season of expectant darkness.
I sit in the silence and wait. I wait because there is nowhere else to go. I wait with hopefulness, with the courage and trust it takes to say yes. To accept what is before me. And I wait with an awareness that infinite Love is loving me in this place. And a recognition that this, too, is part of my spiritual journey.
I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. Each of us has our own moments of waiting in darkness. Sometimes it’s dealing with a chronic illness. Emotional pain. An unexpected medical diagnosis. The death of a loved one. Separation from one’s children.
Here at the border we’ve been getting more asylum seekers lately. We’re especially seeing an increase in refugees from African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, where violence has caused many to flee. I’ve begun visiting a few of these young men detained in the El Paso detention facility while they await their court date. They are not much older than my own son. Every one of them has had life-threatening experiences to get here. And every one of them has been separated from their families. If they are sent back, they will be killed.
I wonder how they remain hopeful. How they say yes to the darkness.
One young man I visit tells me his mother knows nothing about where he is. She doesn’t know if he’s safe, or even alive. I think of what that must be like for her – waiting for news. Wondering and worrying. Is she able to say yes to this darkness? To accept this part of her journey?
I think of Finley’s words: “… your ongoing yes is the incarnation.”
And then I recall a very young woman so many years ago. Her willingness to say yes with courage and trust to what presented itself in the silent darkness led to the incarnation. The birth of Christ in the world.
In the silent darkness of the night, no matter how dark, no matter how uncertain, God speaks the Word in the soul.
Like Mary, fidelity to that yes is my journey, too. It is changing my life.
Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.
Sometimes I need to reground. Connect with my center again.
With all that’s been surfacing lately – within the world and within myself – I knew I needed a day away. I planned it for October 10th – my 36th wedding anniversary. A day when I feel especially held and embraced by love.
I knew I’d feel the spiritual support I needed.
I chose my favorite place – a Franciscan retreat center in New Mexico. A place with real wide-trunk trees and leaves that actually curled and floated to the ground, crunching underfoot, making me feel like fall has truly arrived.
It’s no Sevenoaks (in Madison, Virginia), but it’s probably as close I’ll get to it around here.
Why? Because I hear the invitation.
I hear an invitation to let go of “distractions,” like Martha in the Gospel story, distracted by so many things when only one thing matters.
The Divine invites my mind to rest. My heart to awaken. My soul to remember.
Only when I am still and my mind is silent can I remember who I am and whose I am.
Only then can I “hear” the voice of the Divine calling me “beloved.”
And from this place, I can reflect more easily on this heart of God. The heart that I’ve been asked to receive in that meditation. This heart of the world that bleeds for all, yet doesn’t die. This heart that never stops loving.
But in reflecting on this heart, I also hear another invitation. An invitation to let down my boundaries. The self-imposed ones I created to protect me, to keep me safe. I recognize them very clearly in this place. I see how they’re holding me back.
What if I cross these boundaries?
Is that the invitation I’m hearing now? To cross the boundaries that prevent me from knowing who I am eternally in God? Boundaries that prevent me from knowing myself “hidden with Christ in God forever”?
What if I then discover that we all belong to this Heart? That no one and nothing can exist apart from it? That we are never separated from the heart of God? Even when we’re unaware. Or we reject it. Or we think we don’t deserve it.
No one and nothing is excluded.
It’s one heart. And it’s the heart of the world.
I’ve created my own collage of this heart. Cutting out photos that cause strong reactions in me. Pasting these tiny pictures into a heart-shaped image. A sacred heart where everyone is included.
From innocent children to violent gang members. From poets to presidents. From Mexican immigrants to poverty-stricken Nigerians. From Jihab-wearing women to white supremacists. They all fit in this bleeding, bulging, beating heart.
It causes me to weep. And to soften, so that, ever so gently, I can move beyond my self-imposed boundaries. Into the very center of this sacred heart.
And I just may find that I wake up on the inside of understanding the intimate immediacy of the One who calls me “beloved.”
It’s Friday night. And I’m indulging in chicken smothered in a spicy chocolate sauce while a Fandango dancer clicks her heels on a small wooden block in the middle of the room.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of mole. It’s not something I would order in a Mexican restaurant. Not something that leaves me with a healthy feeling in my stomach.
And the Fandango dancing is basically one enthusiastic woman and two instrumentalists.
But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
I’m surrounded by good friends, lots of like-minded folks who want to support a good cause, and an awareness of what is possible when one person takes positive action.
Tonight, that would be my friend Cristina.
She totally planned and organized this evening’s fundraiser to rebuild a migrant center in Oaxaca. A safe haven for refugees passing through Mexico that was severely damaged by the recent earthquake. She’s volunteered there, as have others here tonight, and she wanted to help. She’s made all the food for the evening, from the Mexican hot chocolate, to the cheese and bean quesadillas, to her famous mole. She even found the Fandango dancers.
Earlier in the day, Cristina, who lives in Juarez, crossed the bridge to begin preparing. Arms loaded with Mexican chocolate, fresh Oaxaca cheese, freshly made tortillas, and gallons of milk, she wanted this to be an authentic Oaxacan meal.
Yet she had no idea how many people would show up. How many plates to prepare.
There she stands in the kitchen all night long – her smile bright, her energy unlimited, as she loads up plate after plate.
No sign of slowing down from the cancer that has invaded her body. She says nothing about it, speaks only of God’s goodness. Her face shines.
To me, Cristina is “full of the Spirit.” She sees what is needed and responds. And she does it with grace.
Like the center she opened for abused and traumatized teens in Anapra. Through games and dance and art, she teaches them body, mind, and spirit practices to help them heal.
Like the volunteering she does at the clinic for disabled children where she patiently teaches children who can’t speak how to mouth letters.
Cristina has chosen to fully live. No matter what is attacking her body.
And she reminds me of the good that one person can do.
I see so much of that. So much good in humanity. Not just in Cristina.
It’s true, we all know the tragedy one person can inflict. We’ve seen it again this week in Las Vegas. But I see so much more out of that tragedy. I see the people who responded with goodness. Those who risked their own lives to rescue others. Those who lined up and waited 8 hours to give blood. Those who responded to the “Go Fund Me” site set up for the victims. Another example of an event planned without knowing how many would respond. Who could have anticipated that they’d raised $1M in 7 hours?
Time and again I witness the good in humanity.
And it’s worth repeating. Miracles can happen through the actions of one person. It’s amazing.
I may even become a fan of mole.
Apparently, my last post concerned some of my friends. Not to worry. I’m not down or discouraged. On the contrary, I’m actually very encouraged.
Encouraged because the more self-aware I become, the more able to step back and see what is arising in me, the less I identify with this judging, fearful self. Encouraged that the more I allow myself to be held by love in the middle of all that arises, the more aware I am of the loving container that holds it all.
And encouraged because more people are willing to go down into those places in themselves.
This is what’s needed during this transformative time – this going down into the darkness and meeting what is there. It’s the only way we can begin to heal. As individuals, and as a nation.
Many have been reflecting on this topic lately. Guess we all know that darkness has been coming to the surface. Darkness that needs to be addressed.
As Richard Rohr said in a recent meditation:
“Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness….”
I’ve certainly tangled with my shadow. Struggled as I’ve discovered my particular woundings.
But I’ve also been trying to listen more deeply from this place.
Twice while in Albuquerque attending the Living School, I heard the same message, from different people on two completely unrelated occasions: “God wants to take your heart and give you God’s heart in return. Be open to that.”
What does this mean? To have God’s heart?
To tell the truth, the idea scares me. It feels overwhelming, to have a heart that holds all the pain, all this darkness.
What will such a heart ask of me?
I don’t yet completely understand.
But as I listen more deeply, I hear that through this Heart, I will see the world differently. With eyes that recognize the goodness of everything. With a heart that can hold all the pain.
And a heart that is not afraid to step into the light.
To stand up and speak up from a voice of love. Even if that voice makes others feel uncomfortable. Doesn’t allow them to remain complacent.
A heart that asks me to accompany those in darkness. Those living on the margins. Those who are vulnerable and have no voice.
I hear it challenging me to use my own voice to challenge and change the negativity and untruths associated with words we use. Words like “immigrant” and “Mexican.”
To live out the directive to “welcome the stranger.”
To boldly support DACA and the young people who have studied and worked so hard and contributed so much good to our society.
To speak up when laws are inhumane and need to be changed. Some of us take strong, proactive stands to change the abortion law because we say it is wrong to treat the unborn inhumanely, yet few will stand up to change immigration laws that treat suffering human beings inhumanely.
Love requires that I respond differently to such suffering.
That I reflect on exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and no clothing….I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me.”(Matthew 25)
In my heart, I cannot neglect to hear that call. I can’t NOT respond.
And I know it will change me.
Spiritual leaders have been urging us to speak truth to power and call for justice during this transformative time when our collective shadow has shown itself so boldly. Rohr says, “There is every indication that the U.S., and much of the world, is in a period of exile now. The mystics would call it a collective ‘dark night.’
“Those who allow themselves to be challenged and changed will be the new cultural creative voices of the next period of history after this purifying exile.”
I may not know where I am going during this “exile.” I still do not fully know what is being asked of me. Or what it means to receive this heart as my own.
But I do hear love’s question, “Will you allow yourself to be challenged and changed?”
Can I say yes to this?
Can I respond wholeheartedly?
I have come to believe that this is what it means to be “virginal” – to let myself be a vessel, empty and available, open to something new being born in me. Something as unbelievable as the heart of God.
I needed to be held.
Difficult feelings had been arising in me well before I landed in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation last Sunday afternoon.
The previous day – Saturday, August 12 – I was driving back from Albuquerque, having spent the last four days at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. This was the beginning of my two-year journey under Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley. Master spiritual teachers, all of them. I was feeling excited and grateful.
I had slept fitfully every night since arriving.
Encountering what was showing up in me in the lessons and meditations had not been easy.
And as I drove the four hours back home to El Paso, something else was on my mind. Charlottesville – my former home, my community, my friends.
Keenly aware of the anxiety and trepidation that had been building in that city for weeks, even months, in anticipation of the alt right march planned to descend there on that day, I knew prayers were needed.
And I had been praying. Praying for love to prevail in the face of such hate and violence.
You could say I had a lot on my mind and heart.
But in the midst of my prayer, something else arose. The violence and hatred I was praying to heal out there was also in me. I suddenly recognized the violence I was perpetrating towards myself in response to what had been showing up in me.
It may have been subtle, but it was definitely present. The self-judgment. The self-rejection. The ways I was hurting myself through my erroneous thoughts and beliefs.
In that moment, I realized that it was only in acting with nonviolence towards myself that I could even begin to help heal the violence out there.
I needed to be with that painful realization. And to hold it with compassion.
But early the next morning I flew off to Hawaii without having the opportunity to venture into that painful place.
Yet I knew I would have to go there. One of the key teachings I’ve learned from Pathwork is that any difficult feeling must be fully felt before it can be transformed. Whether it’s hate, fear, grief, pain….
So, one morning I sit with that hate in my meditation.
As the feelings of hate increase, I feel my body grow tense and tighten up. I hear myself ask God, where were you? Where are you in this pain and hate?
And I believe that I must tense up to care for and protect myself. The hate feels too big.
I am deep in the middle of this growing, threatening force when suddenly the image of a beautiful, white Hibiscus emerges. Its delicate blossoms are surrounded by a sea of soft, green leaves that seem to expand as they enfold all the misery and pain and hatred that had surfaced.
And now everything is enfolded and held tenderly in the arms of this Source. A sea of Love.
Allowing this Love to hold my own hate softens my heart and, in turn, allows me to hold my darkest and most painful places with love, mercy, and compassion.
This is the place I needed to come to.
And I will need to return to again and again.
Because before I can stand against the darkness – and not come from a place of self-righteous certitude – I must be grounded in this love, vulnerable and aware of my own woundedness.
The darkness of the kind of hate we experienced in Charlottesville is, I believe, the pain of separation from this Love. Separation from the unconditional love of our Source.
As Rohr teaches, “The great illusion that we must all overcome is that of separateness.”
“Sin” is a symptom of separation, he says.
And yet the paradox is that we can never really be separated from God.
Here’s another paradox:
We are already whole and yet each of us is in need of healing.
And darkness must be revealed before it can be transformed by the light.
Before I left Hawaii, a hike at Volcanoes National Park gave me a great metaphor for what can emerge when what is percolating underground rises to the surface. Volcanic eruptions have created the most beautiful black sand beaches.
It’s just one example in nature.
All of this gives me hope that healing from the painful darkness we are seeing now is possible.
Because I know that love is trustworthy.
It is trustworthy. And it will prevail.
Sometimes you have to go out of your way to see the stars.
The other night a couple of friends and I drove out to Hueco Tanks State Park just outside of El Paso to go stargazing.
Used to be, I’d step out onto my back deck in rural Virginia whenever I wanted to view the stars. Most nights I could see the Milky Way, it was so darn dark out there.
Not anymore. Now I live in a place where the lights never go out.
Sometimes I miss the darkness. And I especially miss the stars.
Light years away, they seem so far from our grasp.
Not unlike our dreams.
Sometimes we desire a thing so badly, yet it feels far out of our reach.
Like reaching for the stars.
Like building a log home in the woods in central Virginia, for example.
A far-away dream of mine, yet almost unbelievably, it came to fruition. And although my time there seemed short-lived, I know that home served its purpose. It planted the seeds for what would follow. Then I heard guidance ask me to leave that dream behind.
As if that were easy to do.
It reminds me of when I longed to have a child.
For six years I tried unsuccessfully, thinking there must be something more I could do – some other method David and I could try.
During that time, I simultaneously stumbled upon a path that led me on a deeper spiritual journey. One that taught me the meaning of detachment, of detaching from a specific outcome. Of surrendering to a God who is nothing but Love.
Still, when my 36th birthday came along and I was still childless, it was hard not to feel emotional. My mind told me “time was running out.”
I didn’t give up on my desire to have a child. But over the course of a painful journey of being attached to the outcome, I had learned to entrust the desires of my heart to God.
Whatever the result, I could trust the One who had placed the seed of that desire in me. I could trust the truth that “all things work together for good….”
In other words, I had set the intention and learned to let go of my demand for a certain outcome.
Months later I found myself pregnant, and before my 37th birthday, I had a child in my arms.
Now, again I find myself facing a desire to manifest a deeply held dream. One I’m passionate about that involves my writing.
It feels like my desire has been taking a long time to be realized. And yet again, I find myself relearning the lessons of patience and faith as I surrender control.
Because I know that whenever I am clinging to a particular outcome, my ego is still in control. Whenever I am attached to the way “I” think things should turn out, I’m not free. I’m not in the flow.
What are the deepest desires of your heart?
Do your dreams seem like stars out of your reach? Or are you clinging to them, unable to let go?
Here’s what I’d suggest:
Set your sights on the stars. Plant and nurture the seed of your deepest desires. Set your intentions.
Then relinquish the outcome. Open to the flow of creative possibilities.
Entrust the results to your co-Creator.
And watch the stars appear.
We faced the fear with love. Our spirit is not broken.
That was the message of the film “Awake” that my new Native American friends presented to the public this afternoon. A film that was more than disturbing. I felt sickened as I watched the events unfold at Standing Rock in North Dakota – the site of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
We all heard and saw the news reports last year as the protests persevered and expanded, well into December. We know how the story goes.
And, sadly, how it ends.
But to see it unfold in real time, in this documentary…to see peaceful people standing in prayer in the river pepper sprayed and hosed down with water cannons in freezing temperatures…to watch as unarmed Native Americans fell to the ground after being hit with rubber bullets…
It hurt my spirit.
Sadly, this is not new to indigenous people. They have been fighting for land rights, for nature, for the environment, for hundreds of years.
Funny to think that English-speaking people were actual immigrants to this country. And they were welcomed by these natives. Without visas. Without knowing the language.
Coming without jobs or ways to support themselves.
As Rudy, one of the elders of the tribe that has befriended me, explained, “Community is most important to us. We are taught to be gracious hosts, to welcome all into community.”
And that they did. And still do, despite how they were treated in the past.
I can vouch for this based on how they have welcomed me, a white-faced stranger, into their community.
So, why do indigenous people still fight to protect the land?
“What we do is for the next seven generations,” Rudy explained. “It is for our children and our grandchildren. We must protect our earthly home and keep a balance in all of life. Honor what is sacred.”
The Missouri River – which the DAPL travels under – is the longest river in North America and the water source not only for the Sioux Nation, but for 17 million Americans.
Not only was the pipeline built, but in the process, sacred sites were desecrated. Elders were arrested. Tepees slashed. People brutalized.
But something else happened as well. Something positive.
A movement began. Many people – around the globe – heard the truth the indigenous people speak.
They understood the message of DAPL protestors: “We belong to the water. We belong to the air. We belong to all creation. We are all guests on Mother Earth. And we must honor her.”
They realize the truth of these words: “We will pay the consequences for desecrating Mother Earth.”
And more people have joined these water protectors. These global protectors.
DAPL is not the end.
Hundreds of pipelines are being proposed all over the United States. But now millions of people have awoken.
“Will you join us?”
I’VE BEEN WOKEN
by the spirit inside that
demanded I open my eyes
and see the world around me.
Seeing that my children’s future
was in peril. See that my life couldn’t
wait and slumber anymore. See that I was
honored to be among those who are awake.
To be alive at this point in time is to see the rising
of the Oceti Sakowin. To see the gathering of nations
and beyond that, the gathering of all races and all faiths.
Will you wake up and dream with us?
Will you join our dream. Will you join us?”
FLORIS WHITE BULL, ADVISOR AND CO-WRITER OF AWAKE, A DREAM FROM STANDING ROCK
If you’re interested in a screening of the film, go to: http://awakethefilm.org/
Over the weekend I spent the night in a tepee. Experienced my first coming-of-age ceremony.
And I felt incredibly honored to be included in this spiritual rite of passage for a young woman of Mexican-Indian heritage.
As I participated in this powerful and sacred ceremony, I found myself imagining the possibilities.
What if all girls greeted the threshold of womanhood supported by the kind of love, wisdom, mirroring, and honoring I witnessed these indigenous women showering upon this very blessed 13-year-old girl?
What if every girl learned that her body was something to be honored, not ashamed of?
That she is beautiful, inside and out, just as she is? Without needing to change anything.
That she does not need to fear expressing herself? Or be afraid to learn from making mistakes?
That she can listen to and trust her inner wisdom?
It has taken me years to learn these lessons. Years accompanied by much struggling and pain. And often feeling I was on my own in the process.
Yet 13-year-old Trinity already knows who she is.
Grounded in the sacredness of her people’s earth-honoring ceremonies, empowered by the love of her community, and centered in an awareness of the Creator present in all life, she is entering this stage of her life totally prepared. Her humility, maturity, and sensitivity impressed me.
Even her name impressed me.
Only weeks ago I had been a stranger to this community. Until I met Carlos, and, without hesitation, he invited me.
The abuela (grandmother) of their tribe wasn’t so sure. After all, she didn’t know this white-faced woman. But she welcomed me. As did every member of the community. They welcomed a stranger into their circle.
I couldn’t help but think that this was the Gospel message of “welcome the stranger” in action.
Later that evening, we gathered around a lantern in the tepee, setting up our cots and sleeping bags. After settling in, we told coming-of-age stories, while outside the darkness deepened.
We shared some of our most embarrassing moments, to let this young woman know that, yes, you will have these moments. You will make mistakes, too. It’s inevitable. And you will survive.
As I listened to these women share their wisdom, the moonlight poured in through the opening in the top of the tepee. The beauty of this spiritual ritual deeply touched me. And I wished I’d had such a ceremony to welcome my menses, my “moon.”
In the circle we shared our gifts for Trinity. Mine was a poem I’d written and a beautiful broken seashell—a whelk—I’d found on Atlantic Beach while vacationing with special friends. At first I hesitated to part with it.
But I knew it was the perfect gift.
And my words for Trinity are words for all girls coming of age, especially those who don’t have a circle of wise women guiding them forward, as I did not have. I share them here.
Learn to trust your inner guidance, the wisdom that resides within.
As a girl, no one told me this.
As a woman, it took years to discover the truth.
Our inner authority is the voice of God within.
You can trust it.
Don’t be afraid to be seen.
Don’t shrink under the power of others.
Be all that you are,
Empowered by your unique gifts.
Know that all that you are is gift to the world.
Be grateful always for this gift.
This broken shell I found on a beach in North Carolina
It spoke to me of my woundedness, my brokenness.
And how, even with these broken places within me, I am whole and perfect and beautiful.
This is the message I want to give to you.
Become the woman you were meant to be, fully alive
Not holding anything back, not afraid of your gifts or your power
Not afraid of your broken places.
Strengthened by the challenges, the hurts, the sufferings
Be grateful for the pain and suffering along the way.
They are your teachers.
They may take pieces of your heart,
But they will make you shine like a shell in the sea.
May we learn from the wisdom of native cultures. May we honor this gift called life as we cross each threshold. May we give thanks to the Creator for all of life.
Imagine someone gives you a precious gift and you never open it.
Most of us, I believe, are living with such an unopened gift. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are “the beloved.”
Maybe we are afraid to acknowledge and claim our “belovedness.” Maybe we can’t believe it’s true.
Somehow it’s easier to claim what we perceive as “wrong” with us. The places where we fall short. Where we don’t measure up or haven’t succeeded enough. So we walk around with these interior wounds and scars. And much of the time our inner pain gets projected “out there.”
But what if we could be retaught and remember that we are the beloved? What if we could open ourselves to claim the gift that we truly are?
If each of us could hold ourselves with such acceptance and compassion, no matter what shows up in us, what then?
Henri Nouwen, a spiritual teacher and writer, said a lot about this in his book Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.
“To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice.”
I know when I claim the gift of my belovedness, I can’t help but open myself up to love. Love for myself and love for those around me. If more of us were able to do that, I don’t think we could possibly treat one another with hateful comments or hurtful actions. We would feel so incredibly graced, we would want nothing more than to give that love out to others. Because we would know the truth.
But, as Nouwen said, the real work of prayer is to become silent enough to hear the voice that calls us the beloved.
The God whom I love dwells within and never ceases to remind me that I am the “beloved.” But I admit that most days I am hard-pressed to really take that in. And to understand the depth of that love.
But there are moments.
Like Monday morning.
For some reason, I awaken around 3 a.m., with a dream half-remembered. And the word “Beloved” on my lips. I breathe into it and feel myself smile with joy. Because even in my half-awake state, I “know” the truth. This is not something I can explain. But I “know” it.
And I know that this gift has been given to me in the early morning hours when I am too sleepy to fight it, to discount or disbelieve it. I simply take it in.
And I pray.
Teach me to come back to You again and again, and lose my “self” in You so that I may recognize the true treasure I possess – life in You, with You, for You, of You. This is my belovedness.
There is no other gift I need.
There is nothing more.
May each of us come to know and live from this truth. The gift of being the beloved.
Tara Brach and Pope Francis have something in common. They both support a “revolution of tenderness” based on “radical compassion.”
I’m thinking it couldn’t be a more appropriate time for this radical revolution to begin. It’s definitely needed. Wouldn’t you agree?
But I don’t mean this based simply on what we’re seeing in the news.
Last week I was asked to start helping accompany refugees again. And what I witnessed is what got to me. Got me looking for an answer to the pain we’re inflicting on one another.
So I scrolled talks from Tara Brach – my favorite Buddhist insight meditation teacher, and found one on “A revolution of tenderness.” I recognized this term Pope Francis had coined in a recent surprise TED talk he’d given by the same name.
In listening to Tara, it struck me how both she and Pope Francis call for us to connect with our capacity to be tender. And to identify with “the other.”
Long a promoter of “radical compassion,” Tara teaches that compassion begins with our capacity to be tender – towards our own heart. To see and feel our own violated self, our suffering inside ourselves. And then we can open the door to feeling the suffering of the other.
I’ve been practicing that, more or less, since my Pathwork days. But it was her next comment that I needed to hear.
“This quality of heart is our potential,” Tara said. “It’s cultivated by our opening to suffering and remembering the goodness and the beauty.”
Opening to both. That’s the key.
I needed to remind myself of the goodness and the beauty. Because I was getting stuck in the suffering. My heart was hurting for a mother in pain. Just one of many mothers I’d come to know.
When I was at this hospitality house, waiting to do intake after a handful of refugees had arrived, I noticed one woman with a little boy less than 2 years old. She was bent forward on the sofa, keeping her head down as we gave our usual welcome talk. Even when her child came over, seeking her attention, she brushed him off, putting her head in her hands, clearly distraught. My thought was, she must have had a very disturbing journey.
Because she only spoke Portuguese, it took us a while to find out the problem.
Turns out her husband had been traveling with their 4-year-old daughter and had arrived at the border a few days earlier. But the agent that admitted them had separated the child from her father – detaining the dad and sending the 4-year-old to a foster care-type detention center. This child who only spoke Portuguese, couldn’t communicate with anyone, was now in a strange country surrounded by strangers without her mom or dad.
I couldn’t comprehend this decision. And I couldn’t shake the thought of this frightened child. Alone.
Maybe the agent was having a bad day. Maybe he wanted to send a message, to deter others from coming.
Maybe he had simply closed off his heart long ago.
We numb ourselves in order to not feel the pain we are inflicting. We separate ourselves by identifying with dualistic thinking – “they’re wrong and we’re right; they’re bad and we’re good.”
Identifying with a separate egoic self keeps us from recognizing the truth. We belong to something larger. Larger than our small, fearful selves.
“Each and every one’s existence is tied to the other,” Pope Francis says. “The other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face….Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other.”
If this is true – and I believe it is – then what we are doing to hurt others will and is affecting us.
The future of humankind is in the hands of those who “recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us,’” as Pope Francis claims. It’s in the hearts of those who have the quality of compassionate presence that Tara promotes.
“Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women,” Francis says. “Tenderness is NOT weakness. It is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”
Yes, it takes courage and humility to remain open to the “other.” To not close down or numb out when you see someone in pain.
How courageous are you? Are you willing to be part of a revolution of tenderness?
I am. And I hope you are, too.
As Pope Francis says, “It only takes one person, a ‘you,’ to bring hope into the world. And a ‘you’ becomes an ‘us.’”
And that is how a revolution begins.