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.
I’ve been feeling it again lately.
On December 2nd, David’s birthday, I found myself crying. That’s unusual. Several birthdays have passed since his death and they haven’t caused such a reaction in me.
But that day I missed him.
I was feeling particularly tender and vulnerable. Continuing to live in this uncertain, “in-between” place was affecting me.
And there was something more.
A little over three months ago, in the predawn hours, I awoke to a message on my phone from a good friend from the past. Lisa had reached out to me because her husband had just died. Shocked out of my groggy half-awake state, I texted back that I was here if she wanted to talk.
Lisa and her husband Kevin had been good friends of ours in the early years of our marriages when we lived in Connecticut. We’d stayed in touch after moving away and even wound up living in the neighboring states of Virginia and North Carolina. Occasionally we’d meet halfway for family camping trips.
We had this history together. We’d begun our marriages around the same time. Had both experienced the years of longing for a child and waiting and hoping and waiting some more. Finally rejoicing in each other’s gift — a son for me, a daughter for Lisa. Our friendship was comfortable and comforting.
Listening to Lisa that morning, my own grief came back to me just as clearly as if I were reliving it with her. I remembered how I’d felt as if a hole had been ripped through my heart. How else can you describe losing your best friend and most intimate partner? The person you tell everything to, share everything with. The one who knows you better than anyone. The love of your life.
Yes, I understood that pain. I could empathize. But what surprised me is how easily I felt this grief again. I remembered how bottomless and debilitating it had felt. How at times I’d thought I couldn’t possibly heal.
More than anything in that moment, I wanted to take that pain from my friend. Even if it meant I had to relive it for her.
Because I have crossed over this threshold, I know I can survive it. And much more than that — I know that joy and love and fullness of life exist even in the midst of such pain. I already know this.
But Lisa doesn’t. At least not yet.
I got off the phone that morning asking, why so much pain? Why must we experience so much pain?
I don’t really know the answer to that question.
But I do know that if I close my heart off to feeling as a result of my deep loss, I will close myself off from the greatest adventure and fulfillment of my life.
Here’s what is clear to me:
That grief and the healing power of transformation are connected.
That compassion has grown in me because of my own grief.
That grieving is not a singular event . The door to my heart has been broken open; I can’t go back to allowing myself not to feel.
That all of it is sacred and trustworthy. Even the painful stuff.
And I can trust the One who remained with me through the deepest darkness of my grief.
Many of us are grieving at this time of year. Some of it is due to the upcoming Christmas holiday, which can magnify our loneliness and pain, especially when we’ve lost loved ones.
Some of the grief, I believe, is due to this recent presidential election. I know I have felt anxiety and a real sadness for those who are vulnerable, including Mother Earth. There’s a collective grieving happening. I’ve heard this from others as well.
For me, the call is to live with greater compassion. Even, and especially, if it means feeling the pain of the other.
As insight meditation teacher Tara Brach explained in a recent talk on Bodhisattva for Our Times, going through your personal grief brings you to the universal.
She says, “Let grief transform you. Then make a conscious choice to be a light.”
That in itself is reason enough for me to allow myself to feel the pain of grieving. I want, and I choose, to be a light in the darkness.
“We’re all in it together and we can trust that even in the long, dark nights of winter our hearts are turning toward the light.” (Tara Brach)
Hope. Love. Commitment.
I’ve settled on these three qualities. They’re what I will be carrying with me as we go forward into the next four years. Along with a promise, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Throughout the day following the election, I felt unable to completely focus. My heart laden, my mind racing with legitimate concerns.
For the vulnerable, for the marginalized. For the migrants and refugees whom I serve and for those who will be denied a much-needed haven here. For Muslims, especially Muslim Americans. For African-Americans. For the LGBT community. For women. For Mother Earth. For those who already face lives more difficult and painful than most of us will ever experience – in this country and far beyond.
Did I leave anyone out?
I prayed to be able to say yes. To all that I was feeling. To all that I was fearing.
The only prayers I could get out were, “Help.” And “Not my will but thine be done.”
Then I found myself remembering someone else who’d surrendered with those words.
I imagined the fear and helplessness Jesus must have felt.
And I realized I was looking at this from a smaller lens. Like a child fearing the next wave while missing the grandeur and beauty of an entire ocean that could lift her up.
And I began to hope.
Not the kind of hope that wants to believe everything will turn out the way I think it should.
The kind of hope I remembered insight meditation teacher Tara Brach describing in one of her wonderful talks. The kind revealed to 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich who asked for an understanding of the suffering in this world.
There’s no mistaking. Donald Trump has brought to light the dark shadow of this country. A shadow that has been lurking under the surface all along. He did not cause it. He certainly triggered it and capitalized on it. And he seems to live unaware of its existence within himself.
But unless we bring what is hidden in darkness into the light, it cannot be healed and transformed.
I find hope in that possibility.
I also pray for its realization.
Last night I gathered with my newfound Mexican indigenous “sisters” for a “supermoon” full moon prayer ritual. We came together with a prayer intention of sending love and light to our president-elect Donald Trump, to his team, for our country, and our world. It truly was a light-filled ceremony of releasing and surrendering. Of opening to Spirit’s power and love.
That’s something we can all do going forward.
And I feel I must do more. Given the dangerous, divisive attitudes in our country and the groundswell of hate that has erupted.
So, I have made a post-election promise:
I will keep my heart and mind open.
I will be devoted and committed to self-introspection, to paying attention to my own shadow.
I will listen to those with different views and engage in nonviolent dialogue and behavior.
Yet, I will not stand idly by while someone of a different race, sexual orientation, or religion is insulted or threatened.
I will not be indifferent.
I will not be silent in the face of injustice, bigotry, or worse.
I will continue to serve those in need, to do the work I do for migrants and refugees, no matter the consequences.
I will be quiet enough to listen to God within me, and act from that wiser, contemplative place.
Most importantly, I will live by the law of love. The spiritual law of brotherhood.
Love God. Love neighbor. That will always come first. Before any law of the land.
As Richard Rohr said in his post-election message: “We who know about universal belonging and identity in God have a different form of power: Love (even of enemies) is our habitat, not the kingdoms of this world.
“Only a contemplative mind can hold our fear, confusion, vulnerability, and anger and guide us toward love. Let’s use this milestone moment to begin again with confidence and true inner freedom and to move out into the world with compassion.” (Rohr’s full article is available on the Center for Action and Contemplation website at cac.org)
I go forward with compassion, empowered in my true identity.
With hope in the One who loves us beyond our current understanding.
Committed to speak out and to stand by all my brothers and sisters.
Because we are One. And all lives matter.
I’ve been experiencing growing pains. Yes, at my age. But I’d call them spiritual growing pains. The kind you get when you sincerely say, “Your will, not mine, be done.”
If you know me, you know I’ve been praying for some time to fulfill my longing to serve something greater than myself, and to deepen my connection with the Divine. Now I find myself asking, “Am I willing to pay the price?”
Because I’m finding that letting go of my little self-will’s desire to have things be as I want them to be is not easy.
Like this situation in San Antonio, for instance. Some things haven’t quite been turning out as I’d hoped or expected. I’m facing challenges in several areas. And in the process, I’m being shown just how much I struggle against what is present when it goes against what I’d prefer or what I think it should be.
The other day I came across some notes I’d scribbled during a Tara Brach weekend workshop I’d taken last year. Tara Brach is a Buddhist Insight Meditation teacher and presenter in the Washington, D.C., metro area who gives excellent talks available free of charge online. Her sage teachings have often helped me. Now, this particular line of hers popped off the page:
“Peace is this moment without judgment— that is all.”
This moment, in my heart space, without judgment. Completely open to what is in front of me. No matter whether my little ego likes it or not. No matter whether my self-will would like to change it into something else. That’s peace. It’s also the meaning of surrender.
A wonderful model of this for me, in the Christian tradition, is Mary. Her total surrender to God with the words, “Let it be done unto me,” are an example I find hard to replicate. Yet, I’ve said “yes” to a calling, and this is where it’s taken me.
At least for now.
And I do believe I’m here to learn and to grow in preparation for the next step on my journey. Whatever that may be.
In the meantime, I find San Antonio to be more of a desert experience than El Paso was. These are some of the temptations I’m facing in this desert:
- To desire clarity and understanding over living with mystery and “allowing”
- To doubt my faith and my discernment
- To want to turn back when I don’t understand or I feel scared or I don’t have control
- To want to mold and make what is present into something different
- To take back my “yes” and resort to my more comfortable self-will
I’ve been humbled more than a few times as I’ve recognized these places within myself. It’s humbling to come up against my ego’s demands and my “no.”
Can I wait it out for a while? I think so. Because I truly do see this as an opportunity for growth.
Since I started this journey, I’ve been keeping a file of inspirational quotes that speak to my heart. Here are a few that especially speak to me now:
“In this well ordered universe, the perfect vehicle for our spiritual growth and unfoldment is exactly our present situation.”
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”
~ Thomas Merton