No Separation of Space and Time Here

I do not remember ever distinguishing the dimensions of space—length, depth, width, breadth, height—from time. Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, and even Marcel Proust wrote of space and time as one. I came late to the word space-time (or spacetime) but not to the concept, not really.

For me, space-time has always been more about mindfulness, paying attention to the details of life as they unfold. The space of a moment is a combination of any three of the spatial dimensions–width, depth, breadth, length, or height. Its time is its unfolding as a scene in life. It is as if each moment has four dimensions, a trio of space in time, 3+1.
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Space-time gives me a better sense of the present as a bridge between the past and the future. The present provides open-ended access to both yet serves as a reminder that the only time we actually live is now.

Having access to the past and to the future is not the same as being in either for we are always only in the present. Yet, it is in paying attention to the details of our lives as they unfold that provides the access to both the past and to the future.

If being completely immersed in the moment reminds us of a similar scenario, that past moment might flash through the mind. It usually does for me. In that flash of familiarity, I have accessed the immutable past but the present scene is of its own unfolding. The scenes are similar but not the same.

Awareness also seems to color the future. Sometimes, I wonder whether or not awareness is the source of infinite possibilities. When we are truly present maybe we are stockpiling for our future; perhaps by minding the details of the present, we provide options for the future.

It is tempting to try to re-create the past as well as frame the future, as if either were possible. Neither is. I know. I have tried. The present is all there ever is and to ignore it is like separating space from time, something I cannot do.

After all, everywhere I go, there I am. I might as well be who I am in the moment that I am.

The Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

When we get to the core of any emotion, even anger, we discover a wakeful energy free of drama, unattached to any situation. We have come to the well of compassion into which all emotion empties eventually. No longer do we thirst for we drink what we once found undrinkable.

It is a story we relive all our lives.

Immersed in our own drama, we exhibit behaviors to hide the heart of our anger. It is only when we strip away the story we have told ourselves—perhaps for years—that we discover the core of our anger. Once revealed, we empty ourselves, slaking our thirst with a cup of compassion.
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Not surprisingly, I am thinking of a story about the Buddha and an angry, young man. As the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who screamed at him. He taunted the Buddha, calling him stupid and a fake. The Buddha, the young man declared, had no right to teach anybody anything.

The Buddha quietly considered the young man before asking him a question. “’Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?’”*

The question was not what the young man expected, and he readily replied, “’It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.’*

“The Buddha smiled and said, `That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.’”*

That the Buddha did not react to the young man is anticipated yet in not accepting one gift, the Buddha offered another, the compassionate response: “If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.”*

The story ends with the young man giving up his anger and deciding to follow the Buddha. Stories are illustrative, sometimes metaphorical, but always they enrich our lives with what is possible. Compassion is always an option, which is not to say it is an easy response. Anger confines, love expands—our choice.

Anger is not easily eschewed either, whether it comes from within or whether it is offered to us. Like love, anger has survived and evolved with us. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche observed: “Meeting anger with anger is like following a lunatic who jumps off a cliff. Do I have to go likewise? While it’s crazy for him to act the way he does, it’s even crazier for me to do the same.”**

In the 21st century, opportunities abound as daily we crisscross our planet and the paths of others. Each meeting is an opportunity to drink a cup of compassion or to go crazy with the craziness.

*Buddha and the Angry Young Man

**Reacting With Anger

Love Lives In Inconvenient Places

Love lives in places and ways often missed for love only needs an open heart to thrive. Such is the story of Harriet and Hal, a human and a Chihuahua.

They shared food and constant companionship as they spent their days in a well-worn, overstuffed recliner not far from a medium-sized, flat-screen television. Sometimes they watched current events and other times they just left the television on “for the noise.”

They did not care for quiet so when they tired of the background noise, they talked to each other. Hal seemed to take sound seriously. When they walked outdoors, Hal greeted neighbors with a steady stream of squeaks and yips that had a lower and upper register. He always had a lot to say. Harriet translated, if she felt it necessary.

Harriet is older, mid-70s, and Hal was in the middle of his eighth year. He put on weight but Harriet did not. Her health is in decline—congestive heart failure and significant vascular issues—she is a smoker, although she has tried to stop and prays every day she will.  Other than a steady increase in weight, Hal’s health was remarkably good.

Harriet often worried that Hal might outlive her. From time to time, she would formulate a plan to provide for Hal but each idea faded. She seemed to recognize their way of life was unique to them. It was as if she decided she would just have to outlive Hal. And so she has.Clarity in the wild 0413

On the second day in October, Hal’s health went into decline. Like Harriet, he developed congestive heart failure and there was fluid in his lungs; then, he had trouble walking and finally, could no longer stand.

Harriet rearranged their lives as best as she was able, including securing a new veterinarian who makes house calls. Hal did spend just over 24 hours at the animal hospital but his need for Harriet was greater than his need for better nutrition, a smoke-free environment or medical care.

Upon Hal’s return home, he yipped and squeaked until he had told Harriet all he had to say. They spent their last night together in their chair with Harriet doing most of the talking. The next day, Harriet held him in her arms as he died.

In Hal’s last two weeks I was a part of their world more than I had ever been for we only saw each other in the way that neighbors do these days, fleetingly. I was aware and not aware of how they lived.

Once inside their home, I struggled to keep judgment at bay. At times, my compassion left me, and I should have followed. I was trying to change the outcome as well as the story line, neither of which was mine to do.

It was only in embracing the pain of two friends saying goodbye–living as they had always lived—that I was able to help them, which is all they had asked. In letting go, another way of living began.

We are pure awareness experiencing life in all its appearances. In breaking open, all the labels and judgments spill out, leaving only the raw, pure energy of being alive. It is then we touch what is deepest in us and extend it to another.

This month’s Bloggers for Peace considers the challenge of embracing life as it is when everything in your being resists. Harriet and Hal showed me one way.forpeace6

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Chronicles of a Public Transit User

Faith Fusion

A Quiet Prayer of Thanks

Life Churns for Everyone so Why Swirl With the I?

As Pema Chodron says, “there is no way to make a dreadful situation pretty.” Often, I find myself searching for language that removes the dualistic labels of good or bad, happy or sad. For me, writing makes this somewhat easier for it affords a pause, whereas in conversation, I tend to forget the gap between thoughts and even my breathing is shallow.

These past few weeks have been full of opportunities for me to “make a big deal” out of situations or to remember that the underlying emotion of my experience is what every other human being feels at one time or another. Remembering that we are all in this together reminds me of what I have in common with all sentient beings.

My specific moments are unique to me yet woven into the undulating life “web that has no weaver.”* One week it was a car mishap and the next moment it was a family member facing a life-threatening situation. The illness was not entirely unexpected, unlike the car incident, yet both provided a life-changing moment. Life churned.

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The car is repaired but the loved one’s recovery remains uncertain. The human body, our personal vehicle, endures a life of dents, and occasionally, broken parts. We heal or get replacements but I suspect the heart and mind–and in that order–have more to do with longevity than repairs to the physical body.

Regardless of the wearing out/replacing of parts, all are allowed a life, a length of time known to none but allotted to each. The not knowing churns the emotional pool within each of us. Whether we choose to immerse ourselves in the eddies of emotion or await the stillness that comes with reflection is the ongoing dilemma.

“Like water which can clearly mirror the sky and the trees only so long as its surface is undisturbed, the mind can only reflect the true image of the Self when it is tranquil and wholly relaxed” (Indira Devi).

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Initially, I swirl within the emotional eddies more than I sit in reflective pause yet I know it is the motion that separates me from everyone else. The swirling, downward spiral isolates me in my own pain, unaware that my pain is what connects me to humanity.

“Shantideva said that since all sentient beings suffer from strong, conflicting emotions, and all sentient beings get what they don’t want and can’t hold on to what they do want, and all sentient beings have physical distress, why am I making such a big deal about just me? Since we’re all in this together, why am I making such a big deal about myself?” (Pema Chodron).**

Until we see in ourselves those emotions that we so readily assign to everyone else, we cannot pull ourselves out of our own pain to reflect on the pain that connects us all. In recognizing the human bond, we come to reflect on what is common to all.

We must dive deep to sit at the still waters of our own existence to reflect upon the life force that binds us all.

A personal note: As of this writing, my family member’s recovery continues to be remarkable as well as inspirational.

Text Notes:

*This phrase is from the title of Ted Kaptchuk’s thorough book, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. I highly recommend it.

**Omega Institute is offering another online workshop with Pema Chodron on October 25-27 with early bird pricing. The event is sold out for anyone wishing to attend in person. Click here for more information.

The Wisdom in Compassion, a Matter of Nuance

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The practice of compassion requires considerable courage, for the way of compassion is living an active life amongst all beings. Practicing compassion means we trust ourselves enough to connect to life completely, making ourselves vulnerable, a daring in its own right.  Such is the wisdom of compassion.

Compassion (Late Latin: com=”together” + pati “to suffer”) offers us a perspective on suffering. Its etymology—the peeling back of the layers of its life—reveals its nuance, allowing us a peek into its past. Much of the mystery of life lies in such nuance.

The practice of compassion is a commitment to connect with the suffering of all beings, including those we do not like. Connecting is not condoning but rather a revealing of the nuance inherent in every being. “It involves learning to relax in allowing ourselves to move gently toward what scares us” (Chodron).

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Moving toward what scares us allows us to soften rather than harden, to open to options previously hidden from view. In acknowledging that all suffer, we recognize that all know pain in its various guises. Suffering reveals our connection to all beings.

In practicing compassion, especially when to do so challenges us to our core, we appreciate the pain of other people. The nuance is in recognizing the suffering without judging the behavior. In this coming together with those who suffer— the etymology of compassion—we glean the wisdom inherent in living such a life.

Dr. Grace Damman terms this as the aligning of compassion with wisdom: “What I mean is that when I am served by other people who are driven by their own standards of excellence, and not by the demands of my ‘whiny self,’ then I am best served by them.” It is what she discovered in her recovery from a serious car accident, a truly vulnerable state.

In reaching for the wisdom within compassion, our perspective broadens, leaving us less susceptible to shenpa or getting hooked by our emotions. When we are hooked, we soar with our neuroses, oblivious to objectivity. We sever our connection with all beings, hearing only our own demands, our own needs.

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The churning of our emotions slips us into solitary confinement with our suffering, devoid of compassion. We sharpen our selves, harden our hearts to resist what scares us–creating the classic boomerang effect—the life of the infinite loop.

When we finally stop and peel back the layers of our pain, we open up to compassion, softening into the realization that all suffer. We connect to the nuance of life. The practice of compassion is not for the faint of heart but for warriors—bodhisattvas—who trust their vulnerability, for they know it is their connection to the wisdom of existence.

“We cultivate bravery through making aspirations. We make the wish that all beings, including ourselves and those we dislike, be free of suffering and the root of suffering” (Chodron).

Such is the way of a life of compassion.

After Silence, Music Expresses it Best

The power of music was the Bloggers for Peace challenge for August. It brought to mind Aldous Huxley: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”
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Throughout the history of humanity, music has permeated barriers often considered impenetrable. Music unites continents, as the deeds of humanity are recounted in song. Human existence is the song of the ages written across bars of hope and measures of peace.

From Paleolithic time onward, every major tradition—Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism Tao, Hinduism—embraced song as one way to reveal the stories of human existence. Combining music and story, each of the major traditions expressed compassion for all in the community as a way of daily living. Similarly, each tradition warned of the pitfalls of hoarding riches and extolled the virtues of giving to the least among us.
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In each verse of the song of community, all give and all receive, the song of the ages expressing the inexpressible.

For many in my generation, “We Shall Overcome” was the song for civil rights for every American as well as every citizen of the world. We are still singing this song, still committed to overcoming what divides us in order to live with what unites us–peace. Globally, it is the melody of the human heart, expressing the inexpressible. Within its coda is the constant vigilance required for compassion and thus, for coexistence.

Peace is not passive but like compassion it is alive, an aria to overcome what we have yet to accomplish in twenty-one centuries: to live with one another in the harmony of acceptance sans the labels of race, creed, color or any dissonance that divides rather than unites.

Since we began composing the story of human existence, there have always been notes of hope. Perhaps the power of music and its ability to express what we cannot will one day lead us to a vigilant, vibrant life of peace and compassion.

It is and always has been to our great credit that we sing.

If memory serves, the video clip of Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome” is from the 1969 movie, Woodstock.  There was a time I would have recognized it immediately. Well, I still know all the words.

Other Bloggers for Peace Posts:

Grandmalin: The August Post for Peace

Rarasaur: One Little Candle Burning Bright

The Seeker:  Music That Will Make You Smile

Rohan Healy:  Alien Eyes

Electronic Bag Lady: Music and the Brain

The Mirror That is All of Us

What is it we see when we look into the mirror of humanity, the oneness that is all of us? We recognize traits in others because we know hints of them in ourselves. In our oneness, we are mirrors for each other, reflecting the world to all.
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There is a Sanskrit “great saying” or pronouncement from the Hindu Upanishads–Tat Tvam Asi–that is often translated as “you are that” or “that you are.”  Essentially, the idea is that each one of us is unique and our uniqueness is essential to the oneness of all existence.

Oneness never diminishes the individual but rather, each is part of the whole, occupying a unique space in a single moment of existence.  That is the gift of oneness, allowing us to mirror the world for one another. It is how we recognize ourselves.

If we celebrate our relationship to one another, our focus shifts to what connects us and not to what separates us. Imagine the possibilities in this 21st century. For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the technology to create global awareness one person at a time, the only way change is ever truly affected.

We live in a fractious and fearful world but our moment, our time is unique to us, just as it was for all who came before us. That seems to be the way of existence. Yet unlike previous generations, we are able to criss-cross the globe electronically, offering ourselves to relationships we would never know otherwise. Technology brings us closer to one another than we have ever been.
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It is not an opportunity that has come before, and perhaps it is not an opportunity that will come again. The world grows smaller as we grow closer to one another. “It is only by risking ourselves from one hour to another that we live at all” (William James). Such is existence.

Each moment is rife with infinite possibilities if we are aware, completely present to what is occurring, giving it our complete attention. In becoming more aware within ourselves, we let go of past ideals and future wishes to look into the mirror of what is, the present.

In the present, we recognize that we are always in relationship no matter where we are for we are always connected to life. That is our connection to oneness, our sharing of life with every pollinating bee, blade of grass, drop of water, and mountain peak. Everywhere we look, the world holds itself up to us.

The reflection of all that connects us is so much more than what separates us. If nothing else, such a look in the mirror that is the world broadens our perceptions for rather than being attached to only one way of being, we are presented with the life force that flows through all beings. It seems so worth the risk.

Bits and pieces of this revised post originally appeared as “The Mirror That is You.”