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Wednesday, September 26, 2001

This past week, I have been emphasizing "compassion" in my classes. Of course, when we think of compassion, we usually get caught in thinking of us (the fortunate) helping others (the unfortunate). In fact, when we begin to try to "help others," we soon find that compassionate action (karuna) necessitates working with ourselves. If we wish to be of help, we must be there for the one we wish to assist. And to be there fully requires that we fully accept ourselves -- all of it.

In my classes, I see on the faces of many students the signs of rejection and judgement. They wobble in a balancing pose and their face registers absolute consternation, anger and frustration. What they fail to see (until it is mentioned to them, again and again) is that this very aversion to what is happening; this rejection and condemnation of their own experience, is a form of self-aggression. And if we are so quick to reject aspects of ourselves or our experience, how do we expect to have the patience it requires to open to another?

This "rush to judgement" is evidence that we have not really accepted our experience. We place just enough distance between ourselves and our experience in the moment to keep ourselves from really feeling what it is that is our authentic response. This past Friday night, one of my new mindfulness meditation students shared an insight that she had had during the previous week. Something she read or saw on TV regarding the World Trade Center attack made her very upset. She found herself stewing in difficult emotions. But, with only one week of practice "under her belt," she was actually able to see that it was her resistance, her aversion to the emotion, that was really causing her the anguish she was experiencing. With this realization, she said she found the peace of mind and heart to simply feel the emotion.

This is a subtle point. What actually happens is that something waters the seed of an emotion (anger, sadness, fear whatever) and a sensation arises. The sensation is felt to be unpleasant and then we try to avoid it. It is this avoidance of what is real that causes us tension, stress, anguish -- what the buddha called "dukkha." Life out of balance.

It works similarly when we have a pleasant experience. Perhaps one craves a piece of chocolate. This craving may grow so strong that we succumb. We eat the chocolate, and it is wonderful, but soon after eating it, we are looking for something else. Through mindfulness meditation, we come to see that it is not the chocolate we crave, but the sensation that arises when our tongue comes into contact with the chocolate. Again, a subtle point, perhaps, but it makes all the difference in terms of freedom.

It is the most essential teaching of yoga that we base our life upon ahimsa, the practice of "non-harm." When we reject ourselves and our experience with conditions and judgements, we close our hearts to reality. If we do this with ourselves, we will do it when we come face to face with anyone else who suffers, or reminds us of our suffering. For instance, the next time you see a homeless person on the street, notice how you feel and how you react. Do you avert your eyes? Why? Really? If we are honest with ourselves, we may notice aversion, but the aversion is to a feeling we are feeling when we see that particular homeless person. See what happens if you make eye contact and smile. Maybe you can try saying "hello." In learning how not to reject your own discomfort, you may find it possible to not reject a fellow human being.

Each Step

Through the deserted gate,
full of ripened leaves,
I follow the small path.
Earth is as red as a child's lips.
Suddenly
I am aware
of each step
I make.
---Thich Nhat Hanh

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 6:25 PM


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