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Posts tagged ‘compassion’

An Unexpected Encounter.

I haven’t written for some time.  Writing happens when writing happens.

Today I was walking through my neighborhood Randall’s to get a few items.  I meandered through the aisles with my short list on repeat in my head so that I would not forget.  All of sudden, my eyes fell upon a lady.  She appeared to be in her late 50’s, though truly I don’t know.  More than just the eyes, my whole body was moved by her appearance; a nervous fluttering, and breathing that spontaneously felt heavy.  I walked past her calmly, though my body experienced the opposite.

The following description may be too graphic for some, though I will share it because it was what I saw. 

She had two black and blue eyes, a nose that was swollen and crusted with a significant amount of visible blood.  Her demeanor appeared fragile, though that might have been my own projection.  She was on the phone as I saw her.

I headed to the check out, though my heart felt as if it had stopped in the aisle with the lady.  My heart felt uncomfortably concerned.  Even while I was paying for my groceries, I kept glancing back to where I saw the lady.  Was she still there?  Should I just leave and go on about my evening?  Should I go back and ask her if she is ok or if she needed anything?  Would she tell me even if she needed help?  What would I do if she said yes?

As I grabbed my grocery bag, I turned my head back one more time.  She was still there on the phone.  My legs started walking toward her even while my head continued with its questions.  As I got closer, she was no longer on her phone.

I stood in front of her and looked gently into her eyes.  I asked, “Excuse me, I hope it is ok for me to ask this, are you ok?  Is there anything you need?”.  She looked at me and very quickly said, “Oh thank you, I am ok.  I just fell.  I broke my ribs”.  I had no idea of broken ribs from the surface of her appearance.  “I am just coming from the doctor’s office and he fixed my nose”.  There was a brief pause.  I said, “Ok, I saw you and felt concerned. I wanted to check if you were ok or needed help of any kind”.  Our eyes still meeting, we smiled gently at one another.  I walked out of Randall’s to my car and back home to my family.

Perhaps what she said was true and perhaps it was not.  I wondered, “Would a doctor really let her leave their office without a bandage of some kind?”.  I guess I won’t know for sure.  My gut still felt concerned for her.  

I went back to the safety of my home and my family.  My hope is that this lady is safe and heals.  I will have to be ok with at least letting her know that I saw her and that I offered concern and care, even if for a moment.


***  I don’t know that I would have had the courage to walk back to this lady had I not taken SAFE’s advocate training this past year.  I am deeply thankful for those that do this important work daily.

Grief and Bravery

These past two months my family and I have been navigating death and loss, one that came very suddenly.  It was as if literally Life pulled the rug out from beneath our feet.  It continues to feel quite surreal.  Emotions have taken me everywhere, from numbness to sadness, anger to acceptance, love back to love.  The peaks and the valleys seem a little less drastic, but they continue to come and go … especially in the quiet moments. 

I invite them in.  Getting consumed by life’s routines almost feels as if it is betraying what should not be forgotten so soon.  Still my heart knows that it won’t ever be forgotten, even if the mind becomes occupied.


I have also remembered how experiencing loss allows my heart to open to our shared human grief.  One’s own pain expands the capacity to be with other people’s pain.  Rather than just a surface level acknowledgement, I am in awe of people who have and are navigating loss of all kinds … and the courage it takes to keep showing up in life, carrying on with one’s responsibilities, meanwhile the tenderness remains.  The bravery that I witness is humbling, and at least for now I am less tempted to fall prey to my assumptions of what people are or are not experiencing.  There is often so much more than what we see.


Perhaps the heart breaking is also the Heart opening, the field of Compassion becoming a little less obscured.




Today during dinner, we found ourselves discussing evolution and biology, as these are topics that my 7th grade daughter will be exploring over the next few weeks at school.  Herb asked us to guess how much of our human DNA matches up with that of a mouse and a chimpanzee.  While I knew that our DNA was very close to that of a chimp, I was surprised to hear that almost 85% of our DNA blueprint matches that of a mouse.  Really, 85%!  Chimps brings us to a close 96%.

With this degree of similarity, it almost feels silly how as humans we spend so much of our time and energy on the perceived differences between people, rather than on the overwhelming parallels.  Through my own meditation practice, I have seen how the differences and the distance that I sometimes feel with others, are nothing more than stories or beliefs that I have taken to be true.  Often, they are far from it.

This past New Year’s Eve, my family and I distributed food to the homeless on the streets of Austin.  We each made an intention to make eye contact, to acknowledge, to offer words and to offer food. Though the vulnerability of outer appearances were difficult to take in, upon looking at an individual in the eyes, I could only see the essence of a spirit very much like my own.  Yet our life circumstances were worlds apart.  It evoked a depth of compassion and connection that broke my heart open in a humbling way.

Thomas Merton, a theologian and a mystic, eloquently describes much of what I experienced.

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one of us is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. Their would be no more war, no more hatred, nor more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

I hope that this new year I will remember to go slow, to connect and bow often to the humanity and mystery within and around me.

For Reals.

Meditation can be described in infinite ways to equally infinite ends.  I won’t even try to recount that list.  What feels clear after years of exploring is that rather than adding to our list of often unrealistic ideals,  meditation is a way to simply be real.  It is a way to see how I am apart from the ways I hope to be.  It is a way to make room for that too.  I am a believer of more is not always more.  More can be less and sometimes simply overwhelming.  Weighing myself down with a long list of spiritually good-looking intentions and ideals can be a sure-fire way of, well… just weighing myself down.  Instead, meditation allows me to recognize how I am and subsequently how you are and how we are, along with and apart from, the best of all our intentions.

Like many things, when we begin exploring something new, we have expectations and plans for how we hope things will look on the other side.  Meditation is no different.  Though it has taken a while, I have learned that there really is no other side.  It is all, always right here, in this moment, on this path.  At any point I may be close to or far from expectations.  I may be the parent that remains attentive and compassionate or the one that in a moment pushes a child, accidentally too hard, to the floor.  Meditation is not thinking that this is not the path.  Meditation is about including the path in all of its forms, beautiful and ugly.  Anything short of that is another way to reject pieces of our own humanity and feel less than whole.  I have heard it described before, that our wholeness has room for all the holes.

How in the world do we do this?  We pause, recognize what’s arising in this moment and then feel through our bodies.  Repeat and recycle.  Since this process is not always easy, we take time before, during and after meditation to nourish ourselves.  We might bring to mind something that evokes a feeling of ease and well-being.  For some it might be through prayer or resting our attention on a symbolic figure.  For others, perhaps feeling the ground beneath us, the unfolding universe above.  There are countless ways of nourishing ourselves into the moment.

That’s all for today.  I am not advocating passive resignation or foregoing intentions.  I am simply saying that some days we are there and some days we just aren’t.  It is all part of the circle of growth, if we can learn to include it.

I’ll leave you with a little humor from Jack Kornfield.  Perhaps it will resonate with you as much as it does with me.



It is a deep and courageous practice to begin to trust our inner knowing or intuition.  We each have had that feeling sense that informs us, “this is right, I don’t know why, but it just feels right”.  Other times, there is the subtle feeling that something is amiss or not quite in alignment with our hearts.  I have only learned how to feel and acknowledge this deeper inner knowing over the past several years.  Thankfully, it’s never too late.

The work is two fold:   discerning the dialogue of the ego mind, and being able to feel the deeper inner knowing and more so trusting it.  The trust piece is big.  Sometimes the intuition arises not as something analytical, but rather just a feeling.  The small mind will fight this with what appears to be reason and rational, but be(a)ware, it could just be old, old conditioning.  This conditioning not only comes from our own experiences, but those of our parents, our culture, society.  The list goes on.  That conditioning can drown out what we otherwise feel to be true.  To me the deeper knowing often feels like the tiniest pebble that is tossed into a vast ocean, ripples so soft and gentle, barely noticeable, but there nonetheless.  Then somehow out of no where comes a speedboat, charging through, noisy, loud and fast, almost unstoppable.  On the surface it draws everything around it in its direction.  We get lost or taken for a ride for sometime, until things settle and we listen again.

I don’t intend to discount old ways or patterns.  They very likely served and helped us to move through challenge or difficulty, though at some point they are no longer needed.  Often a knowing or an intuition of what feels right co-arises with a fear.  “This is scary and unfamiliar territory with a lot of unknowns.”  I have discovered that the feeling of “this is right” will outweigh the “I am scared, I’ll just stick to my current ways”.  There is something calling us forward more than that voice that wants to hold us back.

I see this come up often in my parenting.  How can I encourage my girls to listen and feel something that is much more quiet and then to trust it?  Of course, when they are small they need our guidance.  As they grow up, maybe they need less guidance and more just some guard rails to keep them on the path.  I often ask my girls, “well how do you feel, do you notice what your mind is telling you and do you also feel what your heart or gut might be experiencing”.  And even if they notice the subtle knowing, trusting it is a whole other piece that takes time to build and cultivate.  For me this only began to unfold in my thirties and is a continued learning.  Prior to that, I was lead more by fear, old stories and difficulties.  I carried a sense of being small and not enough.  With time this has shifted to “I am enough, I am learning to trust myself and I know I am doing the best I can in any given moment”.   That last part is important.  As awake as I am to myself and my conditioning, to that extent I am doing the best I know how.  This is not to let myself off the hook, but to hold kindly what is.  Being critical only encourages the sense of smallness.  Being compassionate and kindly discerning supports growth, freedom and grace.

These are just some of things I have been sitting with after a weeklong silent retreat with Richard Miller and Kirsten Guest.  I am so grateful for how they held space, offered practice and guidance in such a loving and nourishing way.  I trust the seeds planted will be carried forward.