A note from Erin:
These days can have us managing one global crisis after another, with skies so smoky due to wildfires both far and near that I haven’t gone on a walk in weeks, and of course personal life… A gorgeous new nephew just born! Our son starting 5th grade at home because school doesn’t feel safe without mask mandates. Dear friends in heartbreak with too-young loved ones having died of covid, and the deepening divisiveness between the vaxxed and anti-vaxers, each of whom seem to think one another fools. Ouch. The heart can feel so very heavy. As aja monet recently posted online, “if you aren’t careful you’ll let social media and the news make you believe life ain’t beautiful and that people aren’t doin miraculous things every day to help, heal, transform, and shift society.” It’s so true.
At times like these, I’m profoundly grateful to lean into my practices, my teachers, my ancestors, my beloveds, and my other-than-human kin. To remember what’s most important underneath and through it all.
30 years ago as a teenager working in an alternative bookstore, I came across a book that changed the course of my life. Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron, is a book based on a traditional Tibetan text of Lojong or Mind Training. The teachings were so counter to the mainstream thinking I’d grown up with, so fresh and radical, so much wiser than my own habits of mind – I was utterly magnetized. My devotion to that path led me to deep studies and practice in that tradition over the past 3 decades. Once again, I’m filled with awe and gratitude for the dedicated humans from whom this fount of heart-opening wisdom comes.
I’d love to share a few radical invitations inspired by this tradition that seem especially relevant today:
Turn toward your pain rather than trying to avoid it. Breathe it in, feel its texture, welcome it, and breathe out care and lovingkindness. The emotion is allowed to return to motion – to move and flow as it wants to – instead of staying stuck behind a wall of resistance where it can fester. The heart will ache in a good way – that soft achy spot is a reflection of authentic presence and it lets you know you’re fully alive, not numb or avoidant.
Turn toward others’ pain in a similar way. Instead of feeling alone and like “poor me. why me?” when something is awry, we might notice that when we acknowledge our grief, stress, anger, or whatever is there, there are likely millions of others feeling similarly. Millions of others awake at 2 am. Millions of others dealing with joint pain. Millions of others struggling in relationships or with money or with not knowing how to proceed. We can use our suffering to deepen our sense of connection. We can breathe in on behalf of all of our suffering, and breathe out lovingkindness, care, and wishes for vibrant wellbeing to all those beings who share our worry and stress, thereby aerating the whole situation. Ahh.
Don’t expect rewards. Focus more on seeing your own faults than the faults of others. Use your faults as a ground for learning and compassion. Use everything as fodder for awakening your heart. Keep a sense of humor about it all. Nurture a joyful mind with gratefulness to be alive. It’s a profound and highly transient gift.
I love these wise words from Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel: “Let’s be fierce in our commitment to value and utilize even the most challenging circumstances as a way to deepen our understanding and cultivate compassion for others as well as ourselves. Let’s continuously find creative and skillful ways to serve living beings and this precious planet, our home, and look at life around us as the rich ground for awakening from self-absorption. If we can do this, how can we possibly lose?”
If we’re truly oriented our lives in that way – fiercely determined to use even the most challenging circumstances as a way to cultivate compassion and awaken from self-absorption – how can we go wrong?
I return to a quote that’s been giving me heart when I’m deep in grief over the climate catastrophe and the state of culture: “Even if we can’t escape its consequences, it is not too late to escape the mindset that brought us here.”—Alice O’Keeffe
I feel wholeheartedly that this is a good way to live and to die, whether the earth burns or thrives. To spend my days stepping out of the mindset and lifestyle that are still all to common – that of irreverent extraction, of domination, of taking taking taking whatever we can get from earth and each other while asking how little can we give in return, never satisfied that it’s enough – oh, to escape that mind and embody something far more humble, generous, and reverent… Count me in.
Here’s the words from a piece I shared on Instagram last week which received quite a bit of grateful feedback: “Whether or not you’ve chosen to be vaccinated against Covid, I believe you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Whether or not you choose to wear a mask, even if I feel frustrated by the impacts of your choices on others, I still believe you deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
If blame is a way to discharge pain, as Brene Brown has written, it’s clear that so many people are in a hell of a lot of pain and looking for ways to discharge it. How tender. How human. How heartbreaking.
I’ve chosen to be vaccinated. I choose to wear a mask when I’m in public. And I’m choosing to stay quite tucked in these days as the delta variant surges in my state with 10x the number of daily cases we had a month ago. I’m choosing not to see in-person clients or students until it feels safer for my family, including my too-young-to-be-vaxxed kiddo. A physician friend today shared that they’re already discussing at the local hospital how to make the heartwrenching decisions on which kids will get admitted to the pediatric ICU.
I may have strong opinions about these issues, but my strongest opinion is that we need to avoid vilifying and dehumanizing each other.
As a rule.
So many of us are so stressed out, maxed out, tired of the pandemic, full of worry and irritation and grief.
I think most of us care a lot. We don’t want to be ill or die, whether from covid or a vaccine. We don’t want others to be ill or die, whether from covid or a vaccine. We’re working with the information that is fed to us by the algorithms and our circle of friends and community and making the best choices we can. Let’s also make the choice to keep a soft heart.
Care to join me in placing a hand on the heart, breathing in all the suffering, pain, stress, confusion, irritation, grief, etc., and saying to ourselves, as we breathe out, “Darling, I care about your suffering?”
That could be a powerful healing move for all of us. Let’s do it again and again. For ourselves and for each other.
No matter what else – I care about your suffering.
And I care about your thriving too.
Be gentle with yourself and each other.
Remember what deeply matters.”
I care about your suffering. And mine.
I commit to pausing and feeling the truth of that care underneath everything else. Again and again.
Hand on heart, reminding myself how deeply I care.
“Thich Nhat Hanh said, of the Buddha, “The real power…was that he had so much love. He saw people trapped in their notions of a small separate self, feeling guilty or proud of that self, and he offered revolutionary teachings that resounded like a lion’s roar, like a great rising tide, helping people to wake up and break free from the prison of ignorance.” That’s what the world must do now– summon from every voice the lion’s roar, gather from the seven seas the great rising tide, to stop the final plunder and wreck of the world.” (from this book.)
Let’s break free from the prison of ignorance. Let’s wake up. And let’s dare to do it with humor and pleasure and as much joy as we can muster, shan’t we? I don’t think we can do it without being embodied, present, and full of courageous kindness.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Here is a quote from beloved book, Great Tide Rising:
“I believe that everything awaits redemption at every moment. Redemption: when the pieces, which are scattered, are brought together again into the vibrant harmony of living systems, when the whole that they create is beautiful and imbedded in even greater miracles of relation. We yearn to be called back in. Everything yearns to be called back into a right relationship, the frogs into their chorus, the cicadas into their pulsing choir, the people into Earth’s harmonies, the dancing insects into their light.”
I’d like to add that the same call to redemption is true of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We are called back to embodiment, to our innate wholeness, to full presence right here in this beautiful, suffering world. Consider yourself called.
This imperative to wake up is not an invitation to freak out, guilt ourselves, and start making frantic to-do lists or to hurry up and“figure out what to do.” (Please, let’s not do that!) I believe we’re being called to a different kind of consciousness altogether. I believe we’re being invited into profound embodied connection and a reverence for life. All the very best “thinking” and “to-do listing” and disconnected “improving” of the past centuries have led us to the very brink of survival on earth. We can’t use that consciousness to heal the situation. We must each discover our own emergent, creative, embodied, aware, compassionate way into a livable future. And though we must each find our own way, it’s so lovely when we join together.
If this vision and possibility calls you, please consider joining me and an incredible group of humans in my upcoming course, Embodying The Great Turning. We’ll work with potent practices which come to life in community, as well as contemplative practices for our own bodies and minds, (which really aren’t so separate.) Whether you have a decades-long practice of meditation, somatics, deep ecology or if all of this is brand new to you but somehow calls your soul – please come! You’ll be warmly welcomed into a loving community of beautiful folks.
With tenderness and grief and a wholehearted determination to make the future beautiful, no matter what,