The Vast Heart

A note from Erin, November 13 2023
The Vast Heart 
This morning during meditation there were many tears, including my own. I woke after troubled dreams of finding bodies, of searching for bread. I woke with heartache and confusion and a felt sense of helplessness and so much care it hurts.
It’s our great good fortune that the human heart, in its essence and its deep nature, is vast.
It’s our great good fortune that the heart is capable of breaking open to tender spaciousness in any moment.
It’s our great good fortune that the heart is not by nature small and hard and unable to sit with complexity or contradiction.
 It’s our great good fortune that if we’ve forgotten this, nevertheless the vast heart is still here, abiding, ready for us to remember and return home.
It’s our great good fortune that the deep heart is sky-like; clear, open, spacious, and able to accommodate whatever moves through, including those tears and feelings I mentioned showing up during meditation this morning.
I pray for this awake heart to blossom in all chests around the world.
I pray for the felt recognition that we are each other’s kin and all lives are worthy of respect and care to sprout in every heart.
I pray for an end to violence and domination everywhere that it exists; outer violence, inner violence, violence against one another, and violence against the natural world.
May a commitment to non-violent living bloom in every single heart.
The vast heart of compassion knows that explicitly standing for an end to violence in one place does not imply a celebration or ignoring of violence elsewhere. We are so much bigger than any binary-this-versus-that scenario. Sorrows need not be ranked. They can all be held with reverence and compassion.
If you think care in one place means no care can exist in another place, you may have forgotten that vast heart.
We all forget sometimes.
If you think you cannot stand what is happening and so must go numb, perhaps you have forgotten that vast heart. Or perhaps you need some deep rest and gentleness. Or both.
We all forget sometimes.
Let’s forgive ourselves for forgetting.
Then let’s remember and come back home.
To remember, to return home, here’s one invitation.
Put a hand on your chest.
Feel the ground holding you. Root deeply into feeling held.
Offer tender words of care to the parts of you that are afraid, that are grieving, that are mad as hell, that feel helpless, that care so much it aches.
Let these parts know you won’t abandon them. You’ll hold them. You can hum to them, rock them, whisper encouragement to them. You can love them just as they are. You can help them to feel safe simply to exist. You can practice inner disarmament.
Embodying this inner generosity, you return to your wise adult presence. From adult presence, you can expand into that vast heart that has room for it all. It has all the room in the world for these tender, fearful parts in your own heart. Your deep heart has all the room in the world for the fears in the hearts of others as well. You discover there really is room for it all, even if being stretched this large aches. This is a foundation for soul activism. For responding to the times in a way that does not pour more fuel on the flames.
If your heart hurts, as does mine, please know it is not a failure.
It is a sign of awareness and awakeness.
In my meditation tradition – this is the aim. To keep returning to bodhichitta – the awake heart-mind.
I know it hurts to have an open heart in a violent world on the verge of climate collapse with so much injustice all around us.
How it aches to love, to care, to pay attention.
Yet isn’t this awake ache is so much better than the alternative – to go numb, to collapse into small mindedness and tight heartedness, to ignore the wider world and our precious kin?
I’m grateful the vast heart can hold this ache; can hold beauty and joy as well as grief and rage. It’s big enough to hold them, even all at the same time. It helps to have a practice to support us in remembering and strengthening this capacity. And it helps to have others to remind us that we’re not alone in holding it all. We can hold it together.
I don’t know what makes sense other than vast compassion.
What makes sense other than standing clearly for non-violence and for the dignity and freedom of all beings?
May we embody our deepest values, especially now during challenging times – which incidentally don’t look like they’re aiming to get a whole lot easier with rising temperatures, rising seas, rising authoritarianism.
May our vast-heart presence remind us and others that a mutually-flourishing world is possible and worth visioning and working toward.
The practices we’ve cultivated during easy times are what we get to rely on during difficult times. I’m so grateful for my practices. My holdfasts. Meditation. Embodied presence. Compassionate listening. Reverent gardening. Mindful moving. Curious writing. Sitting in council with tender-hearted others. Ancestral communion. Feeding my people. Reading poetry. Communing with the living land. Grieving. Praising. Resting. Walking. Coming home again and again to bodhichitta.
As one daily practice, with incense smoke wafting to carry my prayers into the sky, I reach out from my heart toward wisdom teachers, toward all kinds of sources of compassion and skillful guidance, toward wise teachers past and present, including teachers of all species, toward fortifying presences like my local mountains, noble trees, and glistening water bodies, toward the vast minds of the bees, the whales, the elephants, and the generous herbs in my garden and in local canyons. I reach toward my ancestors and ask for guidance, and I reach toward the ancestors of this land. I know I cannot do it alone. And by it I mean living a good life with an open heart that might have some chance of leaving things better than I found them.
When I receive blessings as a return from this reaching, as I always do, I send them out again into the suffering world.
 I care so much it hurts. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am one imperfect, fumbling human being, just like you.
No one person can do it all, can solve the world’s issues, can maybe ever feel like we’re doing enough. No one thing we say or write or address with our actions can touch all the issues that need care and attention.
So let’s extend each other and ourselves some grace. Let us honor our shared humanity and our humble fumbling attempts to meet the times. Let’s aim to grow larger rather than smaller in response to the challenges that arise.
  We can commit to staying tethered to the vast heart of compassion and let our actions arise from there. We can commit to not getting smaller, tighter, meaner, or more divided in the face of such tragedy and fear. We can remember we are one being in a vast tapestry of  caring others each doing their part.
In this very moment, I send blessings and care out with this breath, and this breath, and this one, from right here in my rocking chair in the soft morning light where I sit next to the old radiator offering warmth. I’m sending blessings in all directions and throughout time and space. I hope you can feel them floating your way, especially if you are grieving or afraid.
I wish you beauty and joy and well being and safety and the ongoing remembrance of your awake, vast, interconnected, nonviolent heart of compassion, beautifully entwined with the whole web of life.
Let’s meet in that vast heart.
Let’s grieve together there. There is so much to grieve.
Let’s also praise beauty and goodness from there.
Let’s envision new possibilities from there.
Let’s talk to the children from that heart.
Let’s sing and dance from that heart.
Let’s call our politicians from there.
If we protest, let’s do it from there.
Let us plant seeds for next year’s harvest from there.
Let us also plant seeds of courageous lovingkindness in each interaction, inner and outer – an investment in another kind of future harvest.
The good news is that it’s possible, even now.
Let us imagine every encounter is an altar. Every relationship a place to pour libations, to make offerings to and from the vast heart.
Every seed we plant is a possibility for a new beginning.
We’re making the world we share in every moment.
Every tear falling is evidence that we are not failing to love, even if we’re doing it imperfectly.
I’m truly grateful to be in it with you.
From my heart,
 I’d like to include these wise words from my dear friends and colleagues at School for the Great Turning as I share their sentiment and intention in my own work and heart and I appreciate the way they’ve articulated it:
“Our intention is to be a place of learning, healing, and community. A place where it’s okay to come confused, or heartbroken, or full of rage, and even afraid. A place where it is okay to move at the speed of grief and trust, as we also balance that with moving into right action and solidarity. We, ourselves, have been moving at the pace of grief and learning, as we witness the horrors that have escalated in the Middle East over this last month, and it feels important to support the calls for an immediate end to the violence.”
To read more about the school click here. You can read the whole touching post here. 
Here is a favorite poem I’ve often shared in classes over the past several years and that Carl shared during the closing of our Grief Ritual Leadership Training on Saturday.
It’s untitled, but I like to call it “Heirloom Seeds.”
This planet will not
be healed
by powerful politicians
in big cities
who spend trillions
on a global strategy
that never quite begins.
They also burn
much fuel.
Earth will be healed
by villagers
who sing,
by backyard gardeners
like you,
who walk more slowly
right here,
who feel the green
through bare soles,
speaking fewer words,
each others anger
like mothers,
the heirloom seeds
of the heart.
~ Alfred K. LaMotte
Carl and I host embodied meditation every weekday morning. You’re warmly invited to join us anytime. When times get dark, violent, and overwhelming, my gratitude for this practice and the community who sit with us only deepens. Come anytime. 
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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.