December 30, 2006

Gollum and Compassion

Meredith: A friend has been going through a very difficult time. As I listened and tried to be helpful, a tide of my own darkness welled up within me. As I looked at my friend, eye to eye, and as I listened deeply, I recognized that this pain, grief, sorrow, shame and self loathing my friend was sharing is inside of me, too. As I touched this angst, it felt as though I was tapping into a hidden corner of my own being that I rarely have the courage to recognize. It wasn't until I really felt this, and looked carefully at the ugly contents that I began to really understand my friend. It seems that in these sad and deep tributaries within ourselves we will find common ground that is fertile for compassion.
"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
--Pema Chodron

Friend: This darkness within us, it is a character like Tolkien's Gollum, and it appears to be universal in all human beings. We each have a different version, but it is a darkness that is part of our shared humanity. It does provide a common ground that allows for us to feel tenderness, connection, kindness and compassion.

Meredith: These dark images make me feel sooo sad, it is nearly unbearable to keep thinking about it for very long. And yet it feels so real and authentic, like "Yes, Gollum is finally out in the open, this terrible ugly secret I have been harboring. Now you know the truth of me."

Friend: Yes this is the stuff of which Gollum is made. Acknowledging our own darkness is excruciating, and yet...and yet... we must bear this woundedness, hold our sorrow, fear and confusion within an open heart. Holding these feelings, bearing them, allowing them to be and then to go of their own accord, however raw, exposed and vulnerable gives birth to warmth and compassion. I have indulged, much more often I have repressed, and both of these ways lead to further suffering. But to allow, to accept, to hold and bear with an open heart is sooooo hard, yet it is the way I have discovered to any real peace. And yes, this is a brand new discovery. My Gollum carries the key that brings light into the darkness, the light and warmth of consciousness which dispels shadow. As excruciatingly difficult as it is, as hard as it is to hold, allowing my Gollum to be - because it is, I genuinely feel wretched and unlovable in my darkest corners, I feel sorrow and fear and confusion - is paradoxically the key to healing my suffering.

I asked the universe for the power to heal suffering, and the universe showed me compassion. Compassion was the universe's response to my request for the power to heal the suffering of myself and others.

Pema Chodron also says this over and over, compassion is a key to healing suffering of self and other. And Sylvia Boorstein says it, too; "I think it's the awareness of the vulnerability to sorrow that human beings share that keeps me kind." Warmth and love and kindness come out of being present with our own darkness, our own vulnerability, suffering, sorrow, fear and confusion. It is this awareness of our shared vulnerability to pain that generates our love and warmth for ourselves and others. It is what heals and soothes suffering.

Meredith: Right. I, too, am finding that only when I am conscious of my own woundedness and suffering, conscious of my own darkness, can I be present with the woundedness and darkness of others. This "being present with" is compassion, and it is compassion that soothes and heals suffering.

December 27, 2006

A Walk

Often on Christmas morning, my family takes a walk. Although this December we have had very rainy and dark winter days here in Oregon, I have memories of unseasonable warm and sunny Christmas mornings in which we have gone out walking. Regardless of the weather, we walk with uplifted spirits and joyfulness in our hearts. Within us, something circulates about which we do not usually give words to. Rilke finds these words in this poem, reminding me of the ephemeral quality I sense moving through each of us.

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance----

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

-Ranier Maria Rilke

December 19, 2006

To Love Another

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and, so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is—solitude, intensified and deepened loneness for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate—?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.

letter seven in Letters to a Young Poet

December 15, 2006

What Do You See?

Robert Genn, author of The Painter's Keys, is traveling and visited Musee de L'Orangerie in Paris where the Claude Monet waterlily paintings are on display. He shared this experience:

I've been in these two rooms for so long that my stomach is concerned. A guard has already determined that I'm planning a heist. I'm sure she has alerted her supervisors. And then there's a man who has been in here almost as long as I. He moves from bench to bench. He has a round, friendly face and an honest smile. I find relief in pretending we have met. We talk in hushed, religious tones. He is M. LeClerc, an actuary from Poitiers, in Paris for four days. He thinks I'm an American. I tell him I'm from Canada. "What do you see here?" I ask him.

"I know nothing about art," he tells me, "But every time I come to Paris I enter these rooms. The collection was closed for some six years and Paris was very dull. These are sublime things. They are beyond words or expressions. They cannot be categorized or listed. In winter they take you to spring. They bring my boyhood and my home. Maybe God is in these things. What do I see? I see sadness and I see beauty. What else do we need? What else do we have?" His face is flushed, his eyes moist. "But then, who am I to say?" he asks. "I know nothing about art. Do you have such experiences in Canada?"

December 8, 2006

My Life, My Soul

Ten years ago.....
I turned my face for a moment
and it became my life.

Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
and all along
my soul is being blown by great winds across the sky.

—Ojibway saying

December 6, 2006


Robert Genn, author of the newsletter, The Painter’s Keys recently wrote about Obos, a Japanese term for a pile of rocks, often only three, one on top of another. He writes, “The obos merely says, "I was here." Being an unusual configuration, it is obviously from the hand of man. Further, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is easily rebuilt. There can be one at the bottom of the garden or in a private corner of a public park."

"Obos is a destination, a sanctuary, a shrine and a focal point that reminds us that we work with our hands. We are builders and what we build is sacred. Obos may appear inconsequential and be unnoticed by a casual passersby. It's a private tribute to something higher, something we might be striving for but find difficult to attain. Approach obos with a relaxed, curious mind. It can help with answers to questions not consciously asked. Obos gives pause, a contemplative thought or a new direction, a respite from clutter, a rededication to our struggle and an affirmation of the value of our personal effort. Obos is the carrier of a golden secret. Obos is like art itself. "

Photo by Joanna McKasy

December 4, 2006

Limitless Whole

The true person is
not like anyone in particular;
but like the deep blue color
of the limitless sky,
it is everyone,
everywhere in the world.

Dogen (1200-1253)

I am reminded of both the limitless Whole in harmony with the someone in particular. Heaven and earth, sky and clouds, this wonderful manifestation of the many in the one, of emptiness as form.

So much of our daily living has been dominated soley by the conditioned, that most of us are unconscious of our true nature as "not anyone in particular" but like the sky, everyone and everything, everywhere in the world.


December 1, 2006

Miracles of Each Moment

The above artwork is by Kazuaki Tanahashi, author of Brush Mind. In his book, Kazuaki writes,
"There is no need to imagine before you paint. Painting brings forth imagination."
No special conditions are needed to write, paint, or begin a creative endeavor. Though it feels risky, we can have confidence in the life-giving capacity of risk. One brush stroke leads to another, one word leads to another, one note on a song sheet calls forth the next. All we have to do is begin. Our willingness to risk brings the moment, ourselves and our work to life in a way that did not exist just moments before.