Wishing for Harmony (written 2009)
Power. Life's lesson for me lately is strongly centered on this issue. The need for control, the resentment and anger that grow from powerlessness. I think of the resentment that wants so badly to take root in my own heart. Whenever I'm in the presence of anger or tension, it gnaws at me. Only mindfulness keeps it at bay, moves me to see where the tension or anger come from in others and so to begin transforming my own pain into compassion. It is the work of constant vigilance and I succeed only in intermittent bursts. Compassion's flame flickers like a candle, sometimes bright and true, then guttering.
Any communication takes place in the context of relationship and all those involved contribute to the direction it takes. No one is the bad guy. We are all just human. We struggle together in this. The deep sorrow is that we are the cause of our own pain. Anger smothers compassion. I understand so much better, with time, Bhante Pavaro's instruction to direct metta (loving kindness) to myself first. When I direct it only outward I am misunderstanding metta, I am trying to use it as a kind of power or control of my own. I want my own desires for peace and harmony to be met. I need compassion for myself so that I begin to see where the roots of suffering begin. I need to turn my attention to the anger in my own heart and so protect the tiny flame of compassion. Feed this flame with presence, being here and now, breathing through just this, as it is. My job is only to love and to be present. Wife, mother, sister, friend. Just another flawed and suffering human being.
I have been pondering how when I make space there is more air...more oxygen for this flame. When I hold my own wishes lightly...let them float through, I do not come up against others in conflict. Any wish, held too tightly, hardens and becomes a weapon against those we perceive as hampering its fulfillment. And amorphous worries shimmer like mist in the air. The economy. Wars. Climate. The larger context of these lives we live. I can focus on the mist and feel dizzy and disoriented and lost. Or I can look inward and find stability.
Reading Jack Kornfield's book, The Wise Heart, I stop to copy out the bodhisattva vow the Dalai Lama takes. It is based on the words of Shantideva:
May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
I shy away from taking this vow in a ceremonial way, knowing too well how poorly I've kept other vows in my life. But reading this I ponder how intention shapes a life and I place a copy on my altar, adding this to my own haphazard rituals. Then I sit. I begin with metta for myself and visualize the light and strength of the Buddha, in whom I take refuge, flowing into this body, uniting with my own buddhanature within me always...coaxing hidden qualities and capacities, this original self to the surface for this life now.
The bell rings. No me surfaced at all. Just breath moving in this body, through the world of suffering where we all do our best. Breath of all beings. Like wisps of smoke, the anger and blame and the grieving and guilt curl and are absorbed. Inhaled and exhaled. My feet are planted on this path. One step at a time.
A calm carries me back to the kitchen. Tears on my cheeks, bittersweet morning coffee, the turning of the earth and the passing of everything. Now is the only place I live. What intentions will form that living?