Don’t spend time dwelling on what’s wrong with other people. You only have so much time to work on yourself and you will need all the time you have.
One thing that really struck me about my time at a Vipassana course last month was how my insights were so often centred on seeing that what was in me was exactly what was in other people, and what was in them was exactly what was in me. And from there I could see compassion at its root.
At the risk of leaving that rather vague statement hanging there, let me explain with an example.
A friend had been struggling with telling the truth to their boss about an upcoming trip to a spiritual centre. He felt he couldn’t tell his boss the truth about where he was going as it would be too weird for him. So my friend told me he decided to make something up.
I told him that was silly – that he should just tell the truth. Then I turned to my kids beside me and imparted some imperious moral statement along this lines of “We should always tell the truth.”
But when I was at the centre I saw that I find telling the truth hard too – in particular when I have to tell my son “No”, and I know there is going to be a firestorm coming when he hears that little word.
I realized that what I should have said to my kids was that the truth can sometimes be really hard to say, really really hard. Then we would share the very human realization of what it means to tell the truth, and that yes, it takes a toll on us. That it can ask a lot of us, and that is really hard. Someone might not like the truth and it asks a lot of us to tell someone the truth when you know they won’t like or understand what they hear. Then a child can remember when they too struggled with the truth, as we all have.
With this approach, we can sit in compassion together, and together we can get a glimpse of the full range of what it means to be human.
It starts with putting a stop to the judging mind and to the ego that seeks to make itself out to be superior or better than others. Then we can live in the unity that is truly between all people.
I was on a Vipassana meditation course last month, sharing a bathroom with thirty strangers during ten days of silence. I noticed that sometimes the toilet roll would be changed when it was empty and sometimes it wouldn’t. There were no rules around this – it was simply some people were taking the initiative themselves and some weren’t.
This mundane observation made me think of three things that I wanted to run home right then and immediately tell my children:
- Always do more than you’re asked
- Look for what you can do to help, without being asked.
- Say thank you.
As observations go, this is not exactly earth-shattering, but sometimes it’s the simple things that make all the difference.
Who Has Seen the Wind?
– Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
This is one of my favourite poems. I recite it to my kids at random times to torment them. (You have to have some pleasures in parenthood.) With my awful memory I also manage to mangle it and can only recite the third line as “But when the leaves are rustling, That is the wind passing by.” Sorry Christina.
I think of it as giving my kids a morsel of spiritual education without beating them over the head about being mindful, among other drivel from Mama. After all, who has seen the wind? But we know it’s there. Enough said.
The other day I woke up with an incredible dream in my mind. I dreamt that I was surrounded by total support. That everything I did and said was received with complete acceptance and support. It was an incredible feeling. No strife, no questioning, no blame, just understanding and support.
When I told my friend about the dream, she immediately said, “Well that’s God.”
She could be right, but imagine if we could live like that with those closest to us – our partners, our children, our family, and then extend this out to everyone we meet. Not blaming or questioning intentions – just accepting and seeking understanding. No more “Why is this door now hanging from its hinges?” or “Why are you all running around wearing my jewelry?”
I don’t know if those are common questions in your house but they certainly are in mine.
I may have to practice many more deep breaths before I can offer this level of support, thank you very much!
Yesterday as I stood on my friend’s lawn, I watched a man wearing a black trench coat walk down the sidewalk with his wife, who was also wearing black. That part’s normal enough… what was peculiar were the eight crows circling overhead stalking them.
The couple were being followed by a pack of crows. The pack would hop onto the telephone lines, then fly a few metres to catch up with the couple, and then rest again on the telephone lines or on the tops of bushes before they took off again in pursuit. This kept up all the way down the street.
The couple was oblivious.
But it was very strange.
Crows stalking humans.
I felt like joining them, running after the couple and crows to see where it would lead. That began to remind me of the fairy tale “The Golden Goose” where the simpleton brother shares his food with a little old man and is given a golden goose in return. As he carries the goose in his arms, greedy villagers try to steal a golden feather, but instead end up being stuck to the goose. Before long a whole parade of people are stuck to each other, stumbling after the simpleton brother.
And there would be me, stumbling after the man, his wife and the crows.
Sometimes it’s best to ask no questions, but to just marvel at the universe, one where crows stalk humans who wear black.
I’ve never read Goethe, at least not that I can remember. He may have been on one of the reading lists way back from my time as an English Lit major, but since I managed to squeak by reading barely a third of the reading lists, I can’t really say.
Still, what better man than Goethe to launch a blog?
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe