Who has not sat before his own heart’s curtain? It lifts: and the scenery is falling apart.- Rilke
We humans, and likely other sentient beings, have the capacity to see and feel and intuit large swaths of mulitiple dimensions, from the sorrow that flows like rivers through the hearts of humanity and sentience, to the bliss of perceiving light permeating through physical reality, to joyous love so big that nothing could contain it, to misery, fear, poverty, abuse, mental illness, the irony of evil masked as religious dogma, emanations in subtle realms, timelessness, the experience of emptiness and fullness as one, and a point prior to the everpresent potentiality of creation. Mystical and transcendental realms astound and enlighten. They can bring both clarity and a new kind of confusion, both ecstasy in the face of the divine and intimacy with the burning fire of purification.
And still, no matter who we are, no matter what country we live in, no matter what color our beautiful skin or eyes, no matter what our beliefs are, we have in common our human heart. Regardless of our circumstances or experience, no matter how rich or poor, well-respected, accomplished, spiritually awake, intelligent or healthy, we remain connected through our shared human vulnerabilities and limitations. At this time as through all time, many people are suffering, terrified, lonely, or coping with great loss. We are confused and angry. Our minds cannot keep up with the breakdown in thousands of obsolete systems, which keep each other in place through antiquated belief systems and also easily can disrupt one another like the fragile threads in a spider’s web.
How do we cope with our own pain and suffering?
How do we cope with our humanness and the overwhelming knowledge that much of sentience suffers – especially when we are in the midst of our own private pain or suffering? How do we intuit and remain consciously aware of our limitations as humans while collaborating on the vision and intention of a healthier, more beautiful and more just future for all life? In the following several paragraphs I offer some simple exercises and perspectives which have helped both me and many I’ve worked with over the years. They are simple human practices which are available to everyone, but which often are overlooked or not enacted. Whether these are reminders, or new for you, may they contribute to the healing of our shared vulnerable and loving heart.
The Good, True and Beautiful - Benevolent practices to relieve suffering
Across many religious traditions, practitioners are invited to drop into the heart, to love, to serve. Dropping into the heart and living in and from a place of liberation, clarity, strength and openness is not easy. It happens in degrees and can take many forms. How can we live more consistently and more effortlessly in this way? Let’s start here.
- Drop your awareness or your attention into your own vulnerable, human heart, the area in the center of the chest. Gently breathe into and through this area, bringing even more consciousness to it. Likely you will notice a contraction or tension in your body, here, or perhaps nearby. Just become aware of what you notice. It could be tightness, pain, a physical sensation, a visual image or shape or an emotion. As you inhale allow the details of this sensation or image to come more into focus. As you exhale, allow the muscles in this area to relax and let go. Focus your attention here and feel what you feel as you inhale, let go as you exhale. Just relax into the sensation, image or emotion. Using your breath and your awareness, do this several times. And stay there for awhile. Can you stay present to this sensation and breathe into and through it without bypassing it? Try it.
- See if you can locate the felt sense inside yourself of your raw vulnerability and innocence, the you who does his or her best, the you who wants to love and be loved, the one who hurts, who is anxious or afraid, maybe even a version of you as a child. Just stay there and try to feel that part of yourself.
- Now, imagine bringing tenderness, appreciation, compassion and care to this part of yourself. Imagine breathing tenderness, love, and acceptance through this part of yourself. Can you love what is here? Can you be present with this part of yourself? Listen to this one? Feel the hurt or the fear? Make room for whatever is there? Say to yourself and feel in your body, “it’s okay to feel this way.”
Through embodied awareness practice and conscious breathing, it is possible to release unconscious assumptions, chronic muscle contraction, and habitual attitudes and behaviors which cause suffering in yourself and others. Relaxing into your own vulnerability and making room for it is compassionate, loving and kind. This self compassion is soothing and makes room for a felt sense of benevolence to enter. With intention, attention and practice, the defenses come down, anxiety is released, repressed emotion is freed, and life energy can begin to flow.
This loving kindness toward yourself is the same loving kindness that can be directed towards others in service to the same one who created us, who lives in and through all of us. Love feels good. Whether eros or agape, going toward the divine or the divine coming back down into ourselves as love for one another, Love just feels good. Ironically the more we love, the more we feel love. Always the caveat is that love also consists of the ability to say no to that which is not loving.
So, in addition to loving your vulnerable human self, one’s own suffering can be relieved or abated through loving others in service to the divine self that lives inside of you and everyone. Who can you help? Who genuinely wants help and will use it well? What is it that they are asking for or needing in this moment? No matter how small or large, an act of service to someone in need can open the heart even just for a moment. These acts of loving kindness, of compassionate action, of loving service, create inroads for deeper and greater benevolence to enter your being. In helping someone else from a genuine-hearted authentic spontaneity within yourself, you are serving the Beloved. You Love. You are Love.
Looking all around you, what do you see? How did it arrive here? I don’t mean how was it manufactured or how was it delivered. Where does it come from? What is it made of? What is its essence? What is anything made of? Extending your awareness out beyond your physical surroundings, to the happenings in the world, what comes to your heart and mind? Bring your attention to both the chaos, the conflict, the pain and to the order, the harmony and the joy. These qualities have existed throughout time. How did all of this come to be? What holds it together? What keeps it going? What ultimately controls (creates, sustains and destroys) our existence? Letting go into this Mystery and just standing in awe that anything and everything we experience seems to exist at all, can put us in touch with a sense of gratitude and appreciation even in the midst of suffering, our own and others.
What is it like to live from all of these perspectives, the beautiful, the good and the true, simultaneously? Can we as humans be in touch with our own interior vulnerabilities, needs and tenderness, while at the same time serving the same vulnerability in others, and remaining aware of the co-arising nature of all of creation as it presently twists, turns and evolves in ourselves, throughout our planet and throughout space and time? Being in touch with the self, we can clear away debris that keeps us stuck in limiting beliefs which keep our world self-centered and small. Ironically, self-awareness brings more compassion to the self, which allows greater compassion for others and more room to see things with greater objectivity. Learning how to open our hearts and minds to all of these simultaneously, we release a fixation on our own small world and open the possibility of a transformed future for this thing we call life on earth.