stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower,
and retell it in words and in touch,
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.”
– Galway Kinnell
My intention this month had been to write about the mindfulness principle of being with whatever arises. It’s something we’ve been practicing behind the scenes at 8 Limbs to support our often humbling work around cultural competency. When we allow ourselves to be with what is – even when what is is a misstep – we make space to genuinely gain insight and move forward. In our last Leadership Team meeting for example, we began with an open-awareness meditation practice* as way to support our skillfulness in this area.
But then an event happened this past weekend causing the notion to simply be with what is to feel unbearable – the Orlando massacre.
In sitting with the Sunday morning news I quickly became derailed. My mind and heart spun out, acutely aware of what happens all over the globe when discrimination and hatred are fed. My heart broke for those who lost loved ones early Sunday morning, for my friends and family subject to hate crimes and for all of the ways people have been discriminated against because of who they love, who they identify as, who they worship, the color of their skin, the capacities of their bodies and minds, where they live…. the list goes on.
I’m unclear how long I spun out and fell apart until I remembered a critical mindfulness lesson – kindness. Early on I learned the importance of discerning between being with what is and being derailed by the emotions that arise from with being with what is. When the latter happens, the mindful thing to do is be kind to oneself. That often means backing off enough to re-stabilize. In doing so, we nurture our skillfulness to then ultimately return to being with what is.
Part of what helped me to remember this lesson came from another notable, albeit non-painful, event from my weekend. This past Friday night I had the privilege of attending a talk by mindfulness teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. At one point during the evening Salzberg said something that struck a deep chord within me related to the definition of mindfulness. While I was expecting a response about present moment awareness and being with what is, she instead offered the notion that mindfulness is, “a skills training practice in how to create a home in the deepest places we’ve already known, and then abide in that home.” Places we’ve already known. That notion hung in the air for me. She elaborated. This home – this place we already know – is that ever-existing place that supports us in releasing limiting behaviors, seeing clearly and enabling us to genuinely connect with others.
Her words immediately resonated with me simply because I could feel their truth. Intellectually, emotionally and physically I understand there is a place deep within me that knows things. Knows-knows things. When I’m showing up as my optimal self I’m coming from this home. It’s loving, it’s wise, it’s kind. It’s spacious. I don’t always act or speak from this place but I understood what she was talking about.
All of this was easy and affirming enough on Friday evening, but then like I said, Sunday morning rolled around and there I was, spinning out about the violence born from discrimination and fear. Eventually though, I also found myself recognizing that being with what is might become bearable were I to do the kind thing – back off a bit and reconnect to this sense of home that Salzberg spoke about. This home that is not unique to me, or exclusive to those that look or identify like me, but rather an aspect of shared humanity that furthers and fosters connection.
We all have our own pathways that lead us home, supporting us through times when just being with what is doesn’t cut it. Today I’ll share the path I’ve been taking to get home in the aftermath of what happened in Orlando – the practice of metta, often referred to as loving-kindness.
In Sharon Salzberg’s book Loving-Kindness The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, she describes metta as a practice wherein we gently repeat phrases of things we wish for, aspirations that are enduring and deeply felt. Traditionally we first repeat these phrases for ourselves and then for others. The four classic phrases are:
May I be free from danger.
May I have mental happiness.
May I have physical happiness.
May I have ease of well-being.
The purpose of metta, Salzberg explains, is to “relearn loveliness.” Referencing the poem I opened with above by Galway Kinnell, Salzberg posits that it’s through loving-kindness that “everyone and everything can flower again from within. When we recover knowledge of our own loveliness and that of others, self-blessing happens naturally and beautifully.” That is, loveliness is something inherent and recoverable within us all, it’s a part of that home she described Friday night that supports us to see clearly, release limiting behaviors and ultimately truly connect with others.
If it feels relevant to you, I invite you to explore a metta practice this week using the above phrases or those of your own choosing. It can be as simple as setting a timer for 5 minutes or longer, finding a comfortable meditation position in a quiet spot and repeating the well wishes. I would also love to hear some of the other pathways you take to reconnect with your home – your inherent loveliness and the loveliness in others – which in turn enables you to remain present, engaged and responsive in the midst of events that can feel unbearable at times. Please feel free to share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Open-awareness meditation refers to a non-directed style of meditation wherein the practitioner simply observes what comes up without judging or trying to alter.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, Executive Director, 8 Limbs Yoga Centers
If you’re interested in ways to take direct action in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando some possibilities include donating blood to your local Red Cross (who are able to get donations to communities in need such as Orlando) and/or donate money to organizations such as GoFundMe’s “Support Victims of Pulse Shooting”.