Musings of the InsightLA teachers
For almost a year now, I’ve noticed an underlying anxiety, a feeling of being off balance, craving to read the news more than I ever did before. There is a thread of fear stitched into our country, and I feel it, for we aren’t separate from our surroundings. In the midst of summer, there’s a chill in my heart. I’m grateful for the teachings and practice of mindfulness, calm, and equanimity.
What gives rise to the peace of mindfulness? The ancient texts tell us: mindfulness produces mindfulness. What we do with our minds right now conditions the next moment. How we breathe, how we pay attention to what arises in and around us, how we love… What are we doing moment to moment? We’re practicing something all the time. Are we practicing being aware? How are we actually spending the moments we have in this heart-breakingly unsafe, exquisite, magnificent life?
Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it’s presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it’s just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will.” My Korean Zen teacher always encouraged us to “Believe in yourself!” With great humor and intensity, he asked us to have confidence in our minds, to believe in the stability and wisdom of awareness itself, our “not-moving mind.” His definition of faith was trust in awareness, our ability to see clearly.
Even so, sometimes what we see frightens and upsets us. We know our trust, confidence, faith will waver. When we’re mindful, we can see: wavering is both as real and ephemeral as trusting. Like all experiences, they appear and disappear. The skill is being willing to step back and observe the heart’s inevitable movement back and forth, in and out of fear and faltering, with as much kind, understanding awareness as we can summon.
This is how we learn to meet the inevitable ebb and flow of confidence with the “not-moving mind”. Sorrows, fears, joys, perceptions move — who watches and stays still? Awareness and presence are always here when we look deeply. This is how we cultivate mindfulness and compassion with all the insecurity of life. Practice means learning to recognize and support the courage, capacity, and strength already present in us. And mindfulness means remembering to look, again and again. “Believe in yourself!”
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”– Heather Heyer, who was tragically killed in Charlottesville, wrote this in what she did not know would be her last Facebook post.
We are saddened about the loss of a young woman who demonstrated against hate, and shocked by the neo-nazi demonstrators who think this violence is justified.
I find this tribute to forgiveness from Heather Heyer’s father profoundly moving. His words, spoken from his grieving heart, remind me of what Dr. King said, in what he did not know would be his last sermon, “I have decided to stick to love.” This is our path — to pay attention, and stick to love.
Yesterday in our early morning Deepening Your Practice class, I found myself quoting not the Buddha, but Pope Francis. The Pope recently gave a clear, moving talk about interconnectedness, lovingkindness and compassion. It was a TED talk! He sat at a desk in the Vatican and spoke to the whole world about a revolution of tenderness, “la tenerezza.” This is the love that is close, intimate and real. As he looked us in the eye, the power of love that connects, comforts, and cares was conveyed kindly and firmly. “Tenderness means using eyes to see each other, the ears to listen to the children, to the poor, to those who are afraid of the future, to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth.”
This is true strength, as we learn in Mindful Self Compassion class, the bravery it takes to open our hearts in genuine compassion for ourselves and our world. At this point in my practice, I feel so porous and permeable that everyone’s suffering permeates my heart, both human and nonhuman beings. It takes both fortitude and joy to bear the openness that comes when we don’t separate ourselves from all that is.
On this day, it’s good to be reminded that governments are only part of the picture. Our fate is in our mindful hands and strong hearts. It’s good to hear words of hope blooming in the midst of humanity’s tragedies. As Pope Francis says, “A single individual is enough for hope to exist and that individual can be you. And then there will be another you and another you and it turns into an us. When there is an ‘us’ there can be a revolution.” Let’s make it a revolution of tenderness, and bring all our courage and love into actual, concrete actions to protect all beings and a planet our human future can live in!
In the spirit of welcome, two of our wonderful team members at InsightLA, Mark and Sarah, chose our recent motto: “You Can Sit With Us”. It’s a reference to a scene in the movie “Mean Girls”. A popular girl who is sitting with her clique at lunch shrieks at a new girl (wearing sweatpants) who tries to join them, “You can’t sit with us!”. We are saying exactly the opposite: whoever you are, whatever kind of ‘clothes’ you wear (color, gender, age, class, abilities…), you can sit with us.
We’re following in the footsteps of the Buddha, who welcomed people from all walks of life into his Sangha. He lifted the lamp of Dharma and said, “Ehipassiko”. That’s Pali for “Come and see.” This is how he invited all suffering beings to walk through the Dharma door of liberty, insight and compassion — just like the poet Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, immortalized at the Statue of Liberty:
“…Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, … and her name
Mother of Exiles…
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses,
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
At InsightLA, we’re working to make InsightLA a more inclusive space for everyone. However, we will inevitably make mistakes, for we aren’t separate from our society where prejudice and bias are institutionalized and widespread in ways that are mostly invisible to white people. In fact, this week it appears that some in our government intend to strengthen white privilege and exclude more people – “You can’t join us!” – rather than affirm the value and benefit of racial and gender equality, equity, refuge, and economic parity for our nation.
When I wrote about ‘white awareness’ three weeks ago, a friend felt excluded. Even though we don’t intend to offend, when the impact of what we say causes distress, our intention isn’t what matters. Attending to the impact matters most.
In all of our relationships, our efforts to grow in awareness and empathic response sometimes include missteps. We will always have a lot to forgive, in ourselves and in each other! This is how it is in our human world. Come and see.