We tend to see ourselves as fixed, static, small, but deep down we know that we are not at all fixed but made of energy that is in movement, tethered to a greater truth, a much greater whole, drawing it down to us. We realize this in love and in loss—the invisible presence of a loved one painfully apparent in absence. We marvel at the size and quality of this energy field (it’s hard to know what to call it). An enormous hole looms open in the atmosphere, much larger and more indescribable than the physical person we knew. I have sensed this since last Thursday, when my 93-year-old father, Paul Cochran, died peacefully. And Friday, when in a nearby town so many small and innocent children died violently, along with the brave educators who died trying to save them.
On Sunday, my local mediation group sat in a circle and shared stories of loss and grief and the compassion that followed (or didn’t follow). We all had wisdom to share. A friend remembered being asked if her old mother’s death was sudden. “Yes, it was: one moment she was alive and the next she was dead.” One minute she was in the seemingly manageable world of the known, the next moment she slipped into the unknown. One moment life seems manageable, even routine. The next moment we are surrounded by mystery.
And sometimes what we must confront is incomprehensible. Another friend in our circle told us he worked with several parents who had children in that school in Newtown. Breaking down in sobs, he told us he knew a mother who lost a little boy. “It seems so senseless, “he said. “What do you say? The best I could think of is that millions of people are reaching out to you with compassion now.”
Compassion can flower from grief. Sometimes this happens instantly and spontaneously—the Buddha described it as the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Suffering loss, we know how it feels to suffer loss. Sometimes it takes a long time for the bitterness of loss to flower into compassion (“It takes as long as it takes, my old father used to say.”)
As we meditated in a circle around a little altar with candles and pictures and the names of those who died, we practiced silently offering the ancient phrases of the” karuna” or compassion practice to our neighbors in Newtown: “I see you suffering, I share your suffering, May suffering cease.” Gradually we opened the circle of our compassion, to all mothers everywhere who have lost children to violence, to all who have lost loved ones. Sitting on yoga in stillness in a circle in candlelight, we remembered what really matters.
“People should not worry as much about what they do but rather about what they are. If they and their ways are good, then their deeds are radiant. If you are righteous, then what you do will also be righteous. We should not think that holiness is based on what we do but rather on what we are, for it is not our works which sanctify us but we who sanctify our works.”
The truth cannot be thought—it must be lived. The truth of what we are slips through the net of our conceptions. On Sunday in Newtown, President Obama quoted Scripture, seeking to turn a stunned nation towards the unseen. In Buddhism also, there are hints that the truth is in movement. The seven factors of awakening are a causal progression—the state of mindfulness leads to investigation, which leads to a burst of energy, which leads to joy. Joy leads to tranquility, and that calm leads to concentration. Finally comes equanimity, upekkha, an ability to be in the midst of life no matter what is happening, the inspired, dynamic state of equipoise that leads on to awakening. It is the ability to be with life no matter what is happening. In a sense it is an act of faith, an act of opening to what is seen and unseen. It is a way of living that is constantly responsive, always in movement, ever renewing. I read a quote I loved on the internet this morning: “True compassion is always in state of readiness.”
May are hearts be in a constant state of readiness. May our hearts be first responders. May all who suffer find peace.
13 thoughts on “Bigger Than We Think We Are”
Tracy, your father left a wonderful legacy in you and I’m certain he loved you very much. A peaceful death is not to be underestimated. It is deep mystery. I was at my parent’s bedside when they left this world and I was very grateful for the experience, difficult as it was. The permanence and impermanence of death are astounding to me. I think about my youngest who asked me once if he fish was still dead. . . .
Two things come to mind in light of this recent tragedy: a Cuban expression (translated badly) that there is no bad think from which good cannot come; and a line from a Jewish prayer for the sick – may we have the courage to make our lives a blessing. Having compassion for suffering (as well as joy) requires courage. Easier said than done, but I think it is in the seeing that you describe that we can be with ourselves and each other at the same time. Part of the one. Thank you for your words.
Thank you for your words, Barb. I am beginning to realize that it is only by being with ourselves, deeply with ourselves, our true nature that we can be with another or help another. We must realize–really experience–how we are connected at the level of mystery. I love what you share about having the courage to make our lives a blessing…which does not mean hiding from life. Just the opposite. Peace, Tracy
thank you for the inspiration you share freely. I agree with you, when you say that we can only be of true help to another once we are connected to our true selves (quite distinct from all the varieties of day-to-day behaviours we play out). When we are still enough, for long enough, and rediscover ourself, at a fundamental level, we allow ourselves to love ourselves fully and unconditionally, and we can instinctively do the same with others, perceiving this same value in others. It gives us a glimpse of our immeasurable boundless strength, that we are only at present, able to sense as a kind of distant echo, or as subtle a feeling as deja vu, which is too readily squashed by the culture surrounding us. I hope I have the courage to live closer towards the fulfillment of my potential stature, as I should, as I must, as I long to do. thank you again. Happy Christmas to you.
Happy Christmas to you, Hadleigh, and thank you for your comment. I very much agree that we can help most when we are in touch with who we really are, not led by an idea of who we are or what is right. We share what we are, not what we know, or think we know. A very Mery Christmas to you.
I’ve been thinking about compassion and its relationship to love. Meister Eckhart called God compassion. God’s love as a result of compassion permeates the universe and is the attracting force of evolution or the return to the source.
However, I’ve been reading a lot of expressions of compassion for wht happened in Newtown but I am unaware of any expressions of love as described by Simone Weil. My guess is that we are incapable of enduring it. Anyhow:
“Love… To feel with one’s whole self the existence of another being. ” ~ Simone Weil
“To bear the manifestation of others is a big thing. The last thing for a man.” Gurdjieff
How does one open to such suffering with the whole of themselves? My guess is that only a few would be capable of offering the energy of love. We are limited to the emotional expression of compassion.
It seems that at a higher level compassion inspires love and on a lesser level what we call comapssion is often a substitute for the love we are incapable of from the inability to be open with the whole of ourselves.
Hi Nick, The heart can open, anywhere anytime. We are made to feel compassion–made in God’s image, as they say.
I found your story very moving. I’m based in Ireland and even we can feel the hole that those precious lives left behind. There is a sense of peace and acceptance in your words, as well as a sense of grief. As a psychotherapist and a lightworker, I know that it is so important to stay in a space of love. And you have done that,
Sending light to you,
Dear Abby, Thank you for these warm words. Yesterday, as my daughter and I drove to go Christmas shopping, we drove through a crowd walking along the road, going back to their cars after the burial of one of the brave teachers who tried to stop the shooter. The teacher was Irish by heritage and Cardinal Dolan came up from New York City, to perform a funeral mass. My daughter, who lives in the U.K. and is just home, hadn’t realized what happened was so close to home. But in a way it is close to home for all of us, and the way to heal the pain is to be on intimate terms with it. I’m learning that this is the way to heal pain and anger, to hold it close, not lashing out, but wrapping it in the light of love and acceptance, realizing that people in all times and places have suffered this way.
Hi Nick, The heart can open, anywhere anytime. We are made to feel compassion–made in God’s image, as they say.
This is a good example why I refuse to abandon the power of thought. Without it, I couldn’t distinguish between compassion and sentimentality
Compassion is founded on love for someone: love renders the other party as it were, another “self,” one with you. Sentimentality is grounded in self-love: it makes one sad not as the result of the suffering of the other person, but rather from one’s own ruined mood; instead of striving to put an end to suffering in the world, it strives to put the images of suffering out of one’s field of vision…………………..
Fr. Katanic is really expressing the same idea as did Simone Weil. But without the power of thought, I couldn’t appreciate the value of the IMO necessary distinction being made and its implications for emotional reality.
I am reminded by your post of a story in Paul Reps’ “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones” :
“A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation.
Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: “Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.”
The rich man became angry. “I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family! Why do you make such a joke as this?”
“No joke is intended,” explained Sengai. “If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted. If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life. I call this real prosperity.”
Best wishes to you and your family.
Thank you, Bruce. Merry Christmas.
Tracy’s dad died on December 17th, the same day my wife of 49 1/2 years died. There is no doubt but that her death, for me, has been the darkest most painful time of my life. I discovered that as my love for Carol grew more and more after her death, it seemed that my pain seemed to be deeper as well. I realized that the love was the source of the pain. Then I discovered that my love could not find my wife, where is she, and it had no where to go. It seemed to be lost in the abyss, until, one evening as I sat in meditation I became aware that my love had found its way through the veil to her. I do not know how to explain this – but there was a definite “knowing” that my love had reached beyond the veil and into the eternity where my bride is. The pain and loss remain, but there is a subtle joy that my love for her has found its way.
Glad to meet you, Nick. Love is an extraordinary means of knowing, as you eloquently describe. I have experienced it at times as an energy of a finer, higher frequency, a means of entering a new level of reality. I believe that it did carry you beyond the veil, as you describe.
My father actually died on December 13, but this detail takes nothing from what you share. Very powerful.