Happy Valentine’s Day! I gently propose that we spend a little time today opening our hearts to the love and compassion that is always here, just waiting for us to lower our guard and let it in. This love and compassion is not the property of one individual. It is the luminous energy of the divine. And it’s waiting for you to call on it.
In Tibetan Buddhism there is a great myth. Avalokitesvara, who is also called Chenrezig, who embodied the compassion of the Buddha, gazed down at the world from the summit of a great mountain, beholding all the suffering born of ignorance that he saw playing out below. This suffering expressed itself in fear and anguished flaying about–in patterns of behavior that caused the same old benighted scenarios to play out again and again. He wept and his tears pooled around him until they became a lake. A beautiful white lotus bloomed from this lake of sorrow.
The petals of the lotus opened to reveal Tara, the beautiful goddess of compassion, she who hears the cries of the world, who flies to us when we call for her to come protect us or guide us or keep us company. Tara was literally born of suffering. In a sense, she is like the calm that follows tears, the quiet clarity we can come after our hearts or our hopes shatter: she is the embodiment of the knowledge that life is a gift, that every breath is grace.
In Buddhist cosmology, many worlds operate simultaneously. Many tear drops fall, many Taras bloom. In one world, a princess called Wisdom Moon came to be the student of the Drum-Sound Buddha. Her understanding was deep and vast. Yet male monks told her to pray to be reborn in a male body, because they believed that only men could be enlightened. She vowed always and ever to be reborn as a female bodhisattva to show that enlightenment has no gender. Enlightenment is enlightenment. Love is love. Radiant Tara comes when she is called upon.
In our own worlds, this great story can unfold. On any given day, including today, our sorrow, our sense of being lonely or imprisoned in a situation that brings fear and anguish, can soften and open. A loving, accepting presence or energy can appear. We can help this happen. We can practice softening, loosening the grip of our certainty that this or that is so. We can pray. Sometimes a mantra can help.
“Darling, I am here for you.” The late great Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn composed this “mantra of true presence.” Please consider saying this to yourself. Look in the mirror in the morning and say it. Say it late at night when you can’t sleep. Say it all the time. Offer yourself the gift of kind attention. This can feel like an act of daring. Friends of mine who work in prisons learned that kindness in prison is thought to be weakness. We do this with what we judge to be our own bad traits. But extending kindness and mercy to ourselves and others is courageous in the root sense. It is the energy of the heart.
“Darling, I know you are there and I am so happy.” This is another mantra from the Zen master. What a wonderful thing to hear! Some of the people claim to not like this phrase, preferring, “I’m here for you.” But truthfully, we all want to be dear to someone and yes, even darling, to have our mere presence make someone happy. And we can be extravagant with our kindness. We can say this mantra anytime, and lots of times. We can act as if Tara is flying to us, as if we are worthy of love and compassion, as if every part of us is worthy of mercy and the grace of attention, and wonder of wonders, it can enter our lives.
It is easy to begin. Just let yourself be. Let yourself be exactly as you are Let the body be the body, just as you find it today. Let the feelings be the feelings. Let the thoughts be the thoughts. Let yourself be seen. Let yourself trust that there is an energy of love and compassion in the world–outside and inside you. If there is to be healing in the world, it starts here. It starts with just a little bit of willingness to let all the parts of you be seen.
Another mantra of true presence from Thich Nhat Hahn is: “Darling, I know you are suffering. That is why I am here for you.” The last and most challenging is: “Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.” This is the most challenging, because it means admitting to a loved one that they are making you suffer.
But we begin to glimpse what love–real love– could be. We begin to see that all the parts of ourselves we that we deplore or disown or want to fix are attempts to protect us or relieve us of suffering. We glimpse that we are benighted and contorting ourselves in different ways because we are in a lot of pain but maybe this isn’t the deepest and strongest thing in us. The light of compassion is. Love is.