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Ah, but did you know the rain does not know that it is rain? And that the birds do not know that they are birds? And where does the rain end and the birds begin? And my pain, is it really mine? Does it have the beginning? The end?
From “Kabbalah, a Love Story” by Rabbi Kushner, “we have a word for leaf, twig, branch, trunk, roots. The words make it easier for us to categorize and comprehend reality. But we must not think that just because we have words for all parts of a tree, a tree really has all those parts. The leaf does not know, for instance, when it stops being a leaf and becomes a twig. And the trunk is not aware that it has stopped being a trunk and has become the roots. Indeed, the roots do not know when they stop being roots and become soil, nor the soil the moisture, not the moisture the atmosphere, not the atmosphere the sunlight. All our names are arbitrarily superimposed on what is, in truth, the seamless unity of all being”.
Once in a while, you read something so precious, so delicious, so inspiring, that you must share it with others. As I watch this gorgeous morning take hold outside my window, I feel the breeze enter my breathing passages and caress my skin, the birdsongs echo each other in the tippy tops of the trees, the rain cool and nourishing, a cacophony of joy, beauty, awakening. Grateful to give up control, to not resist, to lose over and over again, self, inside this magnificent unity.
The early morning sky
There is no changing it
The orange glow where the sun will start its journey
Lights up the purple right above it blending into yellow
Then the blue vast as magnitude of what my eyes can see
And only I can see because I am watching
Because I am here and now I observe
I start with nothing and I fill myself with this color
A lonely bird in flight someplace unknown
Peaceful and content
Knowing that all is as it should be.
When a dear friend first told me about Tonglen meditation I frowned. So counterintuitive. You breathe in darkness, consisting of others’ pain and suffering, and you breathe out light onto them. Why would I want to do that, I questioned? Why inhale negativity and allow what we are used to calling “bad energy” to enter my body? Wouldn’t it stay there? Affect me? My desire to remain “whole” and “positive” was strong and I was certain that allowing in “evil things” would damage my haughty aspirations. In Tonglen you essentially serve as a filter for all which you see as unwanted and use your body to purify it and release it back as joy and kindness. You can apply it to people suffering as a result of natural disaster, domestic abuse, disease, fear, neglect, you can even apply it to animals experiencing pain for any reason.
Pema Chodrin writes that “Tonglen puts us in touch with all the others who are just like us, who feel the way we do. We all experience pain and pleasure. We all gravitate to what’s comfortable and have an aversion to what’s not.” As I began to practice Tonglen against my wishes, just to give it a try, I found myself experiencing the most profound revelations that meditation ever brought to me. Now I am only beginning this journey and have much much to learn, and most certainly always will. What I came to realize is that Tonglen is ultimate compassion. Tonglen brings us back to where we are one, before we were separated by birth, by rules, by countries, by race, by gender, by class, by politics, by opinions… While you visualize the dark cloud of suffering, you feel the pain of others’ and identify with it, you own it, because you understand what it is like to be there, you are there. It brings you as close it can to standing in “someone else’s shoes”, because “someone else” is a human construct, a synthesis, our own creation of separateness that pulls us further away from each other and cuts the cords by which we are all connected.
Tonglen Meditation is a solution not just when you have a specific situation or person (s) in mind, but also when you feel helpless, when you want to help but time and distance separates you, when you cannot give physically or financially, because all you need is your mind. Once again, Chodrin affirms that “Tonglen goes against the grain of how we usually deal with the world: wanting life on our own terms, wanting things to work out for our own benefit, no matter what happens to others. The practice begins to break down the walls we’ve built around ourselves, begins to liberate us from the prison of self. As this protective shield starts to come apart, we naturally feel a wish to reach out. People need help, and we can provide it – both literally and at the level of aspiration for their well-being”. For me, Tonglen is also about giving up control, letting go of the persistent thinking that I must avoid all pain and suffering and not letting it into my mind and body. When I feel the pain of others, I am much less likely to become the one that causes it, thus revealing my most intimate humanity, and what is more potent than that?
What is perfection? We seek it as something unattainable, yet it is achieved simply in observing this moment. Perfection is not a state of being at the top of all creation and possibilities, but a condition which accepts things as they are.
Perfect is the whole moment of rising with the birds and seeing the moon, still there full and fiery, and feeling the body’s aches, and smiling at spring’s colors. Perfect is the whole moment of sadness and tears when our lover is gone and the place feels enormous and empty and so does the heart. And the droopy eyes of the grey wood on the walls of your dwelling watch sadly as you collapse on the floor trembling with pain.
Each instant is perfect because it is human nature, ebb and flow, ups and downs, all ever changing and impermanent, therefore not striving to achieve unattainable but simply happening, again and then again, putting together a movie we call life. Taking in whole breaths and observing the perfection of the moment is the teaching, simple when things are good, challenging when we suffer.
Look inside to see that suffering is perfection as much as other states of mind, Love yourself in every state that arises.
There is a bird throwing her body into our window repeatedly this spring, evidently she thinks her reflection is another bird and she attacks her in an effort to protect her territory. She is strong and tenacious, we worry she might hurt herself as she comes back to bang against our window day in and day out. Silly bird, we think, how can she not realize that it is her own mirror image that she is fighting against, how can she perform this violent act again and again at a risk of causing serious damage to her own body? And we, the great and the powerful humans, we think ourselves smart and intelligent, yet we throw ourselves mercilessly into the whirlwind of suffering, chasing the impossible reflections of what we think we ought to be. Just like this cardinal, we repeat the deed over and over, hurting ourselves in the process, demanding more of ourselves, not accepting things as they are, yearning for recognition, glory, fame, success, because we think it is the right thing to do. And nobody stops us to tell us to look deeply into that reflection, to recognize that it is your own self that you’re fighting against, to re-discover the self love that is buried behind all the ambition. I am grateful for this lesson.
Nobody really knows how we arrive to certain decisions in life and whether the paths we choose are the ones we were meant to follow. Through my recent practice of morning meditation, learning, writing and making affirmations, I have arrived at a life changing decision. I will not share what this decision is, only that I have been contemplating it for a long time, probably knew many moons ago that it was the true choice for me, but was not ready.
What I do want to share is that no matter where you are in life, what pain you have, what challenges you face, what struggles you find yourself in the midst of, it is discovering your personal truth that will help you, and realizing there is no other way but living that truth and choosing that truth. Kamal Ravikant was a great inspiration in my journey, and even reading his “Love yourself…” book did not get me there, but continual practice of actually loving and forgiving myself, even if just in words, being okay with feeling the way I am feeling, letting myself just be there and be at peace, that is what finally got me there to the top of the mountain, to the big decision that I now know is my truth. In the times of pain, I close my eyes and I speak the “I love myself” words, I breathe deeply and feel my body connected to the universe, I see it pixellated and not really separate from the air around it, and I feel calm. I tell myself that everything is going according to my truth and I will get there when I am supposed to. My mom recalled when I was small in nursery school, I would console myself while crying, saying “It’s Okay Genya, please don’t cry, it will be okay, Genya, stop crying, please”. She said it was the funniest thing, the way I would talk to myself through bawling like crazy. Well, over the years I have forgotten how to do that, and now I have learned again. I have it within to heal my pain and to choose the life of truth, joy, kindness, and abundance today, within, and yes, Kamal, I can feel my wings growing.
If not now, when?
Amazing that we expect our lives to be long and healthy, and we plan for the future but do not live in the present moment. Laura speaks to that, because the present is all that we truly have. Live life now. Love now. Explore now. Act now. Tell the people in your life all that you need to tell them today, because tomorrow you may not have. Go jump into that blue water, or blue sky, take that trip or leap you always wanted to take. Express gratitude today. Show forgiveness today. Be joyful now.
“What makes you think that you have 80 or 90 years to live?”
Laura Rozo posed this serious and almost morbid question to the audience at TEDxUNC in February 2013. She walked onto the stage confidently and calmly, soaking in the applause as the final, surprise speaker of the day. She wore a red turtleneck with a patterned scarf, and her head was adorned with a new henna tattoo. In front of a silent crowd, she raised her arms in the air and breathed deeply to center herself. Then she began to tell her story — one so urgent and moving that the organizers of TEDxUNC made the last-minute decision to not just include her in the program, but to have her close it.
I should explain: Laura Rozo was my friend and classmate — a kind, energetic and passionate person. Whether organizing world dance showcases (salsa was her specialty)…
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