Showing posts from March, 2012

“Something is Wrong with Me”

When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. At one point, my friend described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A huge wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing—I was the farthest thing from my own best friend.
I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, relentless, nit-picking, driving, often invisible but always on the job. I knew I would never treat a friend the way I treated myself, without mercy or kindness. My guiding assumption was, “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,” and I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.
Feeling not okay went hand in hand with deep loneliness. In my early teens I sometimes imagined that I was living inside a transparent orb that separated me from the people and life around me. When I felt good about myself and at ease with others, the bubble thinned until it was like an invisible wisp of gas. Whe…

Reaching Across Years of Evolution

It’s quite interesting to me that from an evolutionary perspective, it was our vulnerability that gave rise to empathy and compassion. In order to care for our offspring, who came onto this planet very helpless, females first developed the capacity to emotionally read, resonate and respond with care. That ability then generalized to men, so men and women now have the same equipment. There is a growing understanding that all mammals have this wiring for empathy and compassion.
I’ll share with you the following story:
“One day I was walking through the Stanford University campus with a friend,” writes Fran Peavy, who is an activist. She says, “I saw a crowd of people with cameras and video equipment on a little hillside. They were clustered around a pair of chimpanzees. The male chimpanzee was running loose; the female chimpanzee was on a chain of about 25 feet long. It turns out the male was from Marine World, the female was being studied, and the spectators were trying to get them to ma…

The Lion’s Roar

We typically think of our happiness as dependent on certain good things happening. In the Buddhist tradition, the word sukha is used to describe the deepest type of happiness that is independent of what is happening.  It has to do with a kind of faith, a kind of trust that our heart can be with whatever comes our way. It gives us a confidence that is sometimes described as the lion’s roar. It’s the confidence that allows us to say, “No matter what life presents me, I can work with it.”  When that confidence is there, we take incredible joy in the moments of our lives.  We are free to live life fully rather than resist and back off from a threat we perceive to be around the corner. 
For most of us, especially when our conditioning is strong, we spend many moments tensing against what’s about to happen. There is a sense that something is going to be too much to handle or that what is good won’t last.  We’re tensing even before anything actually happens.  Sadly, in those moments of tight…

Is this Universe a Friendly Place?

Albert Einstein was said to have proclaimed that the most important question any of us can ever ask ourselves is: “Is this universe a friendly place?” It’s a powerful inquiry.
Another way to consider this question is: “Is there a fundamental goodness within humans?” Or, on a more personal level, you might ask yourself: “Do I trust that there is a fundamental, intrinsic goodness in my own being?”
In using the word “good,” I’m pointing to the original meaning of the word, which derives its definition from an Indo-European root that has to do with togetherness or gathering together, signifying in a very simple way a sense of belonging. According to the Buddhist teachings, it is out of a sense of belonging that we experience harmony, aliveness, and love—all of which are central to walking a spiritual path.

If when asking yourself this question you evaluate an egoic self, a personality who achieves and does good and bad things, your response will likely be shaky, and you’ll exper…

Praying from Presence Part II

This is Part II of a two-part series. To read Part I click here When we are suffering and turn to prayer, no matter what the apparent reasons for our pain, the basic cause is always the same: we feel separate and alone.  Our reaching out is a way of relieving ourselves of this pain of isolation.  Yet the bodhisattva's aspiration for awakening compassion radically deepens the meaning of prayer by guiding us to also turn inward.  We discover the full purity and power of prayer by listening deeply to the suffering that gives rise to it. Like a great tree, such prayer sinks its roots into the dark depths in order to reach up fully to the light. This is what I call praying from presence, or mindful prayer: We open wakefully to our suffering and allow ourselves to reach out in our longing for connection.  Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue writes: "Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging." The more fully we touch our pa…

Praying from Presence Part I

In moments of desperation, no matter what we believe, we all tend to reach out in prayer to something or someone for help.  We might call out for relief from a migraine, beg to be selected for a job, pray for the wisdom to guide our child through a difficult time.  Maybe we whisper, "Oh please, oh please," and feel that we are asking "the universe" for help.  When we feel disconnected and afraid, we long for the comfort and peace that come from belonging to something larger and more powerful.

 But who exactly are we praying to?  I grew up Unitarian, and I remember how we used to joke about addressing our prayers "To Whom It May Concern."  This same question may come up for those of us who follow the path of the Buddha.  Students of Buddhist practice usually think of praying as peculiar to Christianity and other God-centered religions.  Beseeching someone or something greater than our small and frightened self seems to reinforce the notion of a separate a…