This Christmas evening I sit with two books in front of me. Both have some elements I felt called upon to share. Both have to do with relationships.
The first is a book I received as a gift from a friend in the mail only a few days ago. It is called The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Mark Nepo is the author and the book is designed so that the entries are dated and start with January 1st and ends with December 31st. When I first received the book I read the current date and then went back to my birthday to see what message I would find there too.
Synchronicity stepped in on the night of December 23rd. I was taking a bath in an attempt to ease the horrible cramps and back pain I was experiencing. Pain and not feeling one’s best can sometimes trigger other emotions and thoughts that are not the most positive or helpful. In that frame of mind I was having some trust issues be re-stimulated. On my way to the bath I had grabbed my new book. Once in the hot water I flipped to the entry on December 23rd.
Here is what I read:
A Surety of Roots
You didn’t come into this house
So I might tear off a piece of your life.
Perhaps when you leave,
You’ll take something of mine:
Chestnuts, roses, or a surety of roots.
– Pablo Neruda
“Perhaps the most stubborn thing that keeps us from knowing love is distrust. Certainly, we have more than enough reason in our world to be cautious, alert, and guarded against being hurt or taken advantage of. But the fact remains that in spite of all the new and terrible stories that we pass on at parties, there is no other doorway into kindness and all its gifts but through the gentle risk to open ourselves, however slightly, and try. The question we must ask, that I ask myself every day, is which is more debilitating: to be cut off from love or to be scarred by the pain of being hurt?
What made Neruda, such a great poet is the largeness of his heart, and through his large kindness, he suggests that giving heals and that until we step into that space between each other and try, nothing can happen. But once we do, giving and receiving become the same, and we all grow stronger for going there together.”
- Center yourself, and bring to mind three small gifts you are will to give away. They may be tangible or symbolic or gestures of kindness.
- Wrap each gently in your breathing.
- Bring these gifts with you into your day.
- Before you come home, give them away.
I was a bit stunned that my thoughts about not trusting had been greeted by this very strong message that distrust keeps us from knowing love. My heart and my head rolled this passage over and over again. I knew there was great truth in this message and I thanked the Universe and Great Spirit for sending it to me.
The second book that had also leapt out at me at the last minute is one called Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection by Gregg Krech. This is how the book begins in the Preface:
“In 1991 a movie was released called Defending Your Life and starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. The story line centered around several characters who died and were transported to a temporary location where a decision was made about their future. The purpose of this place—which was a rather comfortable, almost resort-like city—was to give people who passed through a chance to watch film highlights of their lives. They had a chance to defend their conduct and the choices they made while alive, and subsequently a final decision was made about their future. They might be sent back to earth to ‘try again’ or, if their lives were generally laudable, they would ‘move on’ to some higher form of existence.
What I found most interesting about the film was the idea of stepping back and observing your life. In 1989 I had the opportunity to do just that for the first time, at a center located amidst the rice paddies in rural Japan. It was a Naikan center. The work Naikan means literally looking inside. In the fourteen days I stayed at the center I spent about fifteen hours per day watching the films of my life run across the screen of my mind’s eye. Prior to this experience I had been to dozen of retreats and spiritual conference. I had spent at least one week each year on a solo trip in the wilderness to simply be quiet in nature. I had meditated in forests and at Zen monasteries for days and weeks at a time. Yet I had never really stepped back from my life to simply see how I had been living.
The process used at the Naikan center was very structures. I reflected on the relationships with nearly all the key people that had played an influential role in my life. In each case I looked at three aspects of that relationship: What had I received from that person. What had I given to that person. The troubles or difficulties I had caused that person. I sat on Japanese-style cushions and faced a blank wall in order to limit outside distractions. Except for the time it took to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, I did little else for two weeks. In some ways I resembled the characters in the movie I have referred to, except that I had the opportunity to do this –fortunately—while I was still alive.
During my time at the Naikan center I had doubts. Why spend time reviewing my past, when there was so much to do now? Why spend time considering the troubles I was causing others when I was already striving so hard to be a good person…Notwithstanding my persistent questions and doubts, I persevered each day with the review of my personal history, as far back as I could remember. As the days passed, I began to understand what was attractive and uncomfortable about Naikan. Naikan involved self-examination; that is, we examine our own life, not the actions of others. How often is our attention wasted on judging, criticizing, and correcting others while we neglect that examination and lessons of our own life? While we can never know the actual experience of another, we know our own experience intimately. While we can do little or nothing to control how others treat us, we can do much to control how we treat others. And while we are often powerless to impose our choices on others, we make choices about how we shall live, moment to moment, day to day. Examining one’s own life is profoundly sensible, though not necessarily comfortable.”
In a section called Intimate Attention author Gregg Krech has this to share:
“Relationship as a Vehicle for Training
Henry David Thoreau knew how to live alone. Really alone. A few of us may set up solitary housekeeping in a parcel of unexplored wilderness, but the vast majority will choose, and be chosen by, intimate partners. Such choices may be temporary, or…well, actually, temporary is your only option. These relationships are the graduate school of self-development. They provide us with the sharpest tools, the heaviest weights, and the thickest texts. They push us to our edge, stretch us beyond our limits. They may wing us on a pendulum from ecstasy and joy to the farthest reaches of pain and grief.”
Please Remind Me
By Gregg Krech
Please remind me of why I am here
when I am somewhere else.
When anger stirs
over unwashed dishes,
and unpaid bills,
Please soften my heart
and remind me
of why I am here.
When frustration is triggered
by the same argument
for the hundredth time,
please tame my words,
deepen my breath,
and remind me of why I am here.
When my attention is drawn
like a magnet
please blink my mind
and allow my eyes to see
into the heart of another,
that I may attend to their needs
and bear their pain
and be dissolved
into the reason I am here.
I know that reason
Yet, so often,
I find myself somewhere else
So please remind me.
Lastly I want to return to The Book of Awakening and share the passage from September 20th called Unconditional Love.
“Unconditional love is not so much about how we received and endure each other, as it is about the deep vow to never, under any condition, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other.
Much is said about the unconditional love today, and I fear that it has been misconstrued as an extreme form of ‘turning the other cheek,’ which to anyone who has been abused is not good advice. However, this exaggerated passivity is quite different from the unimpeded flow of love that carries who we are.
In truth, unconditional love does not require a passive acceptance of whatever happens in the name of love. Rather, in the real spaces of our daily relationship, it means maintaining a commitment that no condition will keep us from bringing all of who we are to each other honestly.
For example, on any given day, I might be preoccupied with my own needs, and might overlook or bruise what you need and hurt you. But then you tell me and show me your hurt, and I feel bad, and you accept that sometimes I go blind to those around me. But we look deeply on each other, and you accept my flaws, but not my behavior, and I am grateful for the chance to work on myself. Somehow, it all brings us closer.
Unconditional love is not the hole in us that received the dirt, but the sun within that never stops shining.
- Center your self and consider a relationship in which you have recently endured some pain in the name of love.
- As you inhale deeply, consider the conditions that keep your pain unexpressed.
- As you exhale deeply, consider ‘being unconditional’ as a bringing forth from within, rather that the enduring of what comes from without.
- Enter your day and consider ‘bringing forth who you are’ in the name of love.