We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Several people have asked me recently how I cope with all the sh*t going on in the world. They want to know how I find compassion for all the people saying and doing things that, at least to some, seem, hmm, how to say this? That seem incomprehensibly terrible.
The short answer is that I do better at some times than at other times.
Many studies show that our well-being is directly related to the connection we have with others. And we are only connected to others when our hearts are open. Great concept, but hard to put into practice. How often do I separate myself from someone by closing my heart with anger, judgment, criticism, fear, outrage, resentment, seeing someone else as “other”? Let’s face it, there are plenty of folks out there I really don’t want to be connected to.
So how do I maintain an open heart?
A Course in Miracles teaches that love has no opposite. Love is all there is. (Wasn’t that the title of a Beatles song? No, that was “Love is all you need.” Also true.) When something happens that blocks our awareness of love’s infinite and eternal presence, we experience that separation as fear. When we feel afraid, we reflect our sense of separation from others through negative thoughts, words, and behavior. In reality, what we are doing is seeking reconnection. We are calling for love.
Everything we do or say or think is either an expression of love (when we experience connection) or a call for love (when we mistakenly believe we are separated). Everything is one or the other. Everything. It’s that simple.
When I can remember this, I find that it is much easier to keep my heart open. When I look out at the world of suffering, manifested in so many ways, I feel sadness, tenderness, compassion for all the pain. The pain of people striking out in anger, the pain of the hungry and oppressed, the pain of violence and cruelty, the pain of desperation, the pain of addiction, the pain of power grabbing, the pain of divisiveness, the pain of all the ways that we separate ourselves from each other, from all of nature, from our planet.
Does this mean I want to go hug a terrorist (consider what we mean by that term)? Do I shrug at discrimination and persecution? Do I ignore the devastation we cause to our earth home? Do I turn away from the horrors of war? Do I pretend that everything is always pleasant?
No, of course not. But we can stand for justice while recognizing with compassion our common humanity. We can sense the pain and fear underneath acts of unspeakable cruelty as we reach out to protect and comfort the injured. Why can we do this? Because we understand deep down that peace will not flow from a heart closed to those we deem “other.” And when our own hearts do close in pain and fear, we can extend our embrace of compassion to include ourselves.
We can practice in little ways so that we can cope with the big stuff. Next time someone is unkind to me, instead of reacting defensively, I can take a deep breath and think, “Dude, you are seriously calling for love.” Someone cuts me off in traffic? “Hey, I see you are needing some love over there.” I know that sounds trivial in the context of world events. Big hurts, little affronts, it’s all the same. If it isn’t an expression of love, it’s a call for love.
Everything, without exception, is either an expression of love or a call for love. This reframing is how I cope. I am not here to judge. I am here to love. Characterizing harmful thoughts, words, or behavior as a call for love helps me avoid reacting in kind. If I can reinterpret a perceived attack, from myself or someone else, as a call for love, then my heart stays soft and open, even as I take appropriate steps in response. Compassion flows naturally to others and to ourselves from an open heart. We stay connected and our lives become expressions of love.
Underneath the hardness there is fear
Underneath the fear there is sadness
Underneath the sadness there is softness
In the softness is the vast blue sky