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Poetry, Paradox, and the Human Spirit: Part 2

A word has been flying in and out of my awareness these last two weeks.


As in soft eyes. It’s a phrase I’ve been saying to my husband when his eyes scrunch up in painful determination as he exercises his newly reconstructed shoulder. My friend Cinda’s new horse just arrived from Spain, and she’s been talking about how he has soft eyes, an indication of the intelligence and steadiness he embodies and that she intuited when she first saw him halfway across the world.

Soft as in the underside of the ridged leaves of the hostas plants in the lower yard of our friends’ home where we are staying, the breeze that comes through the open window in the middle of the night. Soft as in the word giboshi which is the Japanese word for hostas, the blue-gray reflection of pine trees in the still water of the lake at dawn. Soft too are the words generous and friendship, laughter and moon.

In Part 1 of this blog I wrote that compassion and kindness “make us larger than our flimsy weaknesses.” Weakness described the wobbly feeling that came over me when I realized the words and tone I was using to encourage Barry in his post-surgery exercises were too strong and weren’t helping. Like the nautilus whose shell grows a new chamber at each growth spurt of the soft-bodied creature, I woke the next morning larger than I had been the day before, knowing that softness would inhabit my words at our next exercise session.

Know that weakness bathed in awareness is not a crack in one’s character, or a failing. It’s the sort of wobbly weakness that takes us to our knees or leaves us faint, a weakness that makes us sit down suddenly or wonder if we’ll ever feel strong again. It is what happens when life bears down on us and demands that we change into a more expansive version of ourselves even as we cringe at the thought. Even as we believe we want to stay small, that it is indeed very comfortable scrunched in our dark old shell, thank you very much.

We can resist and moan, yet our shells still crack and life comes rushing in. We molt. We add on. We shed. We grow. This transformation often happening when our soft bodies and our flimsy ways are exposed and vulnerable. For we are warriors, as one reader commented last week—showing up, standing in compassion with others and ourselves, regardless of our fears, doubts and infirmities. Our soft eyes wide open and willing to be led into—then out of—the dark.

As the Buddhist monk Sheng-yen wrote, it helps to remember that softness is a practice:

Be soft in your practice.

think of the method as a fine silvery stream...

not a waterfall.

it will go its own way…

meandering here

trickling there

It will find the grooves

the cracks

the crevices.

just follow it...

never let it out of your sight...

it will take you.

- Dedicated to Kathleen and Debra.

• • • • • • • • • •

Calming Practice: Be Kind to Yourself

This meditation is adapted from an article* by Dr. Kristin Neff, creator of the Self-Compassion Scales.

1. Place both hands on your heart, belly or face. Feel their soothing presence.

2. Take several deep breaths, in and out, in and out.

3. Speak the following four phrases to yourself with care and warmth:

This is a moment of suffering.

This is part of being human.

May I be kind to myself in this moment.

May I give myself the compassion I need.

Dr. Neff suggests memorizing these phrases and even changing them so they

feel comfortable to you, so that “...the next time you judge yourself or have

a difficult experience, you can use them as a way of reminding yourself

to be self-compassionate. This practice is a handy tool to soothe and calm

troubled states of mind."

*November 2015 issue of Shambala Sun


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