"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest." - Pema Chödrön
Traveling for the last four weeks has been a kaleidoscope of people, events and places— laced with family and friend reunions; spending precious time with my indomitable mother immersed in her increasing frailty, her laughter, and make-the-most-of-it attitude; a remarkably beautiful wedding filled with love and authenticity; and experiencing the diversity of nature from desert to ocean. It’s also meant we’ve been in a car for over 2,500 miles (one-way so far), and a spontaneous 2,000 mile round-trip detour by air. Woven amongst all of these miles have been many hours listening to radio news programs.
Hearing of the increasing violence, anger, and growing divisiveness in the world-wide arena has been heart-breaking and soul-numbing for me and for many people I’ve encountered during these travels—as if an immense hand has taken hold of the planet and shaken it senseless. Take each individual life and add the personal circumstances and upsets that keep us jittery during the day and awake at night, and it feels as if our ‘nests’ have been tossed onto the ground and we’ve been flung into the air with nowhere to land.
Despite the current sense of upheaval with its undercurrents ranging from panic to a general feeling of unease, Pema Chödrön is right. These are indeed the very times that can prod us into being fully alive, human, and completely awake. And when we are that alive and awake to our humanity, the built-in empathetic response that is hard-wired into our very being is activated. This human instinct compels us to reach out, to gather round, protect, and nurture our fellow humans. In that reaching out, a compassionate connection is made—one voice, or many voices saying, “You are not alone.” As my friend Vickie wrote me a few days ago, “Remember when we were kids and someone would give you a boost over the fence? What a great feeling.”
Yet always there exists the underbelly of things. As Darrell Hillaire, a tribal member of the Lummi Nation in Washington says, “What’s missing from ignorance is empathy.” And primatologist Frans de Waal reminds us, “Our evolutionary background makes it hard to identify with outsiders…our best hope for transcending tribal differences is based on the moral emotions.”
Ignorance and deep-seated rules of survival live in all of us, and can easily disconnect us from our natural empathetic nature. Empathy does not condone or submit to violence in any of its forms. It does transform our reactions of distrust of strangers, hate, and judgment by redirecting our speech, actions, and very presence toward a caring responsiveness. A receptiveness to others that is comprised of a kind, generous, heart-and-mind-driven consciousness that honors both the differences and similarities in every person that lives on this planet.
For none of us are immune from being tossed out of our nests. None of us are immune to feeling alone, or afraid. Any of us can reach out and offer a steadying hand. As did the waitress in Amarillo, the urgent care doctor in Santa Fe, and the airline employee in Denver, a sales clerk and a design consultant in Seattle, and the friend on the cell phone during a traffic jam. I’m learning that being fully, completely alive, awake, and human is to listen to all of my profoundly unsettled feelings while also being grateful for the blessings flowing over me. And most importantly—to extend my own hand to others in the midst of it all.
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Calming Practice: A Grounding Meditation
From Michael Brown's book The Presence Process, comes a simple and powerful meditation that never fails to bring me to my calm center. It roots me back into a much-needed alignment when my thoughts take me too far into monkey mind, confusion, or the midnight crazies.
The meditation is: I Am Here Now In This.
Inhale as you silently think the word I, exhale on Am, inhale on Here, exhale on Now, inhale on In, and exhale on This. The inhale is held a bit longer than the exhale, and the entire sequence is repeated over and over for 15 minutes, ideally twice a day. Sometimes my two dogs join me in a big yellow chair in my studio in the evening...I know this meditation works because after their initial jostling for position in my lap, they are both snoring in two minutes. Being the sensitive, attuned animals they are, they immediately feel my increasing calm and alignment and pass out. May you also feel the calming, grounding effect of this meditation.