I loved my wasband George with all my heart. To navigate the heartbreak of his alcoholism with some modicum of mindfulness and compassion, I went for refuge in Al-Anon intensive care, where I stayed for four years. I came to see the 12-step work as parallel to the Buddhist mindfulness trainings we call precepts. Both address ethical living, not as moralizing, but as a way to stay connected to “the God of your understanding”, Buddha nature, true self. Building strength of character, sustaining sobriety, both protect our hearts from losing connection to the divinity in each one of us.
Awakening comes from looking within, with joy, confidence, and trust that insight will inevitably blossom and free the heart. Looking within is possible in any moment of mindfulness, but loving awareness needs to be protected and nurtured. Early nomadic ancestors would carry an ember carefully wrapped in moss to light a campfire as they traveled, blowing on it from time to time to keep the ember glowing. I, too, need to safeguard the light of awareness and keep the flame of presence alive as I move in this world by meditating every day and continuing to study and practice with you. “Oh daughters and sons of noble birth” is the greeting the Buddha used as he taught. When you remember the nobility of spirit that is your birthright, you, too, are blowing on that ember – keeping the warmth of shared humanity alive.
In the course of exploring mindfulness meditation, everyone will experience the entire gamut of emotions. Meditation is not about things working smoothly. Illumined states can shine through in many ways, and compassion can even arise amidst grief or shock, rage or loneliness. No matter what comes up, the practice is to keep the ember of loving awareness from going out, to keep traveling in the direction of love and understanding. This movement towards realization of intimacy with all life is really the goal. The ultimate expression of dedication to this work is found in my/your growing confidence and trust in the process.
The Velveteen Rabbit is one of my favorite children’s books. Remember how the stuffed bunny comes alive? The Nursery Magic Fairy steps out of a flower that grows where the despairing bunny sheds a tear. She explains that because the bunny has become real to the boy who loves him, she can “turn him into Real” to everyone. And it happens. Getting real with yourself, you can listen deeply, undefensively to others, as a bow of acknowledgement: you, too, share this human incarnation with me. At a time when communications are becoming dangerously contracted, we can expand the conversation, knowing we are ultimately all headed in the same direction. Especially now, as the election approaches, please let’s keep that ember glowing!