My long-time friend from Boston, Lila Kate Wheeler, arrived yesterday to teach our annual weekend retreat. Her father and mother-in-law died very recently, so in the midst of the great pleasure of being together, we’ve been talking about life’s inevitable sadness, too.
In last Sunday morning’s sitting group with Jack and me, someone spoke of feeling discouraged, helpless to remedy the vast poverty in the world. And I recalled drinking chai at a muddy little roadside stand on an overcast morning in Bodhgaya, India. A thin old man stopped his rickshaw across from our picnic table and stared as Jack ate a couple of warm puris. Soon he was joined by three little children wrapped in rough shawls. They all stood there in silence, staring hungrily – not at us, I discerned, but at the food.
What to do? Pretend they didn’t exist? Shoo them away? We ordered thali platters of delicious crisp dosas and dal/rice – which they graciously accepted. Within minutes, I was tasting their golden dosas and samosas — we were all sitting together at the picnic table enjoying a happy moment. It was a small gesture, but it was something we could do.
Lila told me what Gerardo Abboud, a translator for the Dalai Lama, teaches about patience – it isn’t just sitting there, crushed by despair, nor turning away from the situation, cocooned and trapped within your own well-being. It means responding from love.
Traditional teachings advocate deliberately opening our eyes and hearts to the enormity of suffering. This contemplation is actually meant to disturb and prod us into wise action – both in the world, and within our own experience.
The question arises – What’s wise? At this time in our life, given how it is for you, how do you respond with love?
Image Credit: T. Goodman