Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.


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What does Triominos have to do with Interbeing?

I’m playing Triominos. By myself. Usually I play with my husband, but he isn’t home. I put nine tiles in front of my right hand, and nine tiles in front of my left hand.

My right hand has the triple five and starts.

My left hand needs to take a stone.

My right hand is excited as it puts down a perfect match for the triple five.

“Bummer” — my left hand needs to pass again.

“Awesome!” — my right hand puts down its third stone — “I’m winning!”

Then my left hand puts out a stone, relieved.

“You blocked my move!” — says my right hand, irritated.

My left hand can put down a second stone — “Nothing is lost yet. Pfew.”

My right hand gets agitated — “Again: you blocked me!”

After a few more rounds, my right hand can finally declare victory — “I won!!”

Playing by myself and hearing these habitual voices about winning and losing go through my mind, I think of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on interbeing:

“Non-violence can be born only from the insight of non-duality, of interbeing. This is the insight that everything is interconnected and nothing can exist by itself alone. Doing violence to others is doing violence to yourself. If you do not have the insight of non-duality, you will still be violent. You will still want to punish, to suppress, and to destroy. But once you have penetrated the reality of non-duality, you will smile at both the flower and garbage in you, you will embrace both.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger, p. 70)

I love this teaching.

I also struggle with it.

I get it when I look at my right and left hand playing against each other. They are part of the same body.

I forget it when I’m in conflict with people and think they are the cause of my hurt, fear, or anger. When I see ‘them’ as the enemy and ‘me’ as the angel. I want to withdraw, or lash out. I want someone to tell me how right I am and how wrong they are.

And yet, when I utter harsh words against my husband, I feel miserable. When I yell at someone in traffic, I feel anxious and upset. When I ignore the suffering of Syrian refugees, I feel ashamed.

As much as I struggle to put the teaching of interbeing into practice, I continue the effort, because in my heart I know it’s true. I feel more at peace if I see the interbeing of Nazis and Jews, white supremacists and blacks, the one percent and the 99%.

I want to remember that in the end we are held in the same Earth, who accepts us unconditionally, without discrimination. I want to remember that we all return to compost. Especially when I feel a frustrated urge to withdraw or an angry urge to lash out.

For my greater happiness. And for the greater happiness of others.

Let me know how this landed for you.


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Big, blue, teary baby eyes are asking for help

My friend Kadi is in the ER. Her husband calls me to see if I can take Anora, their 14 months old, to their apartment and hang out with her until Kadi is released.

I love Anora. They all lived across the street and we used to go for a walk, every day, till they moved out of the neighborhood six weeks ago.

Anora has not been apart from her mom, more than the occasional 1½ hours I babysat with her. So this request is different – really different. I won’t be able to bring her back to her mommy.

When we get to Anora’s home – without her mom – Anora is fine. I feed her yogurt, we play, we watch baby Einstein. Then she starts crying. Big, blue, baby eyes fill with tears. She looks at me with this innocent plea “Will you please help me? My needs are unmet.”

I pick her up. It doesn’t help. I take her potty. She doesn’t want to. I feed her yogurt. She pushes it away. Finally, I put her in a car seat and drive her around. The crying gets worse.

I know she misses her mommy. There is nothing I can do about that. What I can do, is receive her tears as “gifts offered with ‘Santa Claus energy”, as Marshall Rosenberg coined it: “Hoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful when my needs are met? Are you willing to help me with that?”

I’m happy to help. I don’t hear blame, as if I’m doing something wrong. I don’t hear shame, as if she believes she’s not worthy of getting help.

It makes me think of all the people who did receive messages of wrongness when they shared their needs. All those people who came to believe that having precious, universal, human needs is the same as being needy. That there is something wrong with them because they want support for their needs.

We’re not needy. We just have specific conditions for our happiness. We can hold our needs the same way we would hold the needs of a baby or anything we care for.

We don’t think a bougainvillea is needy because it wants full sun and lots of trimming. Or that the fern is demanding because it wants shade and lots of water. We happily respond to their requests because we’d like to see the bougainvillea in full-bloom and the fern green and vibrant.

The next time we confuse having needs with being needy, let’s look around us and ask ourselves what we would rather see: a drooping bougainvillea, or one in full bloom? A strong fern, or one that’s shriveled? A smiley face, or one that looks angry, sad, or scared?

It might inspire us to hold our needs with the same compassion and care.

We’re more than worthy of receiving support for our needs.

Let me know how this landed for you.