Holding unmet needs with compassion

Six wasps are actively building a nest for their queen mama above the door to my room.

And I know from last year that these nests can become big. Really big. Lots of wasps coming in and out, feeding their babies.

Even though I don’t experience them as aggressive toward me, I don’t want to take the risk that they fly in and out of my room, each time I open the door. With sadness in my heart, I decide to remove the nest, before I get too stressed about safety for my human visitors. Early in the morning, when I think the six wasps are still asleep, I throw enough water on them, that they finally fly away. I cut down their nest.

The next day, I see the same six wasps on the same spot, huddled close to each other. I’m pretty sure they’re deliberating to rebuild their nest. On the same spot.

And so they do.

With even more pain in my heart, I remove the second nest. Fortunately for all of us, they haven’t returned since.

Sometimes we are not creative enough to meet all needs in every instance. We’re stuck with a strategy of what Marshall Rosenberg calls “protective use of force”. We meet our needs, even though we see that our strategy doesn’t meet the needs of the other party. I met my need for safety, and didn’t meet the wasps’ needs for autonomy, respect, support.

When we’re stuck, the best thing we can do is hold the unmet needs with compassion. Just like we hold a baby crying for her mommy. Even if we can’t bring her mommy back to her, we can hold the baby and show compassion and understanding for how painful that is. We can convey a message that we care about her well-being, even if we don’t know what to do to relieve her suffering.

I didn’t know how to ask the wasps the build their nest a few feet away. So I used protective force (water not poison) to meet my need for safety, while holding their unmet needs with compassion.

When we’re you not creative enough to meet everyone’s needs? And how did you hold the unmet needs with compassion? Let me know. I’d love to read from you.

Walking mindfully, walking peacefully

Walking Mindfully, Walking Happily

It’s March 2017, SXSW week in Austin. A week bustling with thousands of participants trying to get to their coffee, their meetups, their conferences, screenings, and social gatherings in time.

It’s also the week of the premiere of “Walk With Me“, a documentary about monastic life in the mindful communities founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Seven monastics flew in from France and Deer Park, California to support the movie. In the middle of the chaos of the Austin Convention Center, they led an hour of mindful walking. An action to nurture a sense of peace, presence and love to the event.

I joined once. I was excited to walk with the monastics in a setting so different from our usual private Sunday Sangha.

When I returned a second time, it was because I was so moved by the first experience.

I feel so touched to see random people ask if they can join our walk. I see them invite friends to walk with them, happy to talk about what mindfulness means to them. I feel delighted to see dozens of new smiling faces carefully take a step, then another, focusing on their breath, feeling their feet touch the Earth. We walk as a river, balancing our individual footsteps with the pace of the community.

“Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Nowhere to go, nothing to do

No longer in a hurry.

 

Happiness is here and now

I have dropped my worries

Somewhere to go, something to do

But I don’t need to hurry.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

I am moved by how inspiring we can be when we offer our suggestions with Santa Claus energy: “Hohoho, wouldn’t life be more wonderful if you joined me for mindful walking?”

​​If we share what is important to us with an openness to hear a ‘no, I believe we are more likely to get a ‘yes’. Without the force of demand energy, our childlike excitement to share what we imagine is helpful to others becomes contagious.

What can you offer with Santa Claus energy? Which gift can you contribute to the buffet of life-enriching choices?

Let me know. I’m curious to read your special offering.

An Ode to Vulnerability, Authenticity. And to My Husband

This is an ode to my husband. Or maybe better, an ode to our human capacity to balance authenticity and togetherness, our ability to differentiate.

“Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of the group. When these two life forces for individuality and togetherness are expressed in balanced, healthy ways, the result is a meaningful relationship that doesn’t deteriorate in emotional fusion. Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.” (David Schnarch, “Passionate Marriage“).

Every year during Jugglefest, my husband and I go to the Renegade Show. It’s a show where skilled, and not so skilled, jugglers test their newest acts. It doesn’t matter whether a performer succeeds in performing any specific trick, because the show is intended to be a platform to try out new material, to take risks, and to engage an audience for feedback.

It’s more of a “first experiment”, than a stream of polished, successful, less daring acts. As this year’s emcee, Mark Hayward, said: “Try to make your performance fit one of these three rules: short, awesome, or hilarious – or even better, try making more than one of these.”

I was inspired by what I saw as the risk my husband took. He took out Sandy, a spiritual being in the form of a Grey Wolf puppet, and interviewed him about how it was to be up on stage. Shaking all over, it took Sandy 30 seconds before he could say how nervous he was.

The performance brought tears to my eyes. I imagined the courage it took to share something so personal: expressing the need for belonging and acceptance of who we truly are. I imagined Sandy’s (and David’s) fear that sharing authentically their most vulnerable self, might risk being ridiculed, scorned, or dismissed. Especially in a public setting, in front of 200 strangers.

The “awwww” and applause they received, confirmed my husband’s delivery, and his connection to the audience. I read that the audience appreciated his willingness to take the risk and be authentic.

I received so much inspiration from seeing him balancing the two life forces of individuality and togetherness, that I am now committed to prepare my own act for next year’s Renegade show.

What are you willing to do to show up more authentically, at the risk of losing connection and acceptance? Let me know, I would love to read from you.

Dog bites, flowers, and impermanence

Do you remember when I wrote about being accidentally bitten by a dog?

The grandma sent me a basket of flowers, arranged like a dog with a bandaid, and a big smiley balloon.

I have kept that basket on my desk. As you can see, most flowers are brown and droopy (except for one, which  is hanging in there), and the balloon is deflated.

I find it a beautiful visualization of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on impermanence: No phenomenon is permanent, everything is constantly transitioning to the next manifestation. If the conditions of its existence are favorable, the phenomenon is here, if the conditions are unfavorable, the manifestation will disappear.

The flower transforms into compost. Compost turns into grass. Grass is eaten by insects and animals, who poop by the pecan tree. This autumn, I might be eating these flowers in the pecans I harvest, and the digested pecans might come out as words! Well, heck. Those words might show up in the newsletter I’ll be writing in November!

Impermanence also teaches me that death is a reminder to cherish life. Everything and everyone I love will eventually die, including me.

“We need to learn to appreciate the value of’ impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us. When we practice mindfulness of impermanence, we become fresher and more loving. (Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddhist Teachings, 1998)

I have a personal practice of reciting this Thich Nhat Hanh gatha (verse) every night:

“The Day has now ended, our lives are shorter.

Now we look carefully: what have we done?

Noble Sangha, with all our hearts, let us be diligent,

engaging with the practice.

Let us live deeply, aware of impermanence,

so that life does not drift away without meaning.”

This gatha inspires me with joy, gratitude and appreciation for everyone and everything I’ve been given.

When I find myself disconnected from someone, the insight of impermanence helps me realize that they might be taken from me in the blink of an eye. When I reflect on this, I find it easier to see that any struggle I am facing is smaller than our vast impermanence. And realizing this helps me to reconcile and reach out to reconnect.

What helps you to see the impermanent nature of yourself and those around you?

Looking at the wilting flowers and deflating balloon, I see the new seeds of life in it. And I feel happy, very happy.

Walking in my husband’s shoes

We’re at Sangha, my Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness community and we’re starting our mindful walking. One step in front of the other, taking a breath with every step, solidly feeling the ground underneath our feet.

I always love this practice, it slows me down and solidifies me in the support I have from our Earth.

For the last couple of months I practice synchronizing my steps and speed with the person in front of me. A sort of bodily empathy.

“Can I let myself enter fully into the world of his feelings and personal meanings and see these as he does? Can I step into his private world so completely that I lose all desire to evaluate or judge it? Can I enter it so sensitively that I can move about in it freely, without trampling on meanings which are precious to him?” Carl Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”.

This time I walk right behind my husband. It’s enlightening to see where I’m stuck in my dedication to physically understand what it means to walk this Earth as someone else. I notice all kinds of judgments and evaluations come up: “That’s so unique: he drags his feet in a 45° to his other feet, as if he’s waltzing.” “That’s weird: he turns the corner in a 90° angle, as if he is in a military marching band.” “His steps are way too big!”

It reminds me of all the other times when I lose my empathic presence. Where I’m being triggered and focus my attention on my reaction to what someone’s sharing, instead of on their experience.

It usually doesn’t help with the connection, and certainly not with the understanding.

So now what?

  1. The first step it to acknowledge that I often hear two things at the same time: what they’re saying, and what I’m saying as a reaction to it.
  2. Then: honor that both voices are worthy of respect and being heard.
  3. And finally: make a choice what I want to do: pause the interaction and listen to the thoughts in my head first, or pause my inner voices and tell them I will listen to them after my connection to this other person.

When I am in that mindful state of knowing what’s going on within and around me, I can create the greater sense of connection and understanding I want: with myself and with them.

And you, what do you to maintain empathic presence? Let me know: I would love to learn from your experiences.

Running around, looking for my Buddha nature

I’m up early. Before the crack of dawn. I love it. I feel energized and excited about a new day, about being alive and having the opportunity to contribute, learn, and receive.

I get dressed and make my tea. Green tea. Yum.

Then I hear the alarm on my phone go off. First softly, then loudly. I rush toward the sound, I don’t want my husband to wake up. It gets louder, the closer I get to the bathroom.

As soon as I think I am getting close, the sound fades. Shoot! So where is it? I don’t want it to go off next to his ear. I feel relieved to hear it again, in the kitchen. That makes sense, it must be on the counter, where I made my tea.

And again, as soon as I think I am close, the sound subsides. No! My husband worked late last night and needs his sleep. Where is my phone?!

The sound increases, in the dining room. I look around, more frantic now. Nothing to be found nowhere.

Then it dawns on me. My cell phone has been in my pocket the whole time.

My alarm sounds like ocean waves rolling on the beach: softer and louder with each wave coming in and fading away. The precious thing I was looking for, was right there in my jeans all the time.

It made me think of a story Pema Chodron tells in “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s about a woman who’s sent out into the world with only a coat. She ends up destitute, with no means to support even her basic needs for survival. She complains about her poverty. Her coat goes to shreds, and in the hem she finds diamonds. Plenty enough to sell and support her.

That woman is me, running around, looking for my Buddha nature, my Christ essence, my basic goodness. All the while, I’m stuck in my anger, fear, jealousy, and judge myself for having these feelings.

I hope there comes a moment where I realize that I had Buddha nature all along, buried in my hardened heart. The place where I stop, connect, and celebrate my innate compassionate nature. Where I acknowledge my love, care and gratitude as “enough conditions to be happy”. Where I see my happiness and suffering as expressions of our shared humanity.

Our shared humanity with people I like, and people I don’t like. People who think and vote like me, and people who do the opposite. People whose words and actions are in alignment with my values, and people who speak and act in ways that conflict with my dreams for our world.

I imagine that when I am grounded in my own goodness, I can offer my insight to help others see theirs. To help them pause, take a breath, and smile at life.

I think that thàt is the best gift I can give to others.