This morning, as I sat in the café that my daughter works in, I listened to my mind as I sat watching the people walk by. Her café is right downtown and so there are all kinds of “characters”, drug-addicts and homeless people. As kind and gentle as I think I am, I was amazed to listen to the constant “assessments” of each person that I was thinking.
Hmm… Pink pants and bright green shirt. He’s not wearing a shirt and he has his hair in a bun on top of his head. Oh, he’s in a wheelchair, poor guy. Well she’s not wearing very much. Look at all his muscles… He must be very vain. Oh cute dog. That guy is out of his mind on drugs… Don’t look at him. That’s a homeless guy. That woman has crazy high heels on.
None of my thoughts were particular evil. But what I noticed is that they kept me separate from them and they weren’t particularly compassionate.
Compassion for Everyone
I just finished reading Phakyab Rinpoche’s book “Meditation Saved My Life”.
Here is the blurb from the back cover:
In 2003, Tibetan lama Phakyab Rinpoche was admitted to the emergency clinic of the Program for Survivors of Torture at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital. After a dramatic escape from imprisonment in China, at the hands of authorities bent on uprooting Tibet’s traditional religion and culture, his ordeal had left him with life-threatening injuries, including gangrene of the right ankle. American doctors gave Rinpoche a shocking choice: accept leg amputation or risk a slow, painful death. An inner voice, however, prompted him to try an unconventional cure: meditation. He began an intensive spiritual routine that included thousands of hours of meditation over three years in a small Brooklyn studio. Against all scientific logic, his injuries gradually healed. In this vivid, passionate account, Sofia Stril-Rever relates the extraordinary experiences of Phakyab Rinpoche, who reveals the secret of the great healing powers that lie dormant within each of us.
One of my biggest takeaways was that in order to be admitted into the “Program for Survivors of Torture”, he had to recount what had happened to him by the Chinese authorities. The doctors listening were confused as to why he wasn’t angry or describing himself as a victim. In fact, he had only compassion for those who arrested him and tortured him.
He wondered how he could be angry at them when they were still trapped in a violent and vicious world where they weren’t allowed kindness or human joy. He (Phakyab) had escaped and was now receiving treatment. How could he be angry, when he was the one that was free?
This blew my hair back. I thought of anyone that I felt had ever “hurt” or “wronged” me. I imagined the hell that they must be caught in. I imagined only having true compassion for them. This not only relieved any painful memories, but also caused me to tell the story differently within this new light.
Another thing Phakyab talked about a lot was interdependence – that we are connected to everyone on the planet and everything beyond.
As I sat watching these people walking past, instead of allowing my mind to make some random statement about them, I tried to just feel my connection with them. I breathed deeply. I really tried.
Soon, instead of my mind creating statements or judgements about them, I could feel them. It’s like I could feel their struggles. I could feel their happiness. Honestly, I mostly felt struggles, despair, frustration… Or sometimes, I felt nothing in particular except that I was separate from them. So I imagined that we weren’t separate. I imagined that we were all connected in a huge invisible web.
And I breathed deeply.
Sitting with my coffee. Breathing deeply. Imagining that every single person I saw was connected to me. Allowing myself to feel whatever I felt… because we are not all so different really.
I can’t articulate to you what happens. But something happens.
It becomes easier. My mind forgets to have an opinion.
Even if I feel sadness, as I breathe, it transforms into something else…
But more like peace.
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