“Compassion lives in a wise resonance with the tender and painful aspects of life.” — DaeJa Napier
I want to let go of criticism. Criticism of others, of myself. I could put myself first, since I’ve found that I criticize others pretty much to the same degree as I criticize myself. And I am ready to let that fall away.
I’m not sure how the idea of letting it go came to me — I am sure it has been percolating for a long while — and I suspect my meditation practice pushed it to the fore. I’m in part two of my year-long brahmaviharas practice.
Brahmaviharas = the four divine abidings.
The four divine abidings = lovingkindess, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
I am in compassion now.
The brahmaviharas practice is a concentration practice. First, you sit quietly, and then you bring to mind a person, and then you say certain phrases, almost always silently. I also attend to whatever feelings come up, but my anchor, the thing to which I return – the point of concentration – is the phrases.
You begin with someone for whom you feel compassion, perhaps someone you know who is in pain or suffering right now. Then your self, a benefactor, a loved one, a neutral person, a person with whom you have difficulty, and all beings.
There are a few phrases one can use, and I choose from among these…
May you be free of pain and suffering.
May you be held, and come to hold yourself, in compassion.
May you be at peace.
This one has been tenderizing my heart: May I be held, and come to hold myself, in compassion.
These are just words, and they make things happen, on the cushion and in real life. I don’t have a single, tidy anecdote to bring it all to light, rather I have a few sketches to share, forays into new territory.
Things happen…. like this: During my meditation retreat, on the last day, I literally felt my little grinch heart expanding as I saw myself receiving the loving gaze of two of my Hakomi teachers. A relief, and an opening, an experience of the flow of love between living beings, between myself and another. In these moments, it is as if the grief of having been closed is experienced along with the exquisite newness and relief of being open.
Then, the day after the retreat as I sat down to meditate, I saw an image of myself emerging from a pool of water with my arms pressed down at my sides. I saw it again and again, and I suddenly realized that I was being born, and then this spontaneous story rolled out before me, in which saw myself as a little baby receiving the loving gaze of my mother. And all holographic-like, I saw myself as a mother giving that loving gaze to my own children, and to myself as a baby. For minutes at a time, I cried and saw myself seeing, and being seen, with love.
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I sat down to meditate, and I noticed a feeling of tightness around my heart, around my ribs, under my arm. Frozen. Tears began to flow, quiet, seeping tears, and I had a sudden memory, at the dinner table as a child, of my father telling my sister and I to “sit up straight” and I had this searing thought: So much criticism.
I put my right hand on my ribs, under my arm and I felt the pain and tightness… a hitching feeling in my neck, an ache in my shoulder blade, all this constriction my left side.
And I had more memories, from different ages, taking pride in being like my father and being with him. I saw those experiences as I experienced them then and I experienced them now, in a new light — an expansion of experience. I had an idea for an offering… “It’s okay to do things for yourself” or “your own way” – I can’t remember now.
And then another idea… an offering about it being okay to have an open heart.
With that one, an image immediately jumped into my mind, into my body really: me as a football player, holding the ball tight to my chest (in fact, covering my heart) with the other arm straight out as I rushed headlong into life. My every expression defended.
And the tears of insight and melting away, of grief and healing, of transformation come. The space within us grows.
The poetry of the last hundred years is an effort to unfold the left side of the body, to reclaim for the psyche certain disappearing words, thereby preventing the reality behind them from disappearing into amnesia… the thirst for the space of feeling grows.
Antonio Machado says:
It is good knowing that glasses
are to drink from
The bad thing is not to know
what thirst is for
– from News from the Universe
The day after the criticism breakthrough, I was sitting on the couch and I was tired and irritable and Mica and Orlando were squabbling and Mica was coming toward me, crying and discontent. I could feel the exasperation coming up in me, and I did a little switch-a-roo, like putting on a pair of compassion glasses. Suddenly soft. You know what I mean, don’t you? A tilt of the head, softness around the eyes, receiving. Tender.
And oh, this last year and a half with Orlando… a hard patch. I can see myself coming down hard on him (so much criticism! it doesn’t take much). In the same way I watched myself saying “stop crying” before I could stop saying it, I have seen myself saying “Why don’t you…?” right into Orlando’s young and tender face. This sense of pushing is familiar to me, from the outside it came, and I internalized it, and now it is coming to light again. Remember or repeat. I am choosing to remember.
I want to tell you that I love my father — truly. What I learn about myself teaches me about him, and it is like a broadening of perspective, inclusive. Poor parents, I say, and poor children. And poor parents who once were children. Can’t you see it all, the immensity and depth and beauty and sadness of it all? We can reclaim everything that needs to be reclaimed.
And then I have been practicing as a Hakomi therapist… doing full sessions in our last two modules. We are each other’s clients, and we have a coach, but still, a session, and each time, there is some point at which it clicks, the attunement has hummed us into a deeper connection, and the client has gone deeper with themselves, and I can feel compassion arise in me, unbidden, and they feel it to, and it is natural and good, and fundamentally healing. Tender, and connected.
Compassion is not pity. In fact, pity is considered the near enemy of compassion because it is often mistaken for it but has a much different source and effect. Pity arises out of a sense of separateness, a “feeling-sorry-for” that maintains a sense of distance. Compassion comes from an understanding of our connectedness, of the willingness to understand that both pain and pleasure are part of life, of all of our lives.
And I have been taking the Neufeld courses, and he talks about keeping our hearts soft, of keeping our children’s hearts soft, of not making headway in the incident (i.e., it’s too critical and hurtful to children to be corrected in the moment). He also says this: “We must invite a child to exist in our presence,” and it makes me cry every time. What have I always ever wanted? But I cannot invite a child into a space I have closed off from myself.
So, here it is, inside my heart, all coming together, and I thought last Wednesday as I sat upon my cushion to practice compassion: I want to stop criticizing. But I also thought… I don’t want to criticize my way into not criticizing. I will keep a journal of all the times I criticize myself, others, either out loud or silently, so that I might come to know this critic and what she is about. Perhaps she has something to tell me. I have no desire to kung-fu her out of existence, cut her off or out, go all bad-ass on her.
I simply want to hear her at the same time I know I am hearing her.
It occurs to me that she might need to be seen with compassion so she can learn to see with compassion. It occurs to me that I might know how to help her, now. That we are helping each other already.
“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.”
– The Buddha
~ * ~
Some things to see and read
Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg
The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield
Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher K. Germer
Listening to Shame (TED Talk) by Brené Brown