When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
~Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea
This is an idea that seems difficult for Westerners to accept: when someone harms us, they create the cause of their own suffering. They do this by strengthening habits that imprison them in a cycle of pain and confusion. It’s not that we are responsible for what someone else does, and certainly not that we should feel guilty. But when they harm us, we unintentionally become the means of their undoing. Had they looked on us with loving-kindness, however, we’d be the cause of their gathering virtue.
What I find helpful in this teaching is that what’s true for them is also true for me. The way I regard those who hurt me today will affect how I experience the world in the future. In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and empathy. We can widen the gap between ourselves and others or lessen it.
~Pema Chodron, No Time To Lose
And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.
~Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I’ve been in this place before, and I know exactly what Anne Lamott means when she says “I just had to lie in the mud…grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” There were people who wanted me to “get help”—which was code for drugs to dull the pain—and I stood and listened while people tried to tell me that I shouldn’t still be feeling what I was feeling. But I believed then, and I believe now, something that I once heard Oprah express beautifully on one of her shows, “When someone says something to you about how long you’re taking to get over a loss, just remember, it’s different for everybody—tell them it takes as long as it takes.”
I don’t discount the benefits of antidepressants in certain situations, and yes, there are people who wallow in their grief to the point that it takes over their lives and becomes who they are. However, I think we as a society have become increasingly uncomfortable with uncomfortable feelings. We want to “fix” them and make them go away, in spite of the fact that those feelings are often the very means by which we grow and deepen as human beings and by which we become more truly ourselves.
When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.
~A Course in Miracles
Tikkun is a Hebrew word that is often translated as “world repair.” To me, tikkun is not just about external service; it starts in our most basic, almost instinctual view of being involved with life as a helper. …
This spirit of tikkun is the essence of compassionate service—not how much good we do, but rather waking and sleeping, eating and breathing, working and playing, with an unforced, underlying attitude of goodwill; no time off. When we leave from our volunteer stint at the orphanage or the soup kitchen or the AIDS hospice and stop off at the grocery store on the way home, we must understand that noticing the cashier as a human being is as significant as whatever noble cause we just volunteered for. It is nothing short of barbaric to deal with as many human beings as most of us deal with every day and have as little real human contact as many of us do.
~Bo Lozoff; It’s A Meaningful Life, It Just Takes Practice
We’re all just walking each other home.
At every level of society from the family up to international relations, the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.
~The Dalai Lama, Foreword for It’s A Meaningful Life, by Bo Lozoff
A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.
~Thich Nhat Hanh, Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh: 365 days of practical, powerful teachings from the beloved Zen teacher
Maybe that’s why I want to touch people
so often—it’s only another way of talking.
I was aching and vulnerable, feeling far from home, when, through the harsh shore wind, I saw a large rock surrounded by the rough churned-up sea. The rock was covered with all kinds of animals: willet, gull, cormorant, sea lion, seal, pelican, otter. All had found refuge from the hammering of the sea; climbing, winging, hauling themselves on the rock; living together, laying on each other; finding this rock-oasis of wind and sun; too tired once on the rock to fight, each having been wrung out by the pounding of the wet, wet hours.
I realized this is how the wounded find their way, how we have found each other, even in this book. Every survivor, regardless of what they survive, knows the hammering of the sea, and the rock we find refuge on is an exposed place where we finally accept each other—too tired from swimming to think any longer about territories, too tired to talk except through simple touch.
The wellness group I attended was such a rock. The meeting rooms of recovery are such a rock. The thousand quiet rooms of therapy are such a rock. For those who have suffered, tolerance is not a political position or even a principle. For those of us who have suffered, who have hauled ourselves into the sun, anything exhausted beside us is family.
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
I daresay every teacher has one or two (or more) students that has carved a permanent place in his/her heart—the ones that you continue to think about, wondering where they are and how they’re doing. I have a few of my own, but the one that I’ve held most strongly in my thoughts is a girl that I’ll call Casey.
Back in the late 80s, I taught dance at a performing and visual arts magnet middle school in Raleigh, North Carolina. I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t there just to teach dance. I was there to make a difference in the children’s lives; I just happened to be using dance to do it. I could tell you lots of stories about the children whose lives were transformed by participating in the arts—dance, drama, music, visual art—but that’s another story for another time. This is Casey’s story.
One day, in the middle of the school year, the guidance counselor came to me and said, “There’s a new girl who has moved here to live with her aunt because they discovered that the girl’s father has been sexually abusing her since she was five, and her mother is too ill to care for her. Evidently, she’s taken a lot of dance in the town she comes from, so I enrolled her in your Jazz III class.”
I’d had a lot of kids with challenges in my classes…kids with learning disabilities, kids with behavioral problems, even a hearing-impaired girl who was also undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. I always found a way to manage, to make things work, like making sure that the hearing-impaired child could always see me so she could read my lips and see me count out the beats with my hands. I hadn’t encountered child abuse yet, but I knew that Casey was a 12-year-old girl who loved to dance. If dance was a place where she could feel safe and normal, we’d just go from there and figure it out along the way.
Casey was a good dancer and a good student. In class, she didn’t seem any different than the other kids. Then one morning, I walked into my office to find Casey curled into a ball on the floor, sobbing, petrified Continue reading
Love is the bridge between you and everything.