You are my teacher, you are my student

All life and learning is an energy of giving and receiving. We encounter others on our path to exchange this life force. In an instant, we recognize ourselves in the other; a giving reflection of a world we need to see. This is our world that we see, a creation of our thoughts and our state of being. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

A mindful life becomes our technique. It is a tool and a strategy to size up the present moment without judgement or cloudiness. Simply, seeing. What is it that I am, through you? What is the world, we see? What is it that we are creating together, in this moment? How am I feeling? What sensation, arises as I consider this creation, that is both you and me, and the world we inhabit, right now?

You are my teacher and my student. I stand before you to listen carefully and practice my seeing, truth. I offer you my vulnerability and my willingness to bear my soul, so that you too can consider a measure of truth, that is both me and you, together. In this way, it is a precious gift to share a life with another. It is an exchange. It is a contract, in which we decide to make our way together, even for a moment, or for as long as it takes, to come to truth and understanding.

Truth and understanding coming together gives love and meaning to life. We cannot love unless we see clearly, and we cannot see clearly unless we see ourselves in another’s image. Sometimes, contemplation through relationship is painful if we are shying away from truth. But, with trust and mindfulness, we always arrive at appreciation. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

Appreciation, acceptance and non-judgement lead to love. This can sometimes feel good or it can feel sad and lonely, especially if love requires leaving. That is where the expression originates: If you love something set it free. Love is always letting it be, as it is. Even it that means letting go and allowing. It’s not possession and it can’t survive in a container. It’s always flowing and changing. Sometimes, we let go and sometimes, we recognize an enduring love, the type of love that returns over and over again for a welcome reprise. Not all love looks or feels the same way. It is simply what it’s meant to be, like a flower or a species; with its own pattern, color and behavior. We can see ourselves in love with all shades and all varieties. We can visit each variety in wonderment. We can stay for as long as we like, and we move on when it’s time. This is nature. Let’s consider and reflect on this, for a moment.

What do we owe the person in front of us?

We owe them nothing more than being ourselves and allowing them to take in our original nature which is made up of beauty and light. On the surface, they may see contour and shadows, the struggle and the fight. That’s all a part of the learning. We are providing sun and nutrients in our observance of the goodness inside. Our light and beauty grow exponentially when we are showered with attention. All relationship is a gift.

In the book, The Myth of Normal, Dr. Gabor Maté reminds us that isolation and loneliness cause inflammation in the body and suppresses the immune system. Trauma can make us terrified of love relationships because we are afraid of losing ourselves, our freedom, of getting hurt. We hold onto the “tyranny of the past.” We think that if we are fully ourselves in front of another, we will be punished or harmed. For this reason, love requires courage. It requires that we move ourselves into the pain, in order to discover what is hidden underneath. It requires that we practice, over and over again, innocence and vulnerability. It doesn’t mean that we are stupid and naïve. It means you expose your wounds in order to teach others how you survived, how you healed, how you carry on with life. It means you recognize the suffering in others, and listen to how they are coping and living. In this exchange, we are all teaching and learning. In this way, we explore what it means to love again.  

You are my family

The curious part about going to church when I was younger was when the priest told us to turn to our neighbor and greet them. Sometimes, I’d feel shy if I was standing around a bunch of strangers, but afterwards, I always felt a stronger sense of community. Making eye contact, smiling, and touching a stranger’s hand can feel intimidating but from time to time, I’d notice how others around me would help me relax by making the first move. This, I appreciated tremendously. It was a gift on their part, an offering. They were telling me, It’s okay, I’m safe. In this moment, we are family.

Many of us, across the globe, have experienced loss, displacement and other types of radical change. This upheaval can separate us from this safe feeling of being at home and belonging. It’s easy to get lost in fond memories and try to hold onto to what was—but perhaps we’re being asked to broaden our notion of family.

Family is two or more people that share a common bond, that choose to be together in the moment. The word family comes from the Latin famulus, meaning servant; which, also enriches the meaning.

When we choose to turn our full attention to the person or people standing with us right now, and we offer them a kind smile, the touch of our hand or a warm embrace—we are, in actuality, performing an act of love and service. We’re creating a shared bond by offering them the spirit of safety and belonging.

I am fortunate to have a beautiful, loving family who from time to time live far away from me. I also have loved ones who reside even farther away since their passing. But, right now, I can choose to be a devoted and loving servant to the people in my presence. I can say to them, you are my family.

What is the point? From Self to Others

“Our aim is to fully awaken our heart and mind, not just for our own well-being, but also to bring benefit, solace and wisdom to other living beings. What motivation could top that?”

Pema Chödrön

I woke up this morning thinking, “Why?” and “What is the point?” It is not new, this interrogation into the purpose of life.

The well known German-Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, posits that meaning comes from three sources: 1) loving a person 2) purposeful work/ project 3) surviving adverse conditions with dignity. Each of these things seem to come from both within and outside oneself, similar to Pema Chödrön’s suggestion that we awaken the heart, for ourselves and to benefit others.

In the case of Frankl, the third source of meaning, surviving adverse conditions, appears the most self-serving. However, when we survive adversity with dignity, the implication is we are leaving a trace of light for others to see, the trace of how we survive, meaning how we live, in spite of suffering.

In the ten years since I’ve started my mindfulness meditation practice, I’ve observed how my practice can feel self-serving. It is a very intimate, personal and time consuming awakening journey. This feeling of concentrating on the Self has certainly been intensified in the last five years since the trauma of the sudden death of my husband and, shortly after, my brother’s prognosis of cancer and his painful death two years later. Because these two men were emotional pillars in my life and represented everything that has to do with a sense of family, belonging and security—it is no surprise that my mindfulness meditation practice became about healing. Dr. Sameet M. Kamur, author of Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief, points out that because grief fills up all the empty spaces you have in the day and continues late into the night, healing has to be a full time job.

Now, I review my journey and ask difficult questions of myself as a natural part of my coming back to my center… such as: What is the point? These days, I spend a good deal of time considering my life moving forward. What is the purpose of my being, how has it changed and is there something inspiring me to continue on with this journey? When you see the temporal nature of all things, and experience the random and radical nature of death and dying—it is normal to consider the purpose and impact of one singular life.

Singularity, as in meditation on a pillow, alone in the early hours of the morning.

Is this enough?

Singularity is a false perspective. We are not a singularity even when we meditate alone. That would be a very lonely perspective, and filled with limitation. Nirvana, is knowing the boundless infinite nature of our energy, the I am and That is why I am here. It is not asking why? anymore. It is the knowing that in the practice of living fully and with awareness, we allow the mystery of our experience to be and, we savor the signs of awakening that continue to unravel ongoing.

I am considering this metaphor when I think about “What is the point?”

I am a flower. I am unique and just being healthy in this soil is enough. I feel good and strong, not thinking my life is short and my petals are temporary. Every day, I add value to myself and the world by absorbing light, emitting oxygen into the air, and providing beauty. If I were a tree, I’d provide some shade and occasionally, I’d bear fruit.

What is my true nature and what is the fruit for humanity?

The inspiration of the spiritual teachers and writers, such as Pema Chödrön, is that they remind me that it takes time and dedicated attention to care for myself and in doing so, I show up for others in a way that is uniquely serving. I’m accepting in my practice that I can’t change the world in any other way than what I am doing right now… that I have been given, by design, a gift of this life, and that is enough, and more than enough, if it is anything like the love and beauty that I have been given by others.

It is in a flash and an instant that I am grateful for this fleeting and beautiful flower in my presence. I will take it, in spite of the petals slowly falling out, because otherwise, what is the point of now?