In the two weeks since returning from Israel I have noticed a prevalent (and dare I say ubiquitous) theme emerging in many peoples lives. What’s Next?
One friend is contemplating ending a marriage; another moved to a new community and is trying to establish new friends, find a new church and find herself; my cousin moved out of his home and is researching graduate school while traveling to Chicago for the holidays; another friend, in her 60s, will lose her job at the end of the year and is anxiously sending out resumes to find another job; and my sweetheart, my love received a devastating, life changing medical diagnosis, stage 4 lung cancer.
It seems the more I live the more I realize Pema Chödrön is right – life is groundlessness – and the better I can accept that fact, adapt and find practices that support me in the midst of times when I grope for some kind of ground, the less I may suffer, and the more I can be present in each moment and discover the revelations and gifts.
I offer one “practice” that has guided me to where I am in this very moment.
“When all else fails – Love.” – Cyril Jaskela
Love. An over used, over defined, and over analyzed word is an answer that has permeated the beauty emerging in these times of extreme uncertainty and fear. How does one “practice” love? More to the point, when nothing is working to offer an answer, no logical or rational exercise is revealing any glimmer of an answer or a path to a possible answer – we must ask ourselves what is the most loving and compassionate thing we can “do” in this moment. I put “do” in quotes because often times there is nothing to do and the answer is to “be” and listen.
Some might call this listening prayer or meditation. For me, it starts with recognizing when my mind is trying (at warp speed) to find some ground – something that explains why my partner, a healthy 57-year-old man who never smoked in his life and who simply had an annoying cough, would be diagnosed with such advanced cancer. There is no answer my mind can find.
When I acknowledge I am trying to find ground within the storm of groundlessness the first thing I do is take an intentional, deep and cleansing breath, focusing what attention I can muster on how my body feels when I take this deep breath. If I am laying in bed (which is where this happens most often), I can more easily let my attention wash over my body from my chest to my belly to my toes.
After I allow myself that initial pausing with breath, I ask myself what, if anything, can I do in that moment, and then listen with my mind and my heart for an answer. My mind might tell me a million things at one time – much of it based in fear. But if I breathe and listen to my heart, I will receive other answers that reveal the Truth of the moment. Sometimes I hear, “the only job you have right now is to sleep.” Often what my heart (what Spirit/God) tells me is to extend an open heart, Love and Compassion, especially and most importantly to myself; I am doing the best I can in this moment and I forgive myself for the irritability and impatience.
“With life as short as half a breath, don't plant anything but love.”- Rumi
Judaism, Christianity, Islam and all faith traditions contain similar core teachings. Judaism speaks of the Oneness. Not just the One God, but the One that is all through us. The One that is in each of us making us One. The One that offers us the opportunity to recognize whatever I do to another I do to myself, because that Oneness sits behind each set of eyes; supports each pair of hands; gives breath to each voice.
Christ’s message at its core is about unconditional love. Not love from the ego that is loving in the good times and questions love or pulls it away when mistakes, hurts and disagreements happen. Unconditional love says, "no matter what you do or say you will not be separated from my heart." Isn’t that the kind of love we all would like (and need) to experience?
Islam’s core message of compassion and mercy comes from the lines that begin nearly every chapter of the Quran, "Bismi Allahi arrahmani arraheem. In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
"The sum of these teachings is Love. Love that permeates each of us, that really does connect us and allows us to connect with each other in moments of joy and celebration and moments of sorrow and pain. Love that embraces me in times when I am most in need, in times when I might not be able to embrace even myself. Love that allows me to over-ride the fear my ego is presenting me and reach out to another and be with them wherever they are, even when it’s most uncomfortable because there is nothing to fix and nothing do to help.
What’s next? I am getting more comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” But what I do know, what I intend in every moment possible is to listen and to Love, because that is the best I have to offer you and the best I have to offer me.
Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Peace