Wisely Leaning In

Having loved enough and lost enough,

I am no longer searching, just opening,

no longer trying to make sense of pain,

but being a soft and steady home in which real things can land.

These are the irritations that rub to a pearl. Mark Nepo

“This is kind and careful work. When circumstances generate pain or anguish, we can lessen dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) by patiently containing our reactivity. Then, at the place of suffering, the journey of transformation opens up. As beautifully articulated in Mark Nepo’s poem, we become ‘a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land.’ This describes perfectly the quality of awareness and receptivity needed to undertake the journey through suffering. We ‘no longer try to make sense of the pain.’ We create space and allow awareness to provide a gentle holding for the ‘irritations that rub to a pearl.’ This is the work of vipissana (insight meditation). As we inquire into the moment, dukkha becomes dharma, or nature, rather than a ‘me’ that is wrong or bad. As we listen more deeply to suffering, we begin to notice non-suffering. The heart realizes its innate courage, strength, and invincibility. This journey through pain and suffering burns away the impurities, and what is revealed is something pristine, clear, and beautiful, like a moonlit pearl: the tender, merciful heart, and its infinite ability to receive the cries of the world.

When we’re suffering, it’s as if we are with a child that’s very unhappy. If the child is wailing and wriggling, wanting to get away, wanting something but it doesn’t know what, we kindly hold the child. Sometimes we can experience our minds as the child and the awareness as the mother. The child of the mind can be really hurting and screaming, ‘I can’t bear this. I’m hopeless!’ Or, ‘No one is there for me,’ or just an unnameable pain that seems so familiar, so ancient, and so intractable. But the mother, our aware, present heart, just sits it out and waits patiently for the deeper truth to emerge. She is breathing with the pain while gently holding the mind and body with kind awareness. Then something else happens; something beyond the re-activity of the mind. Instead the heart softens. It sees its own nature: spacious, non-suffering, peaceful, and timeless. Here is freedom. Here we find the courage to bear suffering in order to overcome it."

All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming. Helen Keller.

Kittisaro & Thanissara. "Listening to the Heart. A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism." North Atlantic Books, 2014.

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