It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and
if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love,
for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow,
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or
have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own,
without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own,
if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be
careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself;
if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every
day, and if you can source your life from God’s presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine,
and still stand on the edge of a lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes”!
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,
weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself,
and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from the book The Invitation
Wherever you’re at – “opened by life’s betrayals” or “shriveled and closed from fear of further pain”, “seeing beauty”, or not – it’s all workable.
Mindfulness is about learning to open to whatever is there / where ever you find yourself in life right now. This might sound overwhelmingly difficult, perhaps in awful, if you’re struggling with what’s there. To begin with guidance is really helpful, and practice is required right along the path.
The invitation is to start to open to what’s there; you may be surprised at what is possible….
She climbs easily on the box that seats her above the swivel chair
At adult height, crosses her legs, left ankle over right,
Smoothes the plastic apron over her lap while the beautician
Lifts her ponytail and laughs, “This is coarse as a horse’s tail!”
And then as if it that was all there is to say,
The woman at once whacks it off and tosses its
foot and a half length into the trash.
And the little girl who didn’t want her hair cut,
But long ago learned successfully how not to say
What it is she wants,
Who, at even at this minute cannot quite grasp
her shock and grief,
Is getting her hair cut. “For convenience,” her mother put it.
The long waves gone that had been evidence at night,
When loosened from their clasp,
She might secretly be a princess.
Rather than cry out, she grips her own wrist
And looks to her mother in the mirror.
But her mother is too polite, or too reserved, or too indifferent.
To defend the girl
So the girl herself takes up indifference,
While the pain follows a channel to a hidden place
Almost unknown to her,
Convinced as she is, that her own emotions are not the ones
her life depends on,
She shifts her gaze from her mother’s face
Back to the haircut now,
So steadily as if this short-haired child she sees were someone else.
by David Levine
This is a heart-wrenching story of how a child can learn to disconnect from her difficult feelings, when she isn’t given permission to experience this important and real part of being human. I’m imagining how the child longs to feel seen by her mother, to have her choices matter, to feel understood, and how lonely it would feel to be her….
There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
out of which blooms the unshatterable.
There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.
There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness
we are sanctioned into being.
There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole,
while learning to sing.
“A third reason mindfulness appears to cultivate empathy and compassion is that it guards against the feelings of stress and busyness that make us focus more on ourselves and less on the needs of other people.
This was famously demonstrated in the classic Good Samaritan experiments conducted by John Darley and Daniel Batson in the 1970s. Darley and Batson assigned seminary students at Princeton University to deliver a talk on the Good Samaritan. While on their way to their presentation, the students passed someone (working with the researchers) who was slumped over and groaning. The researchers tested all kinds of variables to see what might make the students stop to help, but only one variable mattered: whether or not the students were late for their talk. Only 10 percent of the students stopped to help when they were late; more than six times as many helped when they were not in a hurry.
This study suggests that people are not inherently morally insensitive, but when we’re stressed, scared, hurried, it’s easy to lose touch with our deepest values. By helping us stay attuned to what’s happening around us in the present moment, regardless of the time, mindfulness helps us stay connected to what is most important. As the Zen monk Suzuki Roshi teaches, ‘The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.'”
More and more I see the potential of empathy to soothe and heal the human heart.
In the Mindful Parenting Group, we spend time practising giving and receiving empathy. We practice dropping down from our head-space, into connecting through our heart with what is going on, either in our self or in the other. When we are in a place of empathic listening, we let go of agreeing/disagreeing, we let go of concern with right/wrong/good/bad, we let go of our desire to fix/solve/educate/placate, and we practice ‘devout listening’.
Can you remember being heard in this way? When we are heard in this way, we feel seen, understood, like we matter, like someone really ‘gets us’. It is a beautiful human experience to give and to receive empathy; it allows us to open to what is there in the heart in a full way. From this opening, acceptance can come. From this acceptance, a letting be, which can feel like a letting go, is possible.
Sometimes one of my daughters comes to me with a huge sadness in her heart, seeking empathy. I listen from my heart. I might notice my attention rising back up to my head, to ideas around fixing things, I notice that and choose to drop down into listening from my heart again, to connecting with her heart. I might offer silent empathy. I might tell her what I hear is alive in her heart (her feelings and needs). We sit, in our humanity, together, and hold whatever is there. And I see the healing power of this as her sadness lifts and she moves on. This is not the objective though, to have the sadness go away; the intention is to be with whatever is there in each moment, to open to it all with kindness and curiosity and to allow it all.
We may find aversion as we open to what is there – we don’t like what is there, we don’t want it to be there. We try to meet that aversion with empathy, seeing it, holding it, with devout listening. For what we resist, persists.
Devout listening takes mindful attention. Regular attention has been described as being like a cork bobbing on the surface of the water, while mindful attention is like a stone sinking through the water to the bottom of the bowl. This is the kind of attention that facilitates an empathic connection through devout listening.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book on mindful parenting, identified empathy as one of the three foundations of mindful parenting.