Tag Archives: Compassion

Love is not Soft

Jesus said to Love your enemies. I don’t think he meant that our inability to do so should prevent us from acting. Dismantling oppression is an act of love, and in my mind it is one of the highest, deepest and most important expressions. We can’t wait until our love has matured to act. Our very waiting is the stunting of growth. It is a missed opportunity in a moment when we are being asked to step up.

But, while we fight, what if we allowed our love to grow? Because, after all, He did say it. Love your enemies.

The Love He talks about has room for the oppressor and the oppressed.  This is not a love in short supply at risk of depletion. It is an Endless Reservoir and an ability strengthened by its very use.

Let’s be clear: all forms of oppression must be stopped. This includes the radical hatred of white nationalists and the cruel indifference of sweatshop profiteers. The heart knows this truth, but it also knows this- Love isn’t soft.

It’s not about letting anyone off the hook. It’s not normalizing or minimizing. It’s not false equivalency or taking the middle road. It is simply ensuring that our hearts don’t close.

Since the 1950s the Dalai Lama has practiced Tonglen for the Chinese government, who are responsible for the mass genocide of the Tibetan people. In this practice he breathes in their suffering and breathes out goodwill towards them. When asked if his practice has had any benefit, the Dalai Lama said, “I think it has benefited me.”

I can’t allow my heart to grow cold towards anyone. If I were to find words to state my life’s mission, I might quote Kabir or Maharajji, who whisper at every moment, “Never put another person out of your heart.”

I have heard some of the cruelest, most racist and sexist words come out of children’s mouths like you wouldn’t believe. I have witnessed teens bully and physically attack others with weapons. It’s my job to love kids like that. With a child it’s unsettling. We instantly know those words and actions aren’t theirs, but rather an ill-fitted costume awkwardly draped over the body. But one day, if uncorrected, those very words and actions can shape a large part of their worldview.  The child will grow into that costume and form to its awkward shape, making it seem like a perfect fit.

Love is the antidote for that outcome. I can correct a child’s speech out of love. I can stop one person from hitting another while keeping my heart open to both of them. It’s easy with kids…

But I have also met adults that have been locked up for committing violent crimes, who completely blew me away by their level of compassion, empathy, introspection, and self-awareness. There are Bodhisattvas behind bars at this very moment that are more in touch with themselves than the vast majority of us on the outside.

Those who harm others have been harmed themselves. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” Likewise, those that have healed from harm are those that can assist in the world’s healing. And, it’s never too late to heal. For anyone.

So what I’m asking is this: let’s work tirelessly to end all forms of oppression. Let’s take bold and creative steps to do so. That is Love in action, and we need that.

But, while we’re at it, let’s expand our Love and deepen it. Let’s open our hearts enough that we see the Truth of our own Unlimited Well… because, after all, He did say it…

Love your enemies
(Matthew 5:44)

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Using Spiritual Truth to Shield Against the World

For a moment the mind rests. Self identifications cease. The veil lifts. We see the Truth of it all.

As our conceptual mind emerges back towards the forefront, it attempts to glean what it can from this vast expanse and filters it into words. The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

This transcendental experience quickly becomes a vague memory, and we use the memory to prove the existence of our new god- The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

We worship these words as truth and then use them as shields against a world that often doesn’t agree- Genocide. Homelessness. Systemic oppression. Global inequality. Environmental destruction.

We brush the problems aside, trivialize them, or worse- we pretend they don’t exist, all in order to turn back towards our god- The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

But after so many blows, our shields begin to crack.  There is doubt. What once seemed so true now seems at odds with the world. What was once revealed Truth is now just a conceptual idea, and when weighed against all of the evidence, seems like an easily disproven one.

All of this stems from a lack of faith in that inexplicable mystery that first birthed those words in our mind. The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

Faith doesn’t need to cling to words because it accepts the ineffable understanding behind the words. Faith can sit with unknowing and trusts that inconsistencies only show us our understanding is incomplete. When the veil lifts and we catch a glimpse of the mystery’s divine harmony, we accept it. And when we read the news, look a homeless women in the eyes, or fill up our gas tank on a late night in a moment of awakened horror, we accept that too as truth.

The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love. And yet…

The suffering is unbearable. Much of it is avoidable. Much of it is man-made. Much of it could be stopped. There is no spiritual “truth” I have found that can lessen the burden of this suffering. There is no divine understanding to magically make sense of it all.

It is a fierce practice to hold these two truths, perfection and suffering, simultaneously in our being. I find I often either teeter more towards one side or the other in any given moment. When I am too far on one side, I often find the other one to be triggering. It’s either too fluffy or too dreary.

My work, as I see it, is to constantly rework that balance, and to trust that the inconsistencies are my doorway to a greater and more expansive Truth, one that I may never have the proper words for but I have faith is at the heart of all things.

The universe is perfect. The fabric of existence is Love.

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A Spiritual Response to Crisis

The belief that we are all One is not spiritual if it blinds us from injustice. It is only spiritual if it reminds us of our interdependence- that none of us are free until every last one of us is free. Belief in in the Perfection and Harmony of the Cosmos is not spiritual if it allows us to gloss over suffering, but only if it empowers us by aligning our actions with that Cosmic Arc of Justice. Even prayer is not spiritual if it becomes a substitute for action, but it is a bold act of resistance if it fuels us in the fight for justice.

A spiritual response to crisis is not a justification of it, or a belief structure awkwardly imposed over it.  A spiritual understanding of crisis is that which allows us to see the world as it is, and this in turn inspires deep and heartfelt engagement. The spiritual map is that which leads to a more just world. The spiritual worldview is a way through crisis, and its very truth is both found and expressed through action.

Do your duty without any attachment to the fruits of your work, for only by acting without attachment can you realize God (Bhagavad Gita 3:19)

This is the true spiritual work. This is what sweeps us up in that Great Eternal Force. It’s working to make change, and doing so without any aim for personal gain. It’s living our Dharma. It’s marching. It’s organizing. It’s writing or making art that inspires. It’s growing a garden. It’s living by our values. It is speaking up against racism and sexism. It is tirelessly working to end all forms of oppression. It is a deep listening that allows us to authentically feel this great and painful grief- the firm realization that we are not progressing as we should, that we can do better. That we must do better.

If we cannot feel this then we cannot move forward in a real way. Our activism will be stunted, and its motives will be suspect. To truly make impactful change, we need to live with this collective grief and cradle it close until its painful message can emerge as wisdom, enriching our actions and drawing us closer to a world of freedom and justice for all.

A truly spiritual worldview allows us to do this. A spiritual worldview connects us to an innate and inexhaustible power that can live with grief and bear witness to pain. It is not a buffer that protects us from the atrocities of the world or that justifies oppression using cosmic wordplay. The spiritual worldview reminds us that such protections are not needed, that they only serve to dim the light on the indestructible nature of Being.

The Bhagavad Gita could, in one sense, be summarized by the words of Neem Karoli Baba, “All action is prayer.”

I have found that this is only true if I actually take time in my day for contemplative practices. These practices not only spirtualize my activism, but they make it more effective. The more I get in touch with myself, the easier it is to see where I am caught. This widens my perspective and fine tunes my awareness. I can begin to see more clearly the oppression in our culture and to resist it in the wisest and most skillful way.

But to practice with the wrong perspective can actually strengthen my narcissism rather than to dismantle it. My time in meditation and payer can be become an escape, and this can further enhance the view that I am the center of the Universe. Activism, service and Dharma help remedy this and make my contemplative practices more honest, real, and alive.

Thus I have found that contemplative practice and social engagement are both strengthened by the spiritual worldview, and in turn this worldview is fed and informed by these two practices. If I am ever going to successfully overcome my selfish tendencies of mind, I am going to need the full force of the spiritual life to do so. And until I do, I am just another cog in the wheel of the dominant, exploitative, capitalist culture.

“In the Name of God, the All‑Compassionate, the All‑Merciful” (Quran).

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This Love has Room for Our Protest

Without me even noticing it, the conversation evaporated into silence. Ram Dass simply looked at me, and I melted into the chair, filled with love. I looked across the room towards him, and our eyes met. Just a few minutes ago he had told me the story of when Maharajji instructed him to meditate like Christ. Ram Dass asked him how Christ meditated, and Maharajji said, “He was lost in a sea of love.”

I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with the man before me, not because he was Ram Dass, but because his presence pulled me into a depth of Being within that could love anything. I realized that this is what it meant, at least in some small way, to meditate like Christ.

Ram Dass often says things like, “I love the wall, and the carpet, and this chair. I love my wheelchair.”

And when he says it, he means it. I saw this, not just in my darshan with him that day, but during following the two years that I lived with him. I would often see him sitting by himself, not reading, or napping, or thinking, or even meditating, but just sitting there, truly present and content. Because of his stroke, he is confined to a wheelchair, and his body is often in pain. Yet, he has a lightness about him that transcends his physical body. There is a joy and a contentment that can be at home with the pain.
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Compassion, Privilege, and Spiritual Practice

I just finished spending time at the “Ram Dass Spring on Maui Retreat.” An incredible assortment of teachers was present, including Lama Surya Das, Mirabai Bush, Saraswati and Raghu Marcus, Nina Rao, Rameshwar Das and Shantala. Of course, for me and many others, our reason for being there was Ram Dass.

It’s hard to put into words what the magic of the retreat was like. Ram Dass showered us with love from his own open heart, and we melted into it. Each of us in our own way blossomed and bathed in the light. We practiced meditation, yoga, chi-gong, kirtan, and listened to dharma talks. Spending time with satsang only deepened the love, and much of the magic occurred during the free time between sessions. People openly divulged their insecurities and fears to strangers during lunch. Hugs, sincere well-wishing, deep listening and caring all became so commonplace that it was hard to remember any other way even existed. The love was real, and it felt amazing.

Many asked questions about how to bring this magic back into our daily lives, and others expressed their fear that it would slip away. All of us, I’m sure, sincerely hope that our time in love together will help us to be a little softer, a little more caring, and a little more present and loving in our daily lives.

This is my wish also, but that’s not what was on my mind during this retreat. Instead, I have been consumed with What do I do about all of this privilege that I enjoy at the expense of others, and how does spiritual practice relate to this?

“Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

How does this love benefit the poorest and most marginalized of us?

It is important to be in touch with our own inner well of compassion, presence and love.  If all of us did this then there would be much less suffering and poverty in this world, but in reality the inequality is staggering. We normally think of inequality as the income gap between us and the super rich, but there is also a gaping gap between rich countries like the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

The inequality gap is so wide that I fear that the love, compassion, and kindness gained from spiritual practices by privileged Americans like me might be disproportionately benefiting other privileged people.

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