The longer I wake on this Earth, the louder the quiet things speak to me. The more I experience and survive, the more I find truth in the commonalities we all share. The more pain softens me, the deeper my joy and the greater the lessons of those things that live in great stillness.
— Mark Nepo from The Book of Awakening
You Are Not Alone
One of the most difficult things about hard times is that we often feel that we are going through them alone. But we are not alone. In fact, your life itself is only possible because of the thousands of generations before you, survivors who have carried the lamp of humanity through difficult times from one generation to another. Even Jesus had hard times, and Buddha did as well. At times they were hounded, threatened, physically attacked, and despised. Yet their gifts outshone all their difficulties. And now, as you read these words, feel yourself as part of the stream of humanity walking together, finding ways to carry the lamp of wisdom and courage and compassion through difficult times.
Several years ago I was giving a talk on compassion with Pema Chödrön in a large hall in San Francisco filled with at least 3,000 participants. At one point a young woman stood up and spoke in the most raw and painful way about her partner’s suicide several weeks before. She was experiencing a gamut of complex emotions, such as agonizing grief and confusion, guilt and anger, loss and fear. Pema had her hold it all in compassion. As I listened to her I could also feel her loneliness, and so I asked the group when she finished, “How many of you in this room have experienced the suicide of someone in your family, or someone really close to you?” More than 200 people stood up. I asked her to look around the room at the eyes of those who had gone through a similar tragedy and survived. As they gazed at one another, everyone in the room could feel the presence of true compassion, as if we were in a great temple. We all felt the suffering that is part of our humanity, and part of the mystery that we share.
If you have lost money or faith, when you are sick or a family member is suffering from illness or addiction, even when a child is in jeopardy, you are not alone. You are sharing in the inevitable trouble of human incarnation. On this very day, hundreds of thousands of others are also dealing with loss of money, a new diagnosis, or holding their sick child. Breathe with them and hold their pain mindfully with yours, sharing in your heart a spirit of courage and compassion. For thousands of generations we humans have survived hard times. We know how to do this. And when we sense our connection, we help each other.
Two women in nearby towns in northern Canada were forced to venture out on a fierce winter night. One was taking her pregnant daughter to the hospital; the other was driving to take care of her ill father. They made their way along the same road from opposite directions, through hurricane winds and pelting snow. Suddenly each was stopped on opposite sides of a huge fallen tree that blocked the road. It took them only a few minutes to share their stories, exchange car keys, and set forth in each other’s cars to complete their journeys.
As you open beyond the self, you realize that others are part of your extended family. Sylvia Boorstein, a colleague and wisdom holder, tells how in Jewish synagogues there is a yearly memorial service for the survivors of relatives whose death dates are unknown—men and women who died in the Holocaust or are buried in unknown graves. Many people will stand for the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer. In temple on this day, Sylvia writes, “I looked at the people standing and thought ‘Can all these people be direct survivors?’ Then I realized we all are, and I stood up too.”
“We are not separate, we are interdependent,” declared the Buddha. Even the most independent human being was once a helpless infant cared for by others. With each breath we interbreathe carbon dioxide and oxygen with the maple and oak, the dogwood and redwood trees of our biosphere. Our daily nourishment joins us with the rhythms of bees, caterpillars, and rhizomes; it connects our body with the collaborative dance of myriad species of plants and animals.
Nothing is separate. Unless we understand this, we are split between caring for ourselves or caring for the troubles of the world. “I arise in the morning,” wrote essayist E. B. White, “torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.” A psychology of interdependence helps to solve this dilemma. Through the loving awareness of mindfulness and meditation we discover that the duality of inner and outer is false. We can hold all the beauty and the pain of life in our heart and breathe together with courage and compassion.
— Jack Kornfield from A Lamp in the Darkness
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
― F. Scott Fitzgerald from F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing
The Web of Life
There is a living web that runs through us
To all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life
On to the distant stars.
Each knows a little corner of the world, and lives
As if this were his all.
We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to him from whom it led.
We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And then there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons.
We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.
— Robert T Weston as quoted in Day of Promise: Collected Meditations (Vol 1)
I add my breath to your breath
that our days may be long on the Earth,
that the days of our people may be long,
that we shall be as one person,
that we may finish our road together.
— Prayer of the Laguna Pueblo people from World as Lover, World as Self
- Morning Prayer: I Cannot Do This Alone
- Love Is Why We Have Hope
- Faith Is A Way Of Life: Hopeful In Bad Times
- We Are Bound Together For A Common Purpose
- Hope Nonetheless
- I Have Decided To Love