“The wonderful irony about this spiritual journey is the we find it only leads us to become just as we are. The exalted state of enlightenment is nothing more than fully knowing ourselves and our world, just as we are. In other words, the ultimate fruition of this path is simply to be fully human.” Pema Chodron – Welcoming the Unwelcome
I recently have found myself drawn back to the teachings of Pema Chodron. Pema was one of the first teachers I connected with when I began looking for a new spiritual home after I felt the religious upbringing of my childhood no longer had a place for me. I accepted my sexual orientation of lesbian when I was 21. I knew this was an inherent part of me, not something I was choosing. The strong Calvinistic, Protestant religion I was brought up in told me homosexuality was a sin and abomination. I knew in my heart it wasn’t. I couldn’t stay in a religion where I was not welcome, so even though it was wrenchingly painful to leave the spiritual ground my life was built on to that point, I had to find another path.
I don’t remember how I discovered Pema Chodron, likely in a bookstore, but as soon as I started to read her words in When Things Fall Apart, I felt like I had found a home and guidance I could trust. A couple of months ago I picked up her new book Welcoming the Unwelcome and it seems like since then I am finding myself immersed in her words. Her books are crossing my path, friends have sent me her quotes, and I’ve recently listened to several interviews.
This year’s journey of daily self-compassion and compassion-based practices has enhanced my understanding of her words, allowing them to settle more deeply into my being. She teaches about compassion and kindness to oneself and others all the time! I saw and heard this in her words earlier in my life, but I wasn’t able to fully take it in like I am now. I think the habit of self-criticism and self-judgement was so strong in me I could not accept myself, so I didn’t know how to truly be kind to myself. It is almost like I didn’t really hear her words about compassion, they couldn’t find purchase in the ground of my being.
About a year and a half ago, I made a pact (for lack of a better description) with Source, the Universe, that I was willing to do whatever it took to learn to love myself without doubt. (As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for it has been some journey! And it is a longer story for another time). Loving myself without doubt is just what Pema talks about in the quote above “fully knowing ourselves and our world, just as we are”. Full acceptance of myself in this moment; moment after moment, continuously.
Loving myself without doubt, learning to live from an infinite heart, accepting everything just as it is, accepting myself just as I am; daily self-compassion practices are enlarging my capability to do these things. When difficulty arises in emotions, thoughts, or what is happening around me, I find I can more readily rely on myself, I can trust myself to find a way through in a loving manner.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams in an interview with Krista Tippet in the On Being podcast (I highly recommend you listen to this episode if you haven’t yet, or again if you have!) says, “Love is space. Developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are. That is love….to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us.” I feel like this is what is happening in my heart on this daily compassion journey, opening loving space for myself and others, accepting what is, and being directed towards wise action informed by this spaciousness. Linda Graham notes, “we practice self-compassion not just to feel better but to do better.”
As I said in my last post, these last two weeks I’ve done loving-kindness metta practice. I liked how this practice started close-in with myself and expanded out to others, even to those I find difficult. It has been a direct practice in enlarging the spaciousness of my heart. There were times, when I reached out to include those I find particularly difficult, I felt a burning ring of resistance around my heart. I had to take my time to incrementally expand my ability to extend loving kindness in these situations. I was able to do this in degrees, and I still have many degrees to explore in most circumstances!
I live my life in widening circles
For the next practice, I am going to practice the Hand-on-Heart exercise, also called Supportive Touch. Here are the steps as detailed on Kristen Neff’s website:
• When you notice you’re under stress, take 2-3 deep, satisfying breaths.
• Gently place your hand over your heart, feeling the gentle pressure and warmth of your hand. If you wish, place both hands on your chest, noticing the difference between one and two hands.
• Feel the touch of you hand on your chest. If you wish, you could make small circles with your hand on your chest.
• Feel the natural rising and falling of your chest as you breathe in and as you breathe out.
• Linger with the feeling for as long as you like.
I am going to modify the first step and regardless of how I am feeling, I will start my daily meditation practice with the deep breaths and intentionally place my hand over my heart. I’ll linger with this as long as I like, and then settle into my regular mediation practice.
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Namaste and blessings.
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