Dear Still Water Friends,
A few weeks ago, I went to a weekend retreat with Pema Chodron (anAmerican Tibetan Buddhist nun) and she spoke about something that haschanged my practice and my life. Pema described a “softspot” that we all have — our vulnerability — like an open woundthat never healed. She talked about using the awareness of our ownwound as a direct path to bodhichitta, a way to open our hearts toothers. During the retreat I practiced staying connected with my wound,and in so doing, I began to connect with the wound in others.
My usual nature (and probably most of us) is to harden and shut downaround my vulnerability, to go to defensiveness when I feel pain. WhatPema taught was the practice of staying with our open wound, feelingthe pain of it, and then seeing how all other beings are operating fromthat same sort of pain. The kind of compassion that arises from thispractice is different from pity (where we set ourselves apart fromothers) — it’s more of a common understanding of humansuffering. As we stay with our own soft spot, we start to recognize howeasy it is to either lash out or shut down around our pain, and we findcompassion for others who lash out or shut down around their ownpain. Trungpa Chogyam describes this fearlessness as letting the world tickle your raw heart. This is a challenging practice for me.
So this Thursday I would like to share some of Pema’s teachingwith all of you. We will start by listening to about 10 minutes of Pemaon CD, then discuss our own experiences of our “soft spot” or our”genuine heart of sadness” (see quote below.) If we have time, we canshare the practice of tonglen, to help us cultivate fearlessness as weopen our hearts.
We will start our discussion with these questions:
- Where is our soft spot?
- When have we really felt it and faced it without fear or defensiveness?
- Have we ever had the experience of staying with our softspot long enough to feel a deep compassion for others in our samesituation?
- What blocks us from letting the world tickle our raw heart?
- How can our mindfulness practice help us?
- Are there other practices that help keep our hearts open?
Below are two quotes on bodhichitta, one from Pema and one from her teacher Trungpa Chogyam.
Also please note that Peter will conduct a Still Water MPC orientation this Thursdaybeginning at 6:30 pm. We will talk about sitting meditation and othermindfulness practices as well as provide information about the StillWater community. Those new to mindfulnesspractice are welcome, along with those with some experience andold-timers. (It is helpful but not essential to email us, at info@StillWaterMPC.org, to let us know that you will attend the orientation.)
I look forward to seeing you on Thursday.
From Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare You:
If we were to ask the Buddha, “What is bodhichitta?” he might tell usthat this word is easier to understand than to translate. He mightencourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. Hemight tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals,that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts andthe most prejudiced and fearful of minds.
Chitta means “mind” and also “heart” or “attitude.” Bodhi means”awake,” “enlightened,” or “completely open.” Sometimes the completelyopen heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place asvulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, withour ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Eventhe most vicious animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche putit, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”
Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion — our abilityto feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it wecontinually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. Weput up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies,barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls arefurther fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving,indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunatelyfor us, the soft spot — our innate ability to love and to careabout things — is like a crack in these walls we erect. It’s anatural opening in the barriers we create when we’re afraid. Withpractice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize thatvulnerable moment — love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment,inadequacy — to awaken bodhichitta.
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimesthis broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger,resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there isthe tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those whohave ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us greatcompassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when weare unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces throughour indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing thatwhen accepted fully can be shared with all.
Trungpa Chogyam Rinpoche, from The Sacred Path of the Warrior:
The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistentheart is full. You would like to spill your hearts blood, give yourheart to others. For the Warrior, this experience of a sad and tenderheart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, beingfearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you,you will hit him back. But we aren’t talking about that street-fighterlevel of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness.It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw heart. Youare willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face theworld.