This afternoon I finished watching "Becoming Nobody" a documentary about the Spiritual Teacher Ram Dass. Listening intently, I found myself finding an answer to one of the questions nagging at me the last few days after the election. Why did so many vote for a man who has been so cruel, so damaging, so insensitive. I'm sure there are many answers to this question, but the one that struck me came from a place I hadn't thought of before.
In the documentary, sitting cross legged, touching his chest, Ram Dass spoke of empathy. How living from one's heart, feeling the depth of one's heart, seeing and feeling suffering in the world causes such excruciating pain in the heart that one can immediately escape the pain by going to the head.
Our practice is to stay in the heart and in my words breathe through the pain of the suffering we see and feel in our world to experience empathy deeply.
As I wonder about this, I remember people I've known, myself included who have gone straight to the head when we have witnessed cruelty, unkindness, or pain. The mind jumps to justifications, excuses, sometimes even a selfish "better them, than me" relief, a self righteous shield "their choices were poor", a better than attitude, a superiority that explains away our position, our advantage over "theirs".
When I have acted from my head instead of my heart, I have felt myself retreat, the drawbridge closes, the moat fills up with murky water giving me a sense of false separation, protection. I close my heart not wanting to hear or see the truth before me.
One day, after a hard day working for an animal shelter many years ago, I looked in the mirror and could not recognize the person looking back at me. It scared me. As I stared into the mirror at the stranger before me, I realized how far I had strayed from my path. I was following policies, working in a system at the time, I didn't fit in. I was looking away, ignoring my sensitivity, my inner guidance, I was running from my heart, working in a job that was not right for me. I was stuck in my head, not listening to my heart's desire.
Being human, I guess all of us have looked away from another's suffering, avoiding our hearts to run away from the "excruciating pain" we don't want to have to feel.
Is it easier to justify caging children separated from their parents listing reasons in the head why this is okay, is it easier to turn away from sustainable practices to cash in on profits that cause so much damage to the environment and wildlife, is it easier to point fingers and blame instead of working together to find a compassionate answer, is it easier to follow policies instead of questioning why?
Is it easier to be closed in the mind, instead of open in the heart.
Living from the heart is painful. It takes great courage. It is not easy to feel the pain. To sit with the suffering.
“I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion--and where it isn't, that's where my work lies.”
This is the work that I am committed to. It isn't easy. I still fail at it especially when I don't understand why others make the decisions that they do. This afternoon, I think I found part of the answer. It's our avoidance of pain, the denial of the suffering of others that keeps us stuck in rigid belief systems instead of living, breathing and acting from the heart.