Compassion saying ‘no’ and saying ‘yes’

Sister Beatrix’s days as a postulant are unfolding, and each day Mother Magdalene observes her growth and is pleased with what she sees, all but for one thing. Sister Beatrix just is not able to discern when to say ‘no.’ Even in the cloister, with its schedule and practices of discipline and silence, Sister Beatrix is becoming increasingly frenetic with projects she has committed to taking up and to finishing.

Mother Magdalene sits with Sister Beatrix and shares this observation with her. Sister Beatrix replies, “But Mother, I thought that I should be of service to the other Sisters. Isn’t commitment to the life and projects of the community an important part of life in the cloister?”

Mother Magdalene smiled, and agreed that indeed that is so. Then she settled back into her chair and shared this story with Sister Beatrix.

A long, long time ago, when the Sisters of Mary Magdalene were a small cloister in the far off memories of those who live today, three elder women, one of whom had a bad reputation, came one day to Mother Achilles, the head of the cloister in those days.. The first woman asked her, “mother would you weave me a basket?” “I will not,” she replied.

The second woman asked, “Of your charity, weave a basket for me, so that we have a souvenir of you in the monastery.” But she said, “I do not have time.”

Then the third woman, the one with the bad reputation, asked, “Mother, will you weave me a basket, so that I may have something from your hands, Mother.” And Mother Achilles answered her at once, “For you, I will make one.”

The other two women asked her privately, “Why did you not want to do what we asked, but you promised to do what she asked?”

The Wise Woman, Mother Achilles, said to them, “I told you I would  not weave you a basket, and you were not disappointed, since you thought that I had not time. But, if I had not woven one for her, she would have thought, “The old woman has heard about my sin, and that is why she does not want to make me anything. And our relationship would have broken down. But now I have cheered her soul, so that she will not be overcome with sadness, self recrimination, and grief.”

 

“Dear Sister Beatrix,” Mother Magdalene continued, “Just as we must attend to authentic commitment and engagement within our community, there are also dangers of over involvement and over engagement that we must be aware of and guard against. Be cautious of anger, greed, a desire to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Be attentive to fining the middle path. Do your best each day, learn each day, and learn from your moments of frustration, learn new skills, learn when to say yes, and when to say no. Each in its own time. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. That is the heart of compassion, compassion that finds its roots in the knowledge that nothing human is alien to us.”

 

 

Please call me by my true names by Thich Nhat Hanh with comments from Ivan M. Granger

I have been in love with this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh for years. Every time I read it I am touched more deeply by the implications of the poem, by its call for compassion and justice. By its demonstration of the inherent unity of all that is, of all of us. And then recently I cam across a discussion of the poem by Ivan Granger. Beautifully said, Ivan (who I don’t know — yet). so, I thought I would share both with you all … think deeply, please.  … Mary

Please Call Me by My True Names

by Thich Nhat Hanh (1929 – )

 
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

1989

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh

 
Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself. 

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow — 
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, you can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin and moving point of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming. 

Look deeply: every second I am arriving 
to be a bud on a Spring branch, 
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, 
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death 
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth then, for the first time, we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this form of true witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is truly happening to ourselves and no other. And everything done, is done by ourselves and no other.

Please call me by my true names, 
so I can wake up, 
and so the door of my heart 
can be left open, 
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic and service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all oneself. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is yours as well. 

Compassion and an open heart are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and no effort at all.

Suffering, King Arthur, Empathy, Learning & Doing

Suffering, dis-ease, frustration, dissatisfaction, pain, misery, torment and grief – the disjointedness of so much of life – caused by desire, greed, and clinging attachments that manifest in possessiveness, ignorance, and aggression – suffering is ubiquitous. Suffering manifests in injustice and distortion of basic human rights. What do we do about this? For me it actions need to be grounded in recognition of and respect for the profound importance of empathy, and of empathy with all living human beings – deep, powerful empathy that evokes passionate and compassionate action. We need to understand each other, in each others’ terms, context, culture, history, and beliefs.  And we need to think about the implications of our culture, history and beliefs for other people – how does all of that effect their lives?  Then we can ask them to consider how all of their stuff affects our lives … and then we are ready to make some changes.

And all of that begins with understanding, understanding based on real knowledge …In his book, The Once and Future King T.H. White (1958, p. 183) presents a conversation between Merlyn and the young Arthur.  Arthur is still a child, and has no idea that he will one day be King of England.  He is anguishing over the loss of his childhood playmate and best friend, Sir Kay who is preparing to become a knight and so has abandoned his relationship with Arthur.  Merlyn counsels Arthur,

“ The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails.  You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

             Then when you know something, when you understand with your heart and mind, then go out and get your hands dirty (well engaged) and DO something. The Dali Lama once said, “compassion is not enough, you must act.” Truth be told, I think he was a little wrong. It’s not really compassion if you don’t act!