Tag Archives: Compassion

Neon Consciousness, Candlelight Consciousness

Neon and CandleJohn O’Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, A Celtic Book of Wisdom, talks about the dangers of “neon vision,” which he describes as the harsh, analytical light we often apply to ourselves when we follow the call of our spiritual hunger. I have mistakenly done this for years. While the self-awareness gained through mindfulness has been extremely fruitful, and while I have developed a rather eagle-eye in the world of inner-looking, that eye has a fierceness to it that can leave my skin feeling raw! I know I am not alone in this. Self-compassion is a big lesson for almost every serious seeker I know.

O’Donohue offers up “candlelight consciousness” as the alternative light within which to seek. I truly love this metaphor! He says, “Candlelight perception is the most respectful and appropriate form of light with which to approach the inner world.” Can you feel this? The softness, the romance, the “beloved” within that phraseology?

This morning, as I sat on the patio with my journal and tea, a squirrel skittered down the overhanging branch of a tree a few feet away and began to chatter loudly, insistently. Eventually, I realized he was talking to me, so I walked over to the tree limb, and said, “Hello!” He looked me squarely in the eye and responded in squirrel language. I said “Hello,” again. He responded again. I asked, “How are you?” He said whatever it was that he said. (I don’t speak squirrel, but I felt like he said, “It is important that you pay attention to me!”) This went on for 2-3 minutes, until I pulled out my phone from my robe pocket to take a picture, and of course, then he scampered away.

I relate this a bit to “neon consciousness, candlelight consciousness.” When I just enjoyed the moment for what it was, we communicated. The minute I tried to capture and substantiate it with the photograph, turn it into something, it was if the doorway into that other dimension closed. I don’t know. I could be making great leaps here. 🙂

But I googled the Native-American symbolism for squirrel and though there was the obvious imagery about “gathering,” the thing that jumped out at me was the message of “play.” I definitely need more play in my life. That feels like candlelight consciousness, too, doesn’t it? It is time to soften up. Yes, do our gathering for the changes ahead, but don’t go nuts with it! Yes, keep being watchful, but do so in the warmly lit landscape of kindness, of enjoyment. We are on a grand adventure, not stuck in an endless curriculum.

I think this could become a mantra for me – “Candlelight consciousness.” What do you think?

Blessings!

Tigers Above, Tigers Below

“A woman is running from tigers. She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds on to it. Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.” – Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.

The perfect strawberryThis is such a perfect example of a Zen teaching in its simplicity and its subtle potency. It is my meditation for today.

In all of our lives, there come pockets of time when we are experiencing tigers above and tigers below. I am in one right now. A series of revelations has brought me face to face with the hard, clinging nature of my ego, this fist of self-protection that has cramped into a knot and won’t seem to let go. I feel it in my mind, but I also feel it in my neck and chest and belly.

One of the many lessons I have learned in meditation is that emotions can have long life-spans if they are not allowed to be experienced.  I don’t even know what the rational circumstances are behind this fist of fear that has arisen and made itself known. I only know how primal and shameful and terrifying it feels. The meditative path instructs us to simply feel the feeling; drop the storyline and feel the feeling. So that is what I am attempting to do. No commentary, no analysis, no finger-pointing inwardly or outwardly, just experience the emotion. Most of the time when I have done this, the process moves rather quickly, but this particular fist is quite tenacious. I have faith that it will open, though, and I’m practicing the lessons I’ve been taught. I’m breathing with it,  and I’m offering myself as much  patience in this place as possible.

The challenge today is to seek and enjoy the strawberry, to be with the joy that is also available in the midst of all these raging tigers. This itself is a huge teaching, for instantly we experience just how strong the pull of problem-focus can be! When we are able to turn our attention from the tiger to the strawberry, however, we reconnect with a force within us that is far more potent than any challenge!  And we discover that right in front of us, in the very now of life, there is always something sweet to experience – a piece of fruit, a smile, our own continued pulse. When I think of this…as I write this to you…I find that I can breathe a little better.

If you, too, are experiencing tigers above and tigers below, take some comfort in knowing you are not alone! I am right there with you! One of the greatest gifts the tigers have to offer is an expanding compassion for others who are caught in a similar struggle. That compassion flows both ways. As I think about all those around the globe who might be suffering in this emotional way or in another form – as I offer my prayer that your pain be lifted, whatever it may be – my own challenges seem less isolating and more useful, more bearable. This is how we touch.

Blessings.

Compassion 101

Image of woman holding the worldPerhaps the most universal of spiritual concepts, across all religions, is compassion; yet so few of us practice compassion in its truest sense. From the Latin “cum” and “pati” the words come together, meaning “to suffer with.”

When we are genuinely compassionate toward someone, we become willing to suffer with the person who is suffering. This is a much more demanding action than sympathy or pity.  Compassion requires a subjective experience, whereby we commit ourselves to stepping into the skin of the other, seeing through their eyes, feeling what they feel, and walking the proverbial mile in their moccasins.  This is hard to do!  It requires:

  • The conscious decision to override our instincts of self-protection.
  • The willingness to temporarily suspend our own point of view for the sake of understanding and caring for the other.
  • The live, awkward transition from comfortable and familiar objectivity to uncomfortable, unfamiliar subjectivity and its inherent vulnerability.
  • The willingness to feel pain.

COMPASSION-2I am captivated and humbled by the four steps listed above, that came forward as I began to write. Theoretical compassion and experiential compassion are two different things.  Practicing compassion is a life-long unveiling and a subject that is so rich, countless books about it have been written, yet it still boils down to a day-by-day, moment-by-moment, one-on-one commitment to courageously engage in vulnerability and kindness.   Even the most committed of us  have their blind spots in this regard, perhaps the biggest toward our very own selves.  I know I do.