The root of compassion is compassion for oneself.
- Pema Chodron
I’ve mentioned the book, Buddha’s Brain, that I’m reading in a past blog, Loving My Brain as a Happy Puppy, and I said way back then (oh where does time go?) that I would continue with more of what I’ve found in there. The following passage I feel is so important to our pushing forward as a species that I’ve decided to simply type in the entire section for you to think about.
BEING ON YOUR OWN SIDE
It’s a general moral principle that the more power you have over someone, the greater your duty is to use that power benevolently. Well, who is the one person in the world you have the greatest power over? It’s your future self. You hold that life in your hands, and what it will be depends on how you care for it.
One of the central experiences of my life occurred one evening around Thanksgiving, when I was about six years old. I remember standing across the street from our house, on the edge of cornfields in Illinois, seeing ruts in the dark soil filled with water from a recent rain. On the distant hills, tiny lights twinkled. I felt quiet and clear inside, and sad about the unhappiness that night in my home. Then it came to me very powerfully: it was up to me, and no one else, to find my way over time toward those faraway lights and the possibility of happiness they represented.
That moment has stayed with me because of what it taught me about what is and isn’t within our control. It’s impossible to change the past or the present: you can only accept all that as it is. But you can tend to the causes of a better future. Most of the ways you’ll do this are small and humble. To use examples from later in this book, you could take a very full inhalation in a tense meeting to force a long exhalation, thus activating the calming parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Or, when remembering an upsetting experience, recall the feeling of being with someone who loves you – which will gradually infuse the upsetting memory with a positive feeling. Oh, to steady the mind, deliberately prolonging feelings of happiness as this will increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which, will help your attention stay focused.
These little actions really add up over time. Every day, ordinary activities – as well as any personal growth or spiritual practices – contain dozens of opportunities to change your brain from the inside out. You really do have that power, which is a wonderful thing in a world full of forces beyond your control. A single raindrop doesn’t have much effect, but if you have enough raindrops and enough time, you can carve a Grand Canyon.
But to take these steps, you have to be on your own side. That may not be so easy at first: most people bring less kindness to themselves than to others. To get on your own side, it can be helpful to make a convincing case for tending to the causes that will change your brain for the better. For example, please consider these facts.
- You were once a young child, just as worthy of care as any other. Can you see yourself as a child? Wouldn’t you wish the best for that little person? The same is true today: you are a human being like any other – and just as deserving of happiness, love, and wisdom.
- Progressing along your path of awakening will make you more effective in your work and relationships. Think about the many ways that others will benefit from you nurturing your own development isn’t selfish, it’s actually a great gift to other people.
Now I hope you will all get the book, Buddha’s Brain, and enjoy the great info on how you were designed from the get go for bliss.
And, of course, I can’t leave without including this wonderful poem.
I love myself when I want
Everything – when I know
Everything. In my self, in
My own heart. The world does
Not condone this, this kind
Of knowing – the smallest child
Gets whacked for such behavior.
Just this morning my three-year-
Old and I fought it out at the
Door – he wanted to open it,
So did I. I opened it – we both
Walked through. Sometimes, I
Just want to be alone in my heart,
In my soul, in my body – sometimes,
I just want to open the damn door
Myself without thinking of someone
Else. Sometimes, I think the best
Thing we can do for our children is
To teach them how to fight
For what they want – because
If they, too, want everything,
And dare to love themselves, they’d
Better grab that handle, and when
The way is clear, pass through.
And when the way is clear, you
Are alone, even if a billion
People are on your heels,
Or one small child, we enter
Different rooms. We could
Each describe it differently –
Why we came, why we stay.
Why we leave. I’ve been in many
Rooms, and have come to realize
The fullest room was empty. To
Get there you must sass back
God and fight him for the door.
And when you enter, you must
Laugh at the empty fullness
Greet your perfect self in the
Corner –and when she, the Goddess,
Asks you what you see, as clouds,
Thin air, float by: you must
Answer: I see the
Freedom. She isn’t pleased
Or displeased – she’s been expecting
You forever. She knows what
- Alma Luz Villanueva
Villanueva is the author of 6 books of poetry, and four novels – one of which won an American Book Award. She also has another novel forthcoming. She is a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico who dropped out of highschool in tenth grade to have her first child. She later finished college and earned her MFA. She survived a brutal first marriage, and is now a grandmother with four grown children.
I love what she says about poetry: “It’s the source, the mother tongue…the sun, moon and stars. Almost daily I will sit down to my poetry first and see what it has to tell me…..writing to me feels like pregnancy, carrying it and birthing it.” She has also referred to her grandmother, who died when she was twelve, as the source that her poetry comes from, and when she reads her work to a group, she will say that “she’s here with us tonight.”
To encourage you to love all that you are, what you consider failures as well as successes, here’s a wonderful quote of Antonio Machado’s that I say to myself often to keep on keeping on: I dreamt last night, oh marvelous error, that honey bees were inside my heart making honey out of all my past failures.
There must be something to this loving the Self because Jack Kornfield, a wonderful Buddhist teacher and author, sometimes even encourages people to do a YEAR of loving kindness toward THEMSELVES, so it must be a powerful practice.
Since I’ve worked with shamans for many years, I have also become very aware at how the natural world talks to us, works with us, and one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in that realm was the day that my Doberman, who never brought anything to me in his life (asked or not) came out of the woods carrying a deer antler in his teeth. He came right over to me, and placed it in my hand. This told me I needed to be more kind to myself – something I was aware of but had not yet acted on. It also happened when I was being particularly critical of my Self. To learn more about how the animal world speaks to you, read Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak, and/or work with Jamie Sams Medicine cards to find your totem. Both books go into how nature works with us all of the time. We simply need to pay more attention.
To encourage someone on this journey to loving the Self, click on CH-018 and considering sending this to her/him.