Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Compassion on the Hiking Trail

I have been playing “House” this week in Santa Fe, pretending I live here for five starry nights and six bright New Mexico-blue filled days. I brought the boys (8 and 9) out for Spring Break, taking on the 1300-mile drive alone as my husband is back in Dallas working. Due to the nature of my work at the museum, we aren’t together much, the boys and I, and this concentrated time has been precious and unparalleled. We will always have Santa Fe.

In my continuing study of compassion and lately self-compassion, I wanted to give us this time together in the spirit of good health inside and out. Our first stop was Whole Foods, where we filled the basket up with healthy, “whole” foods and made a pledge to cook at the house as much as possible. I am learning from Mark Hyman’s study of eating whole foods and healthy fats, and his books (Blood Sugar Solution, Ten-day Detox, Eat Fat, Get Thin) are the inspiration for our menus.

Our second pledge was to spend as much time as possible off-line and outside. The playground at the Fort Marcy Recreation Center has been our respite and our source of sunshine and all things local. The moms I met compassionately fortified me with dozens of ideas of where to find art and fun for kids in Santa Fe. The boys made new friends we would meet back at the park the next day. I sat for long big-sky hours reading Natalie Goldberg’s latest tome The Great Spring.  And yes, it is.

But it was on the hiking trail where I found real compassion lives: alongside whispering pines and knotty juniper. Real compassion is found where, not surprisingly we are happiest: on the trail. I first noticed the courtesy with which we happy hikers greeted each other, “hello” and “how’s it going” at every passing. We smiled at each other, sympaticos in this glorious human experience of the Bandelier National Monument in the springtime. We made eye contact and smiled often. Hikers stepped off of the trail for us, putting us before them. At the ladders a natural priority was given to those coming down, as it was clear safely descending 140 feet on wooden ladders was other’s first concern. It was beautiful.

I also observed patience amid the cool breezes and quick captures of a Mule Deer or two in the wilderness. It was the protocol that families and groups would each climb up into a cave dwelling to experience it together. The practice is to climb, peer, marvel, experience, imagine, capture with the iphone and then climb back out. This process took several minutes for each small group: complete with little toes seeking the next rung, cameras and coats, and newborn babies in backpacks (yes). The courtesy and patience expressed in that very long line in the sunshine was a marvel to experience. We talked to each other. We shared the union of joy and anticipation. We carefully stepped to one side for those bypassing the cave. It was peaceful and ordered. No one was in a hurry. We were already in the place we needed to be. We were present.

Generosity is also found in abundance on the hiking trails. A mother offered to take our photograph (post 140-foot climb) in the Alcove House. Families offered helping hands to each other as we met in craggy corners. As we crossed the river, one family offered to share a picnic.

On these hikes this week in the Jemez, Little Tesuque and Sangre de Christo ranges, I am learning that compassion lives where courtesy, patience, being present and generous are a natural and intuitive way of being.

What if life was like this? How could we be as happy as we are on the hiking trail, facing each bend with similar anticipation?

Whom will we meet?

What will we see?

Whom will we take care of and who will take care of us?

Compassion lives fully in this experience, the one where we are all experiencing something beautiful and new, challenging and awesome.

And isn’t that life?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Not Mine

I arrived as the season was changing. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade. I am back in the place where I was a month ago: the place where there was a lake and the lake was drained for maintenance.

Four weeks ago I wrote about transformation and how a lake, drained, reveals all of the things we didn’t know about it: cracks and crevices, mysterious tundra and underwater worlds. It was all there, the cover pulled back for us to see something new, discover something both about the lake I hadn’t known before and, the things I didn’t know about me.

Nature has her way of surprising us. Like the sun at sunrise, the sun that, when the viewer turns away after taking seventeen photographs of the horizon, offers one last burst of miraculous color and light.

Overnight, just this weekend, the heavens poured down in a landmark rain, and, well, the lake is full again. This lake: the one that took over 50 days to drain in January is full overnight. And it is beautiful in a new way. It is miraculous knowing this lake came from the sky, to sit in this basin, at least until the need to drain the lake happens again, or drought happens or more water comes through from the upper creek on the next property. 

This lake came from the sky, and now it reflects the sky. Is that possible?

Like this lake, is it possible to know where compassion comes from? Compassion: a word I’ve been saying in new conversations since late last year. I knew it one-way through studies of the Bodhisattvas: Tara, Avalokitesvara and others. And now I am learning it a different way:

• Looking at the museum team as one with a culture of compassion

• Looking at where compassion lives in our museum and in the Dallas Arts District

• And perhaps most urgently: looking for where compassion lives in me.

Am I really compassion? When I roll my eyes at something I don’t like, or throw off a righteous reaction: one that says, “I am right, and it was really supposed to be this way”. I am not compassion, and I am not right.

Let the eyes that roll be my mindfulness bell that my way is not better or more right than any other way.

Let me learn to study my reactions, the quick ones that are angry and hurtful, and help me see that reacting and worrying and criticizing take compassion out of the air like a hot fire sucking up oxygen.

Last week as part of A Study of Compassion I interviewed Swami Sarveshananda from the Chinmaya Mission. I asked him about where compassion lives and is taught in the teachings of Hinduism. I asked him about concepts such as namaste, environmentalism and the possibility of seeing the other (whether human or the earth) with tremendous respect: so much so we even take ourselves out of it. Na-ma of namaste literally translates from the Sanskrit as “not mine”. As if to say “I see you and all that is in you and I honor all of the light in your being”.

Or in other words, “it’s not about me at all”.

I asked the Swami what he worries about, what keeps him up at night.  He stared back at me squarely and said, “I don’t worry about anything. Worry does not exist. Worry is just an interpretation.” These words fell over me like a hug from an old friend I haven’t seen in twenty years.

For the Swami, and for all of us: worry does not exist. Reacting with hate does not exist: what we think is wrong or upsetting or “the worst thing ever” is really just a moment inside of many moments, and they all fall away with no more or less weight than any other moment in the day.

As I study compassion I want to study this and watch it in me, as I believe these reactions can be my own bell to be a teacher of compassion to myself. I want to focus all of that energy on the other: the person with the light and ideas and possibility. I want to listen.

What if instead of reacting, instead of inhaling sharply or rolling my eyes, I just say with a peaceful heart:

That is a great idea.


Tell me more about it.

And then what happens?

Only the possibility of a new conversation, one that is “not mine” one that is ours and one that reflects the light in the sky that I came from.

And then I will know that, yes, I am compassion.