Opening our hearts to hate and fear

With the election of Trump, I feel a tsunami of hate has been unleashed surging around the world, in which so many acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia and prejudice have been legitimised using Trump as a role model. The fear at the root of this negative, destructive energy is swallowing up not only those who are the targets of this hate, but also the perpetrators as well. Hatred wells up out of fear, out of ignorance, out of a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless. And yet, even if we meet this hatred with anger, then we too become consumed by its energy. So how are we to deal with these negative energies? Where do we find comfort? How do we protect ourselves?

I have often been asked how I deal with the negative energy of angry or aggressive people I encounter, or how I cleanse the energy of Wabi’an to make it clear and pure, or how do I protect myself from negativity. But spiritual practice for me is not about building armour around myself or my sacred spaces; it is about learning how to open my heart wider and wider so that negativity simply flows through. Openness is not the same as filtering; it is not that your heart becomes a strainer collecting all the crap! The practice is to open your heart until it is like the vastness of the sky.

2016-11-17_sky

In Japanese Buddhism, the word for emptiness is the same as the word for sky, so that when we practice “emptiness” it means to feel like your heart and mind are as vast and open as the sky. In meditation terms, this is “sky mind”: a feeling of complete expansive openness. When your heart is as wide as the sky, that ’emptiness’ is then filled up with feelings of unconditional love and compassion for all beings. And this includes unconditional love for those who are tormented by the hate that leads to harmful actions. This practice of opening your heart is the antidote to fear.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t feel anger or sadness or the need to vent and rail at injustice. I felt so sad after the news that Trump was to be president because I have many dear friends who are suffering a deep and genuine grieving at this turn of events and who fear for themselves and their children. And I also believe that there is no one who is not going to impacted by this – in Australia, as well as America, and in fact all of the world. His presidency is a harbinger of dark times.

It’s natural to feel these strong emotions, and indeed you can use these emotions as an object of meditation: when you feel angry, feel it with your whole body, feel where in your body that anger expresses itself, explore that part of your body with careful attention and mindfulness. You don’t have to berate yourself for having strong reactions to everyday life events, but it is important to use those feelings as a focal point for your attention. Ask yourself, what is happening inside me when I feel this anger? This shift in awareness is enough in itself to also dissipate the intensity of the emotion.

But after the rant, there has to be a conscious working towards collective healing. I have always felt secure and safe, ensconced in my little cocoon of isolation here in a beautiful corner of the planet, surrounded by my birds and trees and Kuan Yin blessings; and yet, I cannot ignore the burning heat of the negative energy of the anger and fear that is now corroding the peace of the people I care about and love. It is up to you and I to make a commitment to keep practicing opening our hearts because the world is suffering and our genuine, unconditional love is the only balm for our own grief and pain and it is the only antidote to hatred.

The events surrounding Trump’s election have deeply rocked me and I can no longer be complacent. I am now definitely out of retirement and I am available for spiritual counselling if you need support or guidance for your own spiritual practice. You can make an arrangement to visit me at Wabi’an or have an appointment via Skype. Let’s work together to heal all sentient beings  ❤

 

 

A year with my mother

When I said early last year that I was ‘retiring’, little did I know what challenges the following year would hold. It was as if, without realising it, I was clearing the space so that I could be completely available for the journey I was to share with my mother in the following year. Shortly after I decided to withdraw from my public role as a Buddhist priest, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. What had started as a little sore on her face, which she thought was just a mosquito bite, became a virulent facial cancer that quickly spread to the lymphatic nodes in her neck.

And so I became her primary carer throughout the ordeals that followed as her medical team worked to save her life by extensive face and neck surgery, which left her terribly disfigured, and brutal doses of radiation treatment, which caused her enormous pain, utter debilitation and the distress of losing her ability to eat and speak. The doctors held little hope of her recovery and the treatment was in order that she could die in the least amount of pain. It didn’t seem likely that there was very much of a win any way you looked at it. Then after the radiation finished, when she was supposed to be recovering, my mother suffered from a severe MRSA infection of her radiation burns that meant she another long stay in hospital, extremely ill and in continuous pain.

But throughout this nightmare, my mother met these ordeals with enormous courage, humility and dignity. And she was always so appreciative of every little kindness or attention shown to her by the wonderful nurses in the hospital and at home and she never complained. I saw a side of her that deeply moved and inspired me – she was nothing short of truly heroic!

Then, after all this, in order to give a final prognosis, she had another PET scan to see how far the cancer had progressed in her lymphatic system, but the medical team was astonished to find that the cancer had disappeared! This was completely unexpected as the surgery and radiation were seen as palliative measures only. The doctors were at a loss to explain it. However, for my mother the explanation was simple. She was absolutely sure that what had cured her was love: the love of her children who rallied to help, the love of her friends who prayed for her, the love of the nurses who cared for her. She said that throughout these terrible ordeals she could nonetheless feel healing love flowing through her body and she said she drank it up as a sweet medicine, focussing her meditations on fully opening to this love that was all around her. Then as her strength slowly returned and she felt her life-energy returning, she meditated on feelings of gratitude as a way of returning that love into the world.

16.08.19_blossomsAt the time when my mother’s suffering was at its greatest, the almond blossoms at my home were blooming. I cut a twig of almond blossom that still had tight buds and I placed it in a bottle by Mum’s bed. One by one the blossoms burst open and then gradually the petals fell. Mum and I would meditate on the beauty of the almond blossom and reflect on how fleeting and beautiful life is. Even when all the petals had shed, we left them there because somehow they seemed to embody the journey we were sharing. Then, after all the suffering was past and the healing had begun, a whole year and a lifetime later, the almond blossoms once again bloomed this week and again I took a twig of blossoms over to Mum. When she saw the twig she immediately recognised its meaning and we both just hugged and cried because those blossoms still embodied that journey we had taken and yet here we were a year later, still together. It was indeed a miracle.

For me, to bear witness to my mother’s pain and to share in her journey was a tremendous privilege. It is so hard to watch someone you love suffering and to feel that there is nothing you can do to alleviate that suffering. But now I know that the greatest healing gift you can give a loved one who is in pain is to bear witness to their pain with love, to hold their hand and feel your own healing love flowing from your heart into theirs. This is the source of all miracles.