It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
In the way that erosion makes every face in nature more elemental, everything we go through only makes us more real. Once we give up our masks and excuses, we are humbled to accept the tenderness of having nothing between us and this thing we call life. It is this fragile, resilient state that lets us breathe more deeply, that lets us hear what love has to say, that lets us experience Oneness over the idea of Oneness. The more real we become, the more we experience love over the dream of love. Until Love and Oneness emanate in the coffee steaming as I wait for my wife to come out of the shower while our dog is belly up, her tail wagging at the supreme joy of absolutely nothing. It is then that I admit that I am hopelessly simple, gratefully simple, eager for the moment at hand to stay unadorned and free of veils. There is no five-year plan or bucket list or dream of living in another country. There is only breathing in the country of this moment where everything touches everything else. And though tomorrow, I will drift or fall away from this bareness of being, I remain devoted to all the things, pleasant and harsh, that help me return.
Like everyone, I was taught that justice is blind, then given a scale to weigh and measure everything. Then, I was told on the sly that everyone peeks and puts their finger on the scale. And years later, after tumbling through the labyrinth of almost dying and waking up, I chanced upon the words of a man who lived fifteen hundred years ago who said that the urge in us to save a child from falling in a well is what makes us human. This was the Chinese philosopher Mencius and he used this image to define the notion of Ren. It makes me think of my first dog, Saba, who as pup in the snow for the first time fell into an iced pond. My heart pounded and without any conscious choice, I was in that pond lifting her back into life as she was sinking. It makes me think of my oldest friend, Robert. When I came to after having a cancerous rib removed, he was over me with a washcloth on my head. It makes me think of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal where two hundred years ago a janitor was revealed as a healer. There is now a wall of crutches from all those he lifted back into life. It makes me think of the ancient shamans who somehow believed that to lay hands on the ill with an open heart would draw the toxins from their bodies and their minds. It makes me think of Jesus telling the wealthy merchant to drop his scale and enter Heaven now. The truth is that, like so many of us, I have been burdened by the hell of weighing, when Heaven waits in the things that matter that can’t be weighed. In truth, I owe everything to those who have saved my life and yours, dropping everything to pull us from the fire.
A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe your own firsthand experience of how being stopped opened you to more than just your life.
Somehow, when I face what is mine to face and empty myself of all that is agitating me, I go clear like a lake after a storm. It is then that I can see through to the bottom of what is me, only to see that I share that bottom with all other beings. When I face my heartache and reach its bottom, there is the bottom of all heartache which is both comforting and renewing.
In this brave and tender way, resilience is accepting strength from everything that is not us. When being ourselves to the bottom of our personality, we trip into the well of all personality. When giving all our care to what is before us, we trip into the well of all love. When diving through the depth that some call soul, we swim in the depth of being. Once opened that deeply, summoning and marshalling what is dormant in us to face the situation at hand empowers our fortitude.
In a moment of exhaustion, my mind was too tired to keep weaving its web and my heart was too tired to keep the world at bay. In that sudden stillness, I realized that, as a patch of water when still will reveal the bottom of a lake, the blessing of the ordinary is that any moment met with stillness will reveal the whole of life that resides under everything. This is the power of presence. When fully present, we can see through all trouble and turbulence. Through meditation, we can breathe our way back into presence. Through love, we are softened back into presence.
She was standing in the aisle as the train bumped along the Hudson. She was looking in her bag, as if she’d lost something important. She just meant to check that it was still there, like when she reached for her wallet the other day, just to make sure she didn’t leave it on the counter in the drugstore. Or like reaching for that small photo of her son who was now gone. Is it there? How could she go on without it? The more she looked, the more desperate she became, as if she couldn’t find her heart. Where did she leave it? She began to search her mind for when she last took her heart out. Did she leave it on the table at the restaurant when the young couple reminded her of her first love? Or did she leave it at her son’s funereal? Did it fall into his grave at the cemetery? She had to find it or she couldn’t go on. I began to ache for her, saying to myself, “Keep looking. It has to be there. You can’t lose something like that.” But then, I slouched, remembering the times I’d lost my heart and how awful the weeks before I found it. She began to cry and pull at her bag, as if it had betrayed her. My heart began to pound. Things started to spill from her bag onto the floor. I moved closer, thinking, Now that I’m in this, I have enough heart for two. I touched her arm. And the extra heart she’d given me by being so real in her fear of loss in the middle of a train—I gave it back by holding up her bag which was falling. She gasped for air, as if waking from a dream of drowning, and put her hand to her chest. It had been there all along.
Confidence is not the swagger or certainty with which we convey what we know. It is the fidelity with which we listen to and relate to the irreducible foundation of all life. For there is a difference between how we carry what we know and how we know what we know.
Leon Felipe was a Spanish poet and friend of the great Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Their personalities couldn’t have been more different. Pablo was outgoing and uninhibited, exuding his curiosity and care into everything. Leon was more introspective and hesitant around others. While the shy poet admired the soaring presence of his friend, he knew he could never approach life that way.
I doze in the hammock, and this book of voices from long ago falls from my lap into the grass. And these ancient voices say to me in my sleep, While you are not suffering, give to those who are. When I wake, the page where Li Po spoke of dead soldiers’ horses wailing to the sky is stained by the grass. The wind lifts my face to the east where we are at war in our own time. How do I hold the suffering of others in the middle of such a calm and beautiful day? We each can do the breaking. We each can be broken. We each can hold. We each can be held. I feel powerless in the presence of such suffering, and yet it’s the strength of our attention that makes a difference. The breath of this day keeps lifting my head. Is it enough to be kind where we are?
If you don’t know,
then ask the moon in the sky.
Trying to prove that all things
are connected is like piling up
snow in a silver bowl.
As soon as you bring it inside,
what you’ve gathered will vanish.
For truth like the ocean is hard
to see once in it.
I can only say that the things that
matter are always there like stars
in the daytime.
Kindness sleeps in our heart
the way flowers are compressed
in their seed.
Everything is waiting for the right
moment to break ground.
I am always here for you.
What is compassion but drifting in the immensity of life with an open heart? We bump into and pass by so many torn and budding lives along the way. Some are like us, many are not—on the surface, but under it all, we remain the same ounce of spirit carried in skin and bone. One of our jobs, then, is to learn how to relate to the cascade of others that rise and fall around us. The practice of compassion is how we learn that we are each other. And the practice of expression is how the heart knows itself.
Early on in life, there is an initiation into the practice of compassion through the commonality of our experience with others. If I have suffered and healed from a broken heart, then when I witness your heart breaking, I can easily identify with what you’re going through. If you’ve lost your job and come into my life when I’m laid off, we can easily meet in our common struggle through adversity. If I’ve felt betrayed by a friend or loved one and I’m with you when you are betrayed, we can quickly form a bond that will help each other through. This sort of compassion, based on our common experience, is an ongoing apprenticeship that never ends.
Our job while here is threefold. First, like a mountain that is steadfast in meeting the elements, we are called to face the wear of time, so we can reflect and endure the truth revealed. Some say this is doing nothing. If so, it is a noble nothing that in time reveals everything.
Second, like a river that is relentless in how it carves its path to the sea, we are called to bring what is true into the world. Some say this is our vigilance for justice. If so, this is a noble doing that in time honors everything.
And third, like a tireless seeker who finds God in the smallest pebble, we are called to care for everything in our way. Some say this is impossible. If so, this is the noblest errand of all—to go nowhere like a mountain and everywhere like a river until we turn nothing into everything with the small lift that some call love.
As the unseen wind moves from the azalea to the young willow, the unseen force of Spirit moves from you to me and on to those yet born. Still, the azalea doesn’t become the willow, even though they root in the same soil. In just this way, you stay you and I stay me, though we are informed by each other, just by virtue of how Spirit moves through all things. Under the circus of appearance, all forms are knit into a barely perceptible weave of being that spans from the stars to the endless drip in the darkest caves. And though the star never touches the cave, the light and dark inform each other. We carry their essence. As I carry you, though we have never met. I carry the dream you are about to wake in. And you feel my sadness as a sudden cloud blocking the light. We arc in a dynamic elegance that no one orchestrates, though no one can come alive without feeling its pull.
A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a time when you felt the wind of life move through someone you care for. What did this look like? And how did this affect the person you care for?
How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love?
If you put down what you carry
in case of emergency, you will make
space for what can really help. For
clutching onto failure or success
will only make you sink.
The apple blossoms behind Susan’s studio are opening and the weeping cherry is turning pink. And today, we have coffee on the deck, our faces in the sun. Everything is so peaceful and full of quiet that we can, for the moment, forget that the Earth is draped in a pandemic. Still, all things are true and all things are happening at once. As I breathe in the early light, someone is taking their last breath. As I wrestle with a jolt of fear, a couple is making love for the first time. As a thousand things are falling apart, another thousand are coming together. This ebb and flow on a cosmic scale is what keeps the Universe going. It feels inevitable that the more I can’t go anywhere, the more my heart travels everywhere—across the globe, then back and forth through history.
Join Panache Desai every morning and for support in reconnecting to the wellspring of calm and peace that lives within you and that has the power to counterbalance all of the fear, panic, and uncertainty that currently engulfs the world.
Designed To Move You From Survival and Fear to Safety and Peace