For our beloved lost ones …
We are in the hallway,
we have our books, our friends,
and every wild certain hope for the future.
We step through the front doors
and into the hallway,
end in sight, giddy for the outcome,
a turned corner, a new day,
for love, for lovers, for learning.
It is our work to be young,
to shoulder what responsibilities we can,
to live in a world with kindness,
to be protected. To be protected.
We have lost so much.
We have lost almost everything.
The hallways, now, lined with our terror,
the classrooms teaching principles
that are not abided by,
so our lives are torn asunder.
It is our right to be young.
We are taught to trust and obey
in something that is now sick and dying.
It is time to to tear these hallways down
and find what serves,
what is worthy of our belief,
to find a radical starting again.
To plumb the depths oceans
and scale the mountain peaks,
to sit in dark, quiet caves and listen,
to learn our truths for the first time in our young lives,
and believe in them above all else,
and build with love
on the ashes of our beloved departed,
grow flowers where they lie,
honour them every hour of every day,
not stop until what is sick is healed,
be the change that will save the world.
– Tammy Takahashi
The hint of absence.
I can feel
that I carry grief in me
that is far older
than I’ll ever be.
I know that this
is one of so many things
that unites me to you,
us to each other.
Let us take extra care.
We are visible.
We are invisible.
We do not always know
what we wear,
what visits, haunts,
confuses, wrecks us.
What is harbored,
what needs to emerge,
what needs to be held
With all our love.
How about, instead of asking
where I come from,
you ask me where I want to go,
and instead of offering your name,
you find self in a warm embrace?
How about a smile instead of a rebuttal,
an ear for listening instead of shouting?
How about looking at a rainbow,
and marveling at how few you’ve seen,
and are likely yet to see in this life,
and mark the day as a miracle?
How about making wondering,
wandering, too, your true vocation,
becoming a master in the art of awe?
How about looking around
and seeing it all for the first time,
inventing new shapes in the clouds
before they, too, disappear,
and how about inviting this change,
and finding beauty in what can’t be held?
How about finding a new perspective
instead of delighting in the already known;
how about finding and honoring
both the teacher and student in you?
How about taking your shoes off
and grounding in the earth,
and feeling this support through life?
How about talking to trees,
Finding songs in a breeze,
How about being still and
catching it all and remembering:
There is so much love where I am,
and I am here, and I am free.
- This article was first published on The Tattooed Buddha.
All my life, I’ve lived in my head.
My mother tells me that they used to sit me on the windowsill of my grandmother’s apartment when I was a wee one and while everyone else chatted away, I’d stare out the window, occasionally pointing at things and asking, “Sta?” I was in my own little world, fascinated with the world around me. This tendency to be introspective and observational by disposition has stayed with me.
When I was in my early twenties, a close friend told me that my best quality was my independence, and my worst quality was my independence. It was an astute observation, even if it did leave me a little unsettled.
I’ve also loved communicating and expressing myself as long as I can remember.
That’s actually not true; I was a very shy kid. However, once I entered adolescence and started understanding myself more in relation to others, I found I was a talkative, opinionated being who also needed a lot of alone time for reflection. I loved being around other people, mostly close friends but also strangers or acquaintances in large gatherings whom I could meet and learn about, after which I’d need a few days to recover.
These days, there’s so much talk about introverts versus extroverts. Back then, all I knew was that I counted on my “catch-up sessions” with myself and my journal to refuel and understand myself better.
I have identified more strongly with the quieter side. The more outgoing I appeared to be or was labeled, the more I actually wanted to dive into a corner and retreat into what I considered to be the most authentic version of myself.
It’s amazing how we cling to our identities, how long we can go in life without challenging our basic assumptions about ourselves, and how invisible these assumptions become as we take them to be incontrovertible truth about who we are.
When I was laid off from my job at the end of 2009 and decided to travel on my own, I deeply looked forward to my time away. While I knew I’d miss my friends and family, I was longing to get some distance from some of my unhealthier habit patterns, which I would have a chance to dissect and deconstruct. I had no fear whatsoever of travelling on my own; I reveled in it, though my old friend’s voice did nag at me a bit:
Am I too independent? Is this part of the problem? What is the problem, exactly?
I refused to believe that loneliness could be lurking somewhere within all the alone-ness I was embracing with joy.
A great teacher I met along the way said something striking to me when she told me that I had a great opportunity to really dive into myself and experience solitude, since I’m the type of person (incidentally, or not incidentally, a Gemini) who exists and thrives in communication. I was surprised. “But I love being on my own. I’ve always been quite independent and introspective, maybe too much.”
A raised eyebrow told me I had a few lessons coming my way.
Cut to a few years later, moving from the sometimes chaotic, often serene and always vivacious landscapes of Southeast Asia and India to Japan. My head and heart were filled with so many encounters with people met along the way, with whom I could share intimate conversations and learn so many things. My ears were still ringing with the jumbled notes of India—the soulful chanting, the “chai chai chai” invocations, the clanging of wares on street, the talking-yelling-laughing-bellowing-beckoning exuberance that was part of daily life there.
Japan is a very quiet place.
My more Zen inclinations reveled in, and continue to love this shocking change of ambiance. I have been rewarded often by ancient mountaintop temples, the tiny urban temples and shrines I visit squished between school and houses and shops, to feel the special charge in the air there. My heart is also warmed by the understated grace, kindness and gentility of the people here.
The truth is, though, that over time I have really had to come face to face with what it means to live without the social interactions to which I’m accustomed.
In a land where it’s not common for people to make direct eye contact or to invade the space of others in any way, where politeness reigns over intimacy in initial interactions, I find myself often contemplating my very visibility when I’m out in public.
If I sit in a café, I’m entirely left to my own devices, which makes me feel that I’m basically in a more crowded version of my living room. I’ve never realized before how much my café experience at home is informed by the chattering I can hear around me, the stolen glances, the smiles exchanged with strangers, the awareness that people around me are reading books I’ve read or have been meaning to read…
In other words, by a shared, common and mutually understood culture.
I’m learning that while I’ve always loved my alone-time, it’s also always been cushioned within the knowledge that I can go out and relate to others any time I feel the need; which, as it turns out, is/was more often than I realized.
As humans, we all live in relation to others. How these relations are expressed across cultures varies widely, but we all exist in a frame of reference that includes others. We are all interdependent. This is a fundamental Buddhist tenet—that of dependence-arising—and a truth that grabs me in the heart.
When we’re outside our familiar culture, we lose our direct grasp of this interdependence, or not know how to fit into the societal web around us, which can lead to well-documented feelings of unease and isolation. Most importantly, though, it’s a great reminder:
As much as we may value our independence—or as introverts, cherish our alone-time—we truly thrive not only when we have time for our own thoughts and feelings, but when can be active, sharing and giving members of our communities.
Exploring new lands and learning about new people is a wonderful thing that I thrive on and personally love. However, understanding how precious it is that we come from a particular place with unique sets of values and codes for social conduct is equally important, and not to be taken for granted. Our culture is not the totality of what we are, but nor should we deny the beautiful ways we have of connecting within our familiar environments; they are part of the fabric of us, and can be an integral facet of our evolution.
Living in Japan is really teaching me how important it is to feel connected and to share in a wider community with love, joy and compassion. Also, that we need to truly confront loneliness that exists within our alone-ness so we can learn to be in healthy solitude, and bring our best selves to the world around us.
The daughter asks:
Mama, why doesn’t the tree fly?
The mother answers:
Because it is a tree.
It doesn’t think of flying,
But look at its branches
Floating high in the sky,
Swaying in the breeze.
This looks a little bit like flying,
Don’t you think?
But why doesn’t the bird talk?
Because it is a bird.
It doesn’t think of talking,
But look how carefully
She feeds her young, and
Listen to the singing sounds
They make together,
As they pass each other by.
This is a little bit like talking
After all, wouldn’t you say?
But why doesn’t the rainbow stay?
Because it is a rainbow.
It doesn’t think of staying,
But look at the lasting
Impression rainbows make
Long after they’re gone,
And how they live in our memory.
This seems a lot like staying,
Wouldn’t you agree?
But why doesn’t the sky fall down?
Because it is the sky.
It doesn’t worry about falling.
But look at how we can’t tell
Where it begins or ends,
And how it comes all the way down
To meet us where we are.
That’s a little bit like the best,
Most hopeful kind of falling;
Do you think so too?
And what about us, Mama?
Why aren’t we kinder to each other?
Because we are human,
We do think about being
Kind to each other; we think
About it all the time.
We are sad when there is
Hurt in the world, and even
Sadder when we are the cause.
We are human, so we make many
Mistakes, and we still
Have so much to learn.
But we are trying, and this is,
Is it not, the kindest
Way we can begin?
*This poem was originally published on The Tattooed Buddha.
There are things we know.
We know them because, at the very bottom of things, we are all the same in at least one fundamental way: we are trying to be better. Better to others and to ourselves and to the world. Better as lovers, friends, care-givers, citizens, activists. Better as humans.
We want the world to be better, healthier and happier, and we have learned that to do this, we have to work on ourselves.
And so we find books and read what wise people before us have learned about the path of (self) realization. We learn, find communities of like-minded people, meditate, pray, and set intentions. We try to tread lightly on the Earth and focus on positive outcomes.
We have also come to understand that we need to be a little bit selfish in order to be more giving.
“I often joke, half sincerely and half seriously, saying that if we wish to be truly selfish, we should be wisely selfish rather than foolishly selfish. Our intelligence can help to adjust our attitude in this respect. If we use it well, we can gain insight as to how we can fulfill our own self-interest by leading a compassionate way of life.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We understand that we need to care for ourselves so that we can care for and serve others, that we can’t relegate ourselves to the far-off, dusty corners of the room and then expect to be a radiating presence when we step out into the world.
We have learned, in other words, that to self-nurture can possibly save the world.
But. But. What is most simple can be the most difficult thing to achieve.
How do we typically understand self-care?
We try to eat right, get enough exercise, breathe deeply, take time for ourselves, walk in bare feet on the grass, hug a tree, do creative things. We purge our spaces and try to simplify our lives. These are great things to do.
Still, we are consumed by the feeling that it is not enough, that nothing is happening, that we are not free of the darkest parts of us, ever-threatening to spill over and cause destruction from the inside out.
Maybe we need to simplify even further. Get down the very bottom, to the deepest, most basic nitty gritty of it all.
We want to learn how to love ourselves more? (Yes—self-care and self-nurturing necessarily lie on a glorious pillar of self-love).
How about starting with saying it?
I love you.
It’s not too difficult to tell ourselves that we should love ourselves, that self-love is our birthright. Right?
Yes, I love myself.
It’s not too hard to say it and even be a little bit convinced.
But now let’s try this: let’s go stand in front of a mirror.
Take a few moments, breathe deeply, and take a really good look. Contemplate what is right there. Notice the lines, the symmetries, the colours and folds of us, the changes. Make discoveries. It might be shocking, disappointing, refreshing, terrifying, exciting.
It probably won’t be boring, because we don’t often take the time to try and examine those aspects of us that manifest physically and ever-so-slowly on a daily basis. We have images of ourselves based on our thoughts and memories, on our best photographs scattered throughout the social media universe, and through what we’ve been told by others. So we come to feel we “are” a certain way that that this “way” is unchanging.
None of this is in the mirror staring back at us. The mirror can’t show us our memories, only what is there, reality as it is, if we’re being truly present to the moment. And we want to love all of it.
The first time I stared into my own eyes with the intention of telling myself “I love you,” I was startled by how reluctant I was, how I felt like I was taking up far too much space. I felt so incredibly naked, and a stream of thoughts and feelings coursed through me.
You’re not worth this exercise.
Go away and work on yourself some more first.
This is ridiculous.
(in a tiny voice) But I don’t love myself, so how can I say it?
I brushed aside my terrible fear of telling myself what I say so freely give to the people in my life who matter to me so much. I used my thinking mind to convince me that it was perfectly alright for me to do this exercise, that it’s meant for everyone. That I truly believe everyone is worthy love, and that this must include me.
Say it out loud, I told myself. It will be much more effective. I knew this because of how difficult the prospect was.
My face in the mirror looked at me expectantly, and very shyly.
“I love you.”
They were the loudest words I’d ever heard. Almost an intrusion. Love bit right into the gentle space of a world I’d concocted for myself that offered many paths of least resistance, where self-love was being shelved for another day.
Tears flooded my eyes instantly. I could feel the little girl inside of me filling up with hope and an openness I hadn’t felt in a long time.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I watched the tears roll down my cheeks, and a smile come to my lips; I noticed my mouth had a tendency to purse in a way that reminded me more and more of my mother’s mouth.
I come from my mother.
I come from a pure vessel of love.
I come from an enormous, aeons-long lineage of love. A human legacy of love.
It’s the simplest thing we can tell ourselves, and also the most shocking, and possibly the most activist-oriented and transformational thing we can do for ourselves, if we want to really begin
“I love you” is a great, powerful, tumultuous gateway to a universe full of infinite love, and what a service we’ll be doing the world if we can find our way there.
*Published in elephant journal, here.