Life has been full of wonders–both painful and celebratory. A few friends are facing very hard times. A few others are leaping thresholds into sparkly new dreams. I want to be a good friend, and sometimes I struggle to stay on the greener side of the fence between true service and codependency. Is it healthy to cry for someone when she tells me that her infant son passed away? Is it right to give myself over to energy work for a friend who is sick from chemo? What do I do for a friend struggling with addiction? What do I do for someone in the throes of PTSD?
Fortunately I’m involved in a process called “aspiration.” It means I’m aspiring to take the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings (vows) within my Sangha (meditation community). Since I am an aspirant, I am incredibly blessed to have mentors, and there are four of them, and they are wise, caring, supportive, experienced meditators! They shine a compassionate light on my meditation practice and dole out wisdom that hits the spot. One of them, for example, reminded me of a tai chi master’s words: “The great way is not difficult — for those who have no preferences.”
One of my mentors has done a lot of “inner child work,” exploring his own childhood trauma and its resonance in present day life, and coaching others. He is a compassionate warrior of the heart, fearless in the places most of us run from. He reminded me that whenever we get caught up in another’s problems, there is likely to be a big emotion in ourselves that needs tending. He asked, “When you’re looking at these dark emotions, what are you afraid of?” I realized it was a fear of annihilation. Which is funny, because from a Buddhist perspective, annihilation isn’t so bad. It just means lack of ego, lack of separate self, interdependence with everything. Real annihilation is actually a relief. But the idea scares the bezeejus out of us.
I realized that I’ve been caught up in my friends’ dramas because it’s a way of avoiding my own transitions, my own shape-shifting life and uncertainties. I’m grateful to my warrior mentor for inspiring me to invite the strong emotions in, to sit with them, opening the heart to the hard stuff. As Rumi wrote:
This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Here’s to all the new delights, and the ease of annihilation, and May’s sunrise!