Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
- (Sufi Poet Rumi)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Students, and Masters, and Bears, Oh My!

Have you been grouchy lately with people you love and care for? Do you wonder how in the world you shall be compassionate, when you can’t even be civil to those closest to you? If this might be you, here’s a story about Grouchy Black Bear.

Black Bear came to a meeting late and said, “I’m feeling frazzled after dealing with my cub. What if I don’t feel compassionate?”’ Raven said, “Fake it.” “That doesn’t seem honest,” said Black Bear. “It doesn’t begin with honesty,” said Raven. (From Robert Aiken’s book, Zen Master Raven)

In this Zen story we imagine that we hear that honesty isn’t important – honesty about one’s feelings and needs in a particular situation. Actually holding one’s feelings/needs in tender awareness is primary in compassionate communication. What the story is saying to me is that there is a time to focus on another’s feelings and needs in empathy for the hope of understanding them. At first this might seem forced as the internal chatter is going on and on evaluating yourself or others. Yet over time practice can lead to an opening heart that flowers with greater possibility for authentic and loving relationships between you and another. Here is another Zen story that builds on this.

One day a student asks the Zen master, “Why are you hiding the final secret of Zen from me?” The master says that he has kept nothing hidden but the student continues to demand to know how to live the compassionate way. One day they are walking and a bird sings. The master asks, “Did you hear the bird sing?” “Yes,” said the student. “Then you know I have hidden nothing from you.” “Yes,” said the student.

In this story though the student had worked with the master for years, the artistry of Zen and living from the heart was not happening. The student was still trying to follow a formula, a description based on words, when actually Zen was “beyond words” just as Compassionate Communication is “beyond wrongdoing and right doing.” By hearing the bird sing the heart of the student was awakened, and she saw that living from the heart was the secret of nonviolent communication. It’s really not so much a secret, it just takes being open to hear the song of life around us and thus say yes to life!

For those times when the heart is struggling to be open, practice can help unlock the light within as more light of love enters. By checking in with another person and confirming what you understand to be their feelings and needs, there will come times when you are struck with heart felt compassion, and this can come as a joyful surprise even in the midst of your grouchiest days. Through practice we say yes to life. The hope is that every conversation, every thought, and every moment gives us the chance to practice the compassion we wish in the world. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make peace. Just say yes!

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