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Turning One’s Eyes Toward Suffering

I just realized something this morning. In preparing for my first dharma talk which I’ll be giving at Kumeido in Little River this afternoon, and I was thinking about my travels in India, I was thinking about the eye contact I would try to have with people while there, especially the people asking for money in the streets. I tried very hard to have connection with people, to not turn my heart away from them. Sometimes it’s easiest to give money since it’s kind of an escape route, but when I didn’t give money or food to someone, I would try hard to at least give them contact, meaningful loving eye contact. It’s a very difficult practice, and this morning I just realized why. People would think that it is difficult to look into the eyes of suffering, and I would agree with that, but what is becoming clear is that it is our own suffering that we don’t want to look into the eyes of. We may be thinking that we don’t want to see the suffering in others, but I honestly think the primary reason for that is that it touches the deepest places within us, of our own suffering, and the feelings that arise are generally too scary for us to open to. The image here is one I took in Tiruvanamalai in India. He was a man who stood on the road I would walk on multiple times per day, with his deformed right hand outstretched. Having contact with him was an important part of my practice while there, and I took this picture the morning I was leaving having spent a few weeks there.

The piece that helped me to really realize that was a quote that my friend Diane sent to me from Pema Chodron:

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”

And so keeping my heart open and trying to be aware of when I am leaving that place, trying to look “clearly and compassionately” at myself, has become my practice lately, beginning in India and continuing here in the states.

For those of you who aren’t really getting this approach, the point for me is really one of awareness, of paying attention. The next time I find it hard to look someone in the eye, I now have more perspective and awareness from which to look at that resistance, and over time it will hopefully dissolve, and the ease with which my heart can open and connect will grow. Another quote, this from Swami Rudrananda may help to illustrate that:

“Out of the raw material you break down, you grow and absorb the energy. You work yourself from inside out, tearing out, destroying, and finding a sense of nothingness. That nothingness allows God to come in. But this somethingness – ego and prejudices and limitations – is your raw material. If you process and refine it all, you can open consciously. Otherwise, you will never come to anything that represents yourself…The only thing that can create a oneness inside you is the ability to see more of yourself as you work everyday, to open deeper and say, “Fine, I’m short tempered,” or “Fine, I’m aggressive,” or, “Fine, I love to make money,” or, “Fine, I have no feeling for anybody else.” Once you recognize you’re all of these things, you’ll finally be able to take a breath and allow these things to open.”

How true.


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