There are some places that are special to us. As one of my teachers, Lama Lena, once said, they have ‘more place-ness’ to them.
For me, one of these is in the woods where I walk the dogs. On the river bank, leaning out of a stony bank, grew a beech tree. As I passed under its branches, day after day, month after month, year after year it became a place that I paused, appreciated the birdsong and sound of the river, and often sat and meditated for a few minutes.
Two weeks ago I had a lot of internal turmoil going on. As I approached the tree I paused, as usual, and it felt as if it offered a compassionate presence as witness to my suffering. Simply being in this place, under these welcoming branches, transformed my state of mind completely. As I touched its rough bark, covered in ivy, I noted the slant of the trunk and the thought passed through my mind that one day it would topple over. And then, giving thanks for this place and the gift of that moment, I walked on.
I was away for the weekend, and when I returned four days later I found the trunk completely snapped in half. When I saw this I was shocked to the core, it was a huge reminder of the mortality of all things. Invisibly, rot had set in and finally the trunk could not support the weight of the branches. And yet the beauty and grace of the tree, even in its demise, was clearly apparent. So I did all I could, which was to offer my own compassionate presence to honour its passing.
I realised in that moment that the deepest and truest compassion arose in me when I was fully aware of and facing the depths of my own suffering, of the destruction inherent in all creation. It is a deep recognition of the way things are. For us to be birthed, our mother goes through pain. For us to eat, something has to die. I see this expressed in my husband’s paintings, in many great works of art, in many of the most touching pieces of music. They draw something out of us that brings us fully into life with all its joys as well as its sorrows.
Lama Lena is coming to Devon to share teachings on compassion next weekend. The weekend retreat is almost full, and there is also a public talk in Totnes on Sunday 29th June. Do come and join us. More info at www.lamalenadevon.weebly.com
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