My Buddhist monk friend, Minh C. Nguyen, and his monk and nun friends dropped by Saturday morning. Welcoming them into our home, smiling into each other’s hearts, and walking the pier together through our cypress swamp retreat brought me great happiness. Later, I wondered why. My curiosity arose and continued through the weekend. What is it about connecting with people from all across the globe that makes my heart happy?
This morning I was responding with joy as I saw a Facebook notice from Ida Hertz that my two friends in Denmark, she and Lone, were part of the spread of our Compassion Cultivation Training there, along with Thupten Jinpa, Leah Weiss, Margaret Cullen, and others in Europe. How is it that something happening across the globe can bring full-hearted happiness into the swampy, sultry, hot and humid region we call ‘Nawlins?
Then I see the photo of us 2017-2018 graduates of the teacher-training program from the Compassion Institute. I remember the faces of my new friends from every continent. I can still see us all gathered in a large room in Los Altos, California, meditating, experiencing that oneness which seems to flow from settling into the Center of Being together, and then it hits me: “Wait a minute. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the act of meditating with others opens the heart to each other, makes way for us to experience our innate connection across the invisible web of divinity. Maybe meditating together cracks the door of imagined separation enough to let loving-kindness and happiness flow through.”
Then I wondered further: “Could it be that even meditating by myself somehow opens the same door? I spend a little time each morning with the guided meditations to cultivate compassion. I settle into the inner stillness of centering prayer. No one else is around. Could even that welcome the global community into my heart and widen the happiness door a little more? Is that how they draw near in my heart, even when they are not close?”
Then more curiosity followed: “Why does connecting with new people from everywhere, strangers if you will, trigger heartfulness in me? I know this has nothing to do with me. It is something much bigger than me. Seeing strangers seems to trigger fear, resentment, and even hatred in so many people these days. It’s like an epidemic. Why are some of us drawn to connection while others are moving away from it as fast as possible?”
Answers do not come easily when people are complex. And we humans are about as complex as it gets. But here is what I think might be happening. I think contemplative practices widen the heart. I think they cause us to welcome the stranger. I think they lead us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” And I think we are made for this.
Contemplative practice to me means practicing the presence of Great Love, or God, or whatever term we use for this Something-Bigger-Than-Me. If this Presence is love, then it follows that practicing love, or opening to love, leads to a direct experience of greater love. If the heart is made for this widening, this “love of neighbor as ourselves,” then each opportunity for the heart to widen/open to a new person would make the heart happy. If this is true, it would explain both halves of the current global situation.
People who are not engaging in regular contemplative practices, i.e. practicing oneness with love, are experiencing a closing of the heart. That makes the heart unhappy. And the longer people go without experiencing oneness with love, the more unhappy their hearts. Could this explain the angry faces, the shouting, the belittling of others, and the rampant attempts to throw out and throw away anyone who doesn’t look the same as us? Could a very unhappy heart lead men to hurt women, and children, instead of cherishing them? Could that be how anyone can hurt anyone else?
People who are engaging in regular contemplative practices are experiencing an opening of the heart. That makes their hearts happy. And the more they are practicing, the more happiness they are experiencing in their hearts. Could this explain why some people are taking radical steps to welcome their neighbors: marching in support of women/immigrants/LGBTQ communities/people of color, passing out water at bus stations, opening their homes, adopting children, working for victim rights, visiting prisoners, etc.?
I mean come on people, you gotta know that there is an incredible amount of good being done out there. Compassion is flowing globally, even if it rarely shows up on the evening news. This should make us all wonder: “What is the difference between the haters and the lovers?”
Since I am really smart, naturally I think I am right. (You know how that feels don’t you!) And maybe I could be making this whole issue too simplistic. But I think I might be onto something about how practicing the presence of Love makes the heart happy, and vice versa. And I am not the first to have this “Aha!” (It turns out that a few other people who are less famous than me, like Jewish authors of scripture, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and even Oprah, have seemed to agree).
Here is my challenge to all of us across this spinning blue/green globe: Let’s engage some contemplative practices each day for the month of October and see if we change a little, see if our hearts become happier as we find it amazingly easier to welcome ALL our neighbors into our hearts. Practicing the Presence of the Great Love each day can’t hurt. And who knows, it might help. Go ahead. Give it a shot. And see if a happy heart follows. Start today.
[In case you are free to be inspired on Saturday, October 20, you might like to come to New Orleans to hear Anne Lamott, best-selling author, share from her new book: Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. She includes some notes on the benefits of dropping hatred and cultivating love for self and others. Signed copies of the new book come with a ticket. You can get tickets through the website for our School for Contemplative Living: http://www.thescl.net].