borage in my garden
Last night it took a long while to clear my mind well enough to fall asleep. I am a skilled meditator and have a good practice of keeping myself grounded, but dear god— I was taken to the very edge last night as the specific horrors of what the US government is doing at the border with Mexico and that this same government– of a country I was born and raised in — chose to leave the UN Human Rights Council. Well, combined with a host of other family and friends I am supporting as they go through personal challenges, it really cut me off at the knees.
It took me a while, but I did find my way back to center — to my truth– that we are all connected. When people act from fear with anger and aggression– that is their ego, their confused mind. What I have learned over the years and put into daily practice– following the teachings of people who speak to my heart such as Eknath Easwaren, Mary Oliver, Joseph Campbell, John O’Donohue and Byron Katie– is this:
defense is the first act of war
This is inordinately challenging — someone hurts us, shouts at us, attacks us, attacks our loved ones– of course we want to hurt them back, to kill them. But this is not peace. We cannot end war with war. And, if there is war in our heart– our individual, personal heart– there will be war in the world outside of us.
I didn’t invent this– it just is the reality of the human experience.
If we believe in non-violent protest, and I do, it must begin in our daily life– otherwise, we are carrying our angry, hurt heart onto the battlefield. And that, my friends, we have centuries of examples how that only perpetuates more destruction, more carnage, more suffering, more war.
Once upon a time, I did not want to be in this world. As a child of a man whose family fled Belgium the morning the Nazis arrived, the books in my house were all about WWII and the holocaust. I know I have written about this before– not probably the best stuff for an 8-year old to be reading– but the imprint on me was so deep. As a child, it was more than I could possibly understand so, mostly, it just bred fear and confusion in my heart. As an adult, I can’t say I know why the world is the way it is– but I do have more understanding about what I am to do: cultivate peace in my heart.
Not easy, but a practice I am committed to.
Thich Nhat Hanh says,
in the garden of my heart
the flowers of peace bloom beautifully
This is a man who kept connected with the divine while bombs dropped all around him during the Vietnam war. He was a young monk, but he was able to hold fast in this midst of unthinkable horror.
Chances are you are not reading my words with bombs dropping around you– chances are you are safe, fed, warm, loved. And yet, you can help the world if you bring your attention to the ways in which you are at war– with yourself or others. The ways your are unkind to yourself or others.
It is a wild thing to see how we can share so much with another person– the same DNA, a cherished hobby, a passion for the environment, a love of music– and yet find ways to be angry with them, disappointed in them– at war with them. “You didn’t take out the garbage when I asked you to!” “You hurt my feelings!” “You aren’t listening to me!” “You don’t love me!” Or, more often, directed at ourself “You are so fat!” “You didn’t do that right!” “You are not enough!” “Why can’t you be more __fill in the blank__!”
If we can be at war with people this close to us–
why should we be surprised when we are angry with the “stranger” who lives at the end of our street, or the “strangers” from another state or country?
I’ve shared the following anecdote before, but it really sums it up for me one single moment in our daily life– which is where we have the power to stop the war in the world outside of us. And these moments are all around us, all. the. time.
It was about 7:30 am — and granted, even on the best of days I am a slow driver plus I don’t have a job to get to so am not generally in a rush– so there I am, pulling into the bank parking lot which does not have another outlet– you enter and exit in the same place. As I pull in, it looks like all the spots are taken so I pause because if that is true, I will have to back up. Before I can back up, a guy pulls up behind me and lays on his horn while shouting at the top of his lungs “YOU FUCKING STUPID BITCH, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? FUCKING MOVE!”
Remember– it is early morning, so I am in a rather quiet place, internally– and, I had barely stopped before he pulled in so it felt shocking.
At another time in my life, I would have reacted with equal violence — shouting right back– telling him where to get off–etc. But that is not what happened on that day.
I laughed. And trust me– this guy was big, angry and pretty scary looking. I just couldn’t help it. I smiled at him and said, “dude, you don’t even know me. We haven’t even met– there is no possible way I am the one that caused this much anger.”
He gave me the finger, whipped his car around mine and drove to the end where he came face to face with the fence when he saw what I had already realized, he was going to have to back up. But I didn’t stay to watch that. I simply backed out, turned the wheel and headed down the street.
His violence and anger did not come with me.
I took the photo of borage this morning. Some of you know this is my ‘spirit animal’ flower– borage has such power to heal the heart and gardeners say that planting borage in your garden make all the plants around it do better. I love that image and I hold it close when things feel overwhelming and I can’t breathe.
Be the borage. Meet the world with an open heart. In the most beautiful advice from Saint Francis — no stranger to the healing power of gardens, animals and children —
may we be a channel of peace
where there is hatred, let us sow love