I call it my Buddhist rag, Lion’s Roar magazine, their tag line “accessible Buddhist wisdom for life today”. And I find that to be true. Once a month it lands in my steel grey mailbox and invariably therein shines some sparkling jewels. Words that inspire, motivate, clarify. The November issue has a conversation with Pema Chodron and Father Greg Boyle and when I read the following line by Boyle, I let go a big sigh, completely stunned:
“…if love is the answer, community is the context and tenderness is the methodology.”
It felt like shaktipat, a Sanskrit word meaning the transmission of spiritual energy upon one person by another. Right there in my humble dining room, tablecloth spattered with black bean soup, I was just stupefied. Because under the surface, unnamed as yet, stirring in the depths, a nascent feeling was astir that was exactly this. Because I have been so incredibly tender lately. Like I barely have any skin on. Permeable as an amoeba, the osmosis of life filtering unimpeded in and out.
Boyle goes on to say that “suffering gets alleviated in community with extravagant tenderness.” Mind you, not just tenderness, extravagant tenderness. “Tenderness becomes the connective tissue, as opposed to, ‘I love you.’ Somehow, tenderness is where you meet people.” Then Pema Chodron chimes in: “It’s a much better word than ‘love.’ ‘Love’ is so loaded it almost doesn’t touch you, whereas ‘tenderness’ actually does.”
And this just nails my current personal experience, this exquisite core tenderness an ever-present undercurrent in my aloneness. When I am with people…this soft aura between and around us. In community…this gentle affection extended to me, from me, cuddling me. And so the word “methodology” intrigued me. Can we learn tenderness? And could this be an embodied practice of the more esoteric “love”? Can we practice love? So I anchored my curiosity right there, which was easy because these feelings are arising with such frequency.
And here is what I’m discovering. Not surprisingly, tenderness is not happening in my head. In fact, if I’m busy up there, it’s not happening for sure. But when my attention is low in my belly and deep in my chest and there is awareness of the breath ventilating these regions….that’s when it becomes sensate. Join me for a brief moment, right there at your screen.
One hand low belly, other hand on the heart. Track the movement of breath in these two centers. Stay below the neck by negotiating equality between the two regions; the volume of breath that enters and exits belly and chest exactly the same. It’s a practice. Regulate for a bit. When you’re ready, inhale the tenderness the universe has to offer: sip in the way the trees shine in this waning light, the way a ripe avocado feels in your palm, the sensation of nuzzling an infant, stroking a puppy belly. Caressing your own heart right there. Tenderness abounds. Breathe it in. And when you’re ready, contribute the abundant tenderness gathering breath by breath inside you back into the universe via the out breath. Back and forth.
This is what we know for sure. When we use every available shred of discipline to drop down from thinking into body—again and again and again, no matter the thousand times we loop back up and come back down again—eventually the mystery opens to us. Tenderness is a physical embody-able practice…love is the mystery that opens when we practice tenderness. Aaah the mystery…we move together on shaky ground of late, so much we simply do not know. But there is one seemingly unshakable certainty: this ongoing practice of surrender. In this moment. And this one. And this one. This willingness to hand it over, align with the big whatever, yield to the mystery.
Especially when I’m still, I feel how much I’m living in the mystery of late. For readers who’ve been following my personal saga, I’m in deep appreciation for the tenderness you’ve extended through the cyber-waves. At first it was challenging to take it in. Dropping into the Grand Canyon felt a necessary refuge. Yet the above practice, coagulated by the musings of Boyle and Chodron, fashioned a way to immerse in this tender field and just be a channel for love. What else is there? Surgery is slated for the early morning of Friday November 16…the unknown will be less murky after that. Thank you for your love and support.
In fact, you can come out this Sunday and sweat your prayers in the “context of community”. So on the dance floor, so in life. In the face of the unknown, what is there to do but surrender to the mystery? Come feel it….