Sangha Body

Excerpt from Mindfulness Bell post based on a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in September 1996

We all need love. Without enough love, we may not be able to survive, as individuals and as a planet. It is said that the next Buddha will be named “Maitreya,” the Buddha of Love. I believe that Maitreya might not take the form of an individual, but as a community showing us the way of love and compassion.

The basic condition for love is mindfulness. Unless you are present, it is not possible to love. Learning to be present may sound easy, but until you get the habit, it is not. We have been running for thousands of years, and it is difficult to stop, to encounter life deeply in the present moment. We need to be supported in this kind of learning, and that is the work of a Sangha.

The Sangha is a jewel, no less important than the Buddha and the Dharma. Please practice Sangha building. Stick to your Sangha. Without a Sangha body, sooner or later you will abandon the practice. Take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Sangha always carries within it the Buddha and the Dharma. The Sangha is a holy body. Don’t look for holiness somewhere else. Don’t think that holiness is only for the Dalai Lama or the Pope. Holiness is within you and within the body of your Sangha. When a community of people sit, breathe, walk, and eat in mindfulness, holiness is there, and we can recognize it. When you take one peaceful step, you touch the earth with your holiness. If members of the Sangha practice mindfully together, the Sangha is holy. We have to learn to take care of our Sangha body. We nourish our Sangha body by practicing deeply together with friends.

The Sangha can be described as a stream of life going in the direction of emancipation, joy, and peace. The only condition for us to enter the stream of the holy Sangha is that we practice. If we do, we will obtain “stream entrance” right away. This was the word used by the Buddha. If we embrace the practice of mindful living, we join the Sangha and enter the stream. This is the first holy fruit we obtain as a practitioner. It is not difficult. If you want to practice in a joyful way, build a Sangha where you are. The Sangha is your protection. It is the raft that will carry you to the shore of liberation. Without a Sangha, even with the best of intentions, your practice will falter. “I take refuge in the Sangha” is not a declaration of faith. It is a daily practice.

If you are going to dig a well, you cannot dig down a few inches and say, “I give up. There are too many stones.” Your teacher and your brothers and sisters are the earth you are digging into. Digging a well is not easy. If you throw away your practice—your shovel—you will not succeed. Dig down inside yourself, into your own mind. Drink the pure, sweet water of the earth.

We have to learn to practice meditation collectively—as a family, a city, a nation, and a community of nations. A Sangha that practices love and compassion together is the Buddha we need for the twenty-first century. It is up to us to bring the next Buddha into existence—Maitreya, the Buddha of Love, Ms. Love, Mr. Love. We have the privilege and the duty to prepare the ground for bringing that Buddha to life—for our sake and the sake of our children and our planet. Each of us has a role to play. Each of us can bring the Buddha into our daily life by practic­ing mindful living. Each of us is a cell in Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of the twenty-first century, the Buddha of Love.

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Observing Mind, Using Mind

Excerpt from “Budda Mind, Buddha Body” chapter “Finding Your Mind” by Thich Nhat Hanh

When observing the mind, you use the mind. And what kind of mind are you using to observe? If you mind is caught in anger, confusion, discrimination, then it’s not clear enough to do the work of observation, even if you have expensive scientific instruments.

The body is the bodhi tree.
The mind is a great bright mirror.
Every day you have to wipe it clean
so that dust will not cover the mirror.

–Shen Hsiu

There’s no such thing as the bodhi tree.
There’s no such thing as the great bright mirror.
From the beginning everything is empty.
Where can the dust cling?

–Hui Neng

The purpose of meditation practice is to help us have a clear mind to observe and help us untie the knots inside. Everyone has notions and ideas, and when we are stuck in them, we are not free, and we have no chance to touch the truth in life. The first obstacle is our concepts, our knowledge, our ideas about the truth. The second obstacle is klesha, our afflictions, like fear, anger, discrimination, despair, and arrogance. Walking sitting, breathing, and listening to a Dharma talk are all ways to help sharpen the instrument of our mind so it can observe itself more clearly.

When you listen to a talk or read a book about the Dharma, it is not for the purpose of getting notions and ideas. In fact it’s for releasing notions and ideas. You don’t replace your old notions and ideas with new ones. The talk or the writings should be like the rain that can touch the seed of wisdom and freedom within you. That’s why we have to learn how to listen. We listen or read not to receive more notions and concepts, but in or order to get free from all notions and concepts. It’s not important that you remember what what was said, but that you are free.

Only mindfulness allows us to live in such a way, deeply touching the wonders of life, so that every moment can be a moment of healing, transformation and nourishment.

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Four Layers of Consciousness

Excerpt from Lions Roar post “Four Layers of Consciousness” by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Buddha taught that consciousness is always continuing, like a stream of water. Consciousness has four layers. The four layers of consciousness are mind consciousness, sense consciousness, store consciousness, and manas.

Mind consciousness is the first kind of consciousness. It uses up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” consciousness that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. When we speak of mind consciousness, we’re also speaking of body consciousness, because mind consciousness isn’t possible without the brain. Body and mind are simply two aspects of the same thing. Body without consciousness is not a real, live body. And consciousness can’t manifest itself without a body.

It’s possible for us to train ourselves to remove the false distinction between brain and consciousness. We shouldn’t say that consciousness is born from the brain, because the opposite is true: the brain is born from consciousness. The brain is only 2 percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.
We can economize the energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.

The second level of consciousness is sense consciousness, the consciousness that comes from our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. We sometimes call these senses “gates,” or “doors,” because all objects of perception enter consciousness through our sensory contact with them. Sense consciousness always involves three elements: first, the sense organ (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, or body); second, the sense object itself (the object we’re smelling or the sound we’re hearing); and finally, our experience of what we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching.

The third layer of consciousness, store consciousness, is the deepest. There are three aspects of store consciousness. The first meaning is of a place, a “store,” where all kinds of seeds and information are kept. The second meaning is store consciousness doesn’t just take in all the information, it holds it and preserves it. The third meaning is the sense of processing and transforming.

The work of processing on this level is not expensive. Store consciousness doesn’t spend as much energy as, for example, mind consciousness. Store consciousness can process this information without a lot of work on your part. So if you want to save your energy, don’t think too much, don’t plan too much, and don’t worry too much. Allow your store consciousness to do most of the processing.

During the night if your room becomes cold but you continue to sleep, your body can sense the cold without the intervention of mind consciousness. Store consciousness may give the order to your arm to pull up the blanket without your even being aware of it. Store consciousness operates in the absence of mind consciousness. It can do a lot of things. It can do a lot of planning; it can make a lot of decisions without your knowing about it.

It’s an illusion that we are free. The degree of freedom that our mind consciousness has is actually very small. Store consciousness dictates many of the things we do, because store consciousness continuously receives, embraces, maintains, processes, and makes many decisions without the participation of mind consciousness. But if we know the practice, we can influence our store consciousness; we can help influence how our store consciousness stores and processes information so as to make better decisions. We can influence it.

Store consciousness offers us enlightenment and transformation. This possibility is contained in its third meaning, its always-flowing nature. Store consciousness is like a garden where we can plant the seeds of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and then flowers, fruits, and vegetables will grow. Mind consciousness is only a gardener. A gardener can help the land and take care of the land, but the gardener has to believe in the land, believe that it can offer us fruits, flowers, and vegetables. As practitioners, we can’t rely on our mind consciousness alone; we have to rely on our store consciousness as well. Decisions are being made down there.

Store consciousness is also a victim. It’s an object of attachment; it’s not free. In store consciousness there are elements of ignorance—delusion, anger, fear—and these elements form a force of energy that clings, that wants to possess. This is the fourth level of consciousness, called manas, which I like to translate as “cogitation.” Manas consciousness has at its root the belief in a separate self, the belief in a person. This consciousness, the feeling and instinct called “I am,” is very deeply seated in store consciousness. It’s not a view taken up by mind consciousness. Deeply seated in the depths of store consciousness is this idea that there is a self that is separate from non-self elements. The function of manas is to cling to store consciousness as a separate self.

Manas is always operating. It never lets go of store consciousness. It’s always embracing, always holding or sticking to store consciousness. It believes store consciousness to be the object of its love. That’s why store consciousness isn’t free. Manas is born and rooted in store consciousness. It arises from store consciousness and it turns around and embraces store consciousness as its object: “You are my beloved, you are me.” The function of manas is to appropriate store consciousness as its own.

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Invoking the Bodhisattvas’ Names

From “Chanting from the Heart: Buddhist Ceremonies and Daily Practices” by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village

We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara.
We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and openheartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person. [bell]

We invoke your name, Manjushri.
We aspire to learn your way, which is to be still and to look deeply into the heart of things and into the hearts of people. We will look with all our attention and openheartedness. We will look with unprejudiced eyes. We will look without judging or reacting. We will look deeply so that we will be able to see and understand the roots of suffering, the impermanent and selfless nature of all that is. We will practice your way of using the sword of understanding to cut through the bonds of suffering, thus freeing ourselves and other species. [bell]

We invoke your name, Samantabhadra.
We aspire to practice your vow to act with the eyes and heart of compassion, to bring joy to one person in the morning and to ease the pain of one person in the afternoon. We know that the happiness of others is our own happiness, and we aspire to practice joy on the path of service. We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others. We know that if we practice wholeheartedly, we ourselves may become an inexhaustible source of peace and joy for our loved ones and for all species. [bell]

We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha.
We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering,
oppression, and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who
cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more
hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need. [bell]

We invoke your name, Sadaparibhuta.
We aspire to learn your way of never doubting or underestimating any living being. With great respect, you say to all you meet, “You are someone of great value, you have Buddha nature, I see this potential in you.” Like you, we will look with a wise, compassionate gaze, so we are able to hold up a mirror where others can see their ultimate nature reflected. We will remind people who feel worthless that they too are a precious wonder of life. We vow to water only the positive seeds in ourselves and in others, so that our thoughts, words, and actions can encourage confidence and self-acceptance in ourselves, our children, our loved ones,
and in everyone we meet. Inspired by the great faith and insight that everyone is Buddha, we will practice your way of patience and inclusiveness so we can liberate ourselves from ignorance and misunderstanding, and offer freedom, peace, and joy to ourselves, to others and to our society. [bell, bell]

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Cultivating Boundless Love

Excerpt from Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center post “Cultivating Boundless Love”  by Senior Teacher Mitchell Ratner

Dear Friends,

The words metta (Pali) and maitri (Sanskrit) point to an all-encompassing and liberating form of love celebrated by the Buddha. Nyanaponika Thera explains in The Four Sublime States that metta is:

Love, without desire to possess, knowing well that in the ultimate sense there is no possession and no possessor: this is the highest love.

Love, without speaking and thinking of “I,” knowing well that this so-called “I” is a mere delusion.

Love, without selecting and excluding, knowing well that to do so means to create love’s own contrasts: dislike, aversion and hatred.

Love, embracing all beings: small and great, far and near, be it on earth, in the water or in the air.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Metta Sutta ends:

“Free from wrong views, greed and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice Boundless Love will certainly transcend Birth and Death.”

In our program this Thursday we will will talk about metta, practice a way of cultivating metta described below, and explore metta meditation’s relevance for our contentious times. This topic arose because I was so drained by watching the Senate Judicial Committee hearings last Thursday, and so restored last Friday by practicing Metta Mediation at Lafayette Square, across from the White House. Afterwards, I noted in my journal how it affected me:

The Metta meditation we use at the Still Water Lafayette Square sittings begins with four simple statements:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be truly happy and free.

At 12:30 pm I invited the bell three times and said the first statement softly to myself. I listened to the words and paid attention to my underlying intention. Then I did the same with each of the other statements. Saying them slowly. Listening deeply. When I was done I repeated the set three or four more times, it took about five minutes.

Then I moved on to the people close to me, replacing the “I” in each statement with “my loved ones.” With each statement I brought to mind a particular person, or group of people: my immediate family, my children’s families, my sibling and cousins, my good friends, and so on. Again, I went through the four statements three or four more times.

The next set focuses replaced “I” with “people who are neutral for me.” As I went through the set of four statements, with each statement I focused on a particular person or small group who happened to be in my line of sight between me and the White House.

Young man on an electric scooter, may you be filled with loving kindness.

Elderly couple, may you be well in body and mind.

Family with two young children, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.

Middle-aged woman texting as you walk, may you be truly happy and free.

As I said these silent prayers for people I did not know, I felt my spirit lifting. After the usual three or four rounds, I went through a couple of extra rounds, simply because it was enjoyable.

Then I moved the meditation to “people who are difficult for me.” At first I went through a set thinking generically about people who work in the White House, “may they be filled with lovingkindness.” Then I started adding the names of people who work in the White House: the president, the vice-president, the press secretary, cabinet secretaries, and so on. The assumption I make that allows me to send love to people who I believe may be causing suffering for others is that people act in mean or insensitive ways because they suffer. If they were “truly happy and free,” it would be easier for them to listen to others, and they would not knowingly hurt others.

After a minute or two going through my list of people associated with the White House, my metta meditation spontaneously switched to the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Republicans and Democrats:

Ted Cruz, may you be well in body and mind.

Kamala Harris, may you be safe from inner and outer dangers.

After watching many hours of belligerent hearings, I was aware that I had absorbed some of the underlying energy. Offering metta meditation to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee soothed me, relaxing some of the tightness around my heart. I hoped that my metta meditation would soothe them, also, even if only an infinitesimal bit.

The final set of statements replaced the “I” with “all beings.” As I went through rounds of the four statements images appeared in my mind’s eye: including the grass in front of me, the small insects who live in the grass, places of great human suffering like Syria, and assaults on the ecosystems, such as the Pacific trash vortex.

After the sitting, walking to Metro Center, I was more aware than before of my feet touching the ground and of the wonders around me. I felt renewed, as if my spiritual body had received a restorative treatment.

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Sangha Bell Practice

Excerpt from Snowflower.org blog post “Sangha Bell Practice” by SnowFlower practioners

“The bell master holds and protects the space for everyone.”

How to Invite the Bell (by SnowFlower practioners)

What helps me is to very much center in my body as I recite the gatha and to be aware of the connection between myself and the bell. I feel the bell and myself are one.

Inviting the bell is like meditating. Some people recite a gatha but I do not not because I am not a word person. I first come into a focus place of concentration and then a wide place of opening the heart. Both of these are in the chest.  I am not really me at that point any more. From that openness, I invite the bell.

I get quiet inside myself and I allow myself to feel the texture of the bell. I feel my breath moving in and out and I say the gatha to myself slowly and calmly. When I don’t take my time, it gets kind of messy. Then, I invite the bell.

I hold the bell in my left hand, fingers spread apart. I approach it with compassion, with love, and try to imagine, to hear in my head, the sound that I hope to produce. Then I wake it very carefully. I start by holding the inviter against the rim where I intend to invite it and then carefully return to that place.

First, I breathe at least three times in and out and then I say the gatha and I think about –in the sense of I just know –how important the sound of the bell is. Then I bow and I pick up the bell in a mindful way. I hold the inviter vertically. I breathe again and then wake it up. I breathe. I invite it and then I let it ring out. I put it down very carefully

Bell Gathas (most frequently used)

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
And transcend all anxiety and sorrow.

Listen, listen, this wonderful sound
Brings me back to my true self.

Terms

Lingering bell — The bell is allowed to complete its full sound. Used before and after each round of sitting meditation and before and after Sutra and Mindfulness Trainings recitations.

Stopped bell — All bells during reciting and chanting are stopped bells, to facilitate the flow of the recitation.   The bell should not continue to sound under our words. The bell is “stopped” by touching the inviter to the rim of the bell after an appropriate length of time, e.g. one, two, or three breaths, depending on the text.  “Stop” the bell during a Guided Meditation and during the recitation of Sutras, Mindfulness Trainings, and, generally, wherever (bell) is indicated in the text.

Waking the bell – Always wake up the bell before inviting it.  This is out of consideration for the bell if it has not been used for a time, and out of consideration for the hearers so that they are not startled by a loud sound if they have been sitting in meditation.  To wake up the bell means to touch it firmly with the inviter and not move the inviter away. This muffles the sound.

Inviting the bell – We say ‘invite’ the bell, meaning invite the bell to sound. The bells we use cannot be ‘rung’ and Thay explains that ‘striking’ the bell is too harsh a term. “We never say ‘strike’ the bell, because for us the bell is a friend who can wake us up to full understanding.”

Welcoming the Community

Wake up the bell, then one full sound of the bell.  Making this full sound is called inviting the bell.

Sitting Meditation

Before the first sit, wake up the bell, then three lingering bells with three breaths between each bell. At the end of the sit, first wake up the bell, then one lingering bell. Follow exactly the same procedure for the second sit.

Walking Meditation

Wake up the small bell. At the first invitation of the small bell, the community rises and puts aside their cushions.  At the second invitation of the small bell, the community bows to one another. At the third invitation, the slow, clockwise walking begins.

After an appropriate length of time, the fourth invitation of the bell announces the end of the meditation and indicates that we should continue walking until we arrive at our place, where we remain standing until everyone else has also arrived at their place. At the last invitation of the bell, we bow to one another and take our seats for the next round of sitting.

When the group is too large for one circle, two concentric circles are formed. In that case, with the 4th invitation of the bell the walking stops and we remain standing in place where we are. The bell is invited one last time and at this invitation we bow to one another and proceed mindfully to our places. It is not necessary to explain “the five bells” for walking meditation unless there are new people present. It may, however, be necessary to announce whether one or two circles will be formed.

Guided Meditation

The person leading should take a few minutes before beginning the guided meditation to explain what will take place.  Then s/he makes a waking-up sound on the rim of the bell   to draw the attention of the community.  After a few seconds, the first guiding sentences are read, followed by the key words. A full sound of the bell, which is stopped after a few breaths, signals the practice stage.

After 5, 7, 10 breaths, or a number appropriate for you, the bell is waked up only, and the next guiding sentences are read. A stopped bell signals the next practice time, and so on, until the guided meditation is completed.  Two bells indicate the end of the guided meditation.

Mindfulness Trainings Recitation (Consult Plum Village Chanting Book for full ceremony.)

For a simple recitation of the Trainings, the leader first invites the bell three times. After each Training has been recited, the leader should wait three, four, or five breaths to allow the words to fully enter our being. After this silent period, a bell is invited and stopped, to indicate that it is time for the next training to be recited. The bell is invited twice after the last Training.

Sutra Opening Verse and Sutra Closing Verse (Sharing the Merit)

During the full Sutra or Mindfulness Trainings Ceremonies the Sutra Opening Verse and Sutra Closing Verse are used. Wake up the bell and then three lingering bells before the Sutra Opening Verse. Wake up the bell and then three lingering bells after the Sutra Closing Verse.

Closing

After announcements, SnowFlower Sangha closes by holding hands in a circle. Generally, this is preceded by one (waked) lingering bell.

Closing as done at Plum Village and at regional retreats: using small bell, one bell to stand, one to bow to each other and then one bell to bow to the altar.

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Restoring Peace and Safety

Excerpt from Mindfulness Bell article “Restoring Peace and Safety: Paths to Community Justice” by Cheri Maples

A real danger about the popularity of mindfulness is misunderstanding what it is. It isn’t just a relaxation tool and it isn’t just a medical model. There’s an entire ethical framework that goes along with it. If you separate the two, there is a lot of danger. Most
of the values that are inherent in mindfulness have to do with non-harming in some way. You can be an advocate for peace and justice and still go to war with people on a daily basis with the words you use. We’ve all seen it.

When I teach mindfulness, I start by having a big flip chart with a white piece of paper, and I put a little red dot in the middle and I say, “What do you see here?” And everybody says, “I see a red dot.” And I say, “That’s the problem. That’s where we live. We live in the red dot rather than the white space.” In mindfulness, what I’ve found is a tool that helped me to live in that white space in a remarkable way.

One thing that helped me in terms of my work is that in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, there is a big emphasis on building Sangha and looking at Sangha as an organism rather than an organization. So I started looking at everything I was part of as community, whether it was my family, my workplace, organizations that I was on the board of, anything that I was doing became, “Okay, this is a Sangha, this is a community.” And how do we build this? It led to my starting to see myself as an effect of a lot of the things that went on around me rather than the empowerment of seeing myself as a cause. In other words, it drives me crazy these days when I go to meetings and people walk out and say, “That was really a shitty meeting,” and I say, “Well, were you there? [Laughter] You were part of helping create that meeting.”

How we witness violence, exploitation, in all of its manifestations—how we bear witness to it—is such an opportunity to transform things. The skills mindfulness leads to—one of the major ones—is pausing and refraining. The ability to put space between your thoughts and your words and your thoughts and your actions is huge in terms of transformation. But the biggest gift of mindfulness has been understanding that my mind is not an accurate reflection of the world, that it is a result, that my perceptions are so conditioned they don’t match reality, and that the truth has many sides.

When I try to get people to understand this, I do this exercise:
I’ll have three people leave the room and I’ll say to everybody else, “Build me a structure, but it’s got to be a structure that can be put back together in two minutes. Use what’s in the room.” Then I’ll have the three people come in one at a time and stand in exactly
the same spots and say, “What do you see?”

The most interesting time I’ve ever done this, these were the three responses:
“I see George Washington on the Potomac River.”
“I see chaos and homelessness.”
“I see art and sculpture.”
Then my question is: Who’s right? Who’s wrong? I don’t know.

You know the bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think”? Until you have an experience of this, it’s hard to take in other viewpoints in a way that matters. It’s hard to be present to another human being until you truly understand from your heart that your mind is not an accurate reflection of the world and that it’s created over and over again in this moment. I’ve seen absolutely horrendous things individuals do to each other that systematically happen as a result of poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia. As a cop, something that started happening for me is that all of those things got covered up with anger and with a numbing of the heart, an armoring of the heart. You can’t respond to people from that place. So mindfulness was a tool to undo all of this for me and it
was an incremental process over time.

Much of this is about awareness, about being a good curator of the museum of our past, taking care not only of our individual seeds but also of those collective seeds that we are all socialized to, and then being a good gardener of our store consciousnesses. If we are aware, we can make conscious decisions about what behaviors we keep and don’t keep, and then life gets much more interesting and much more fun—and much sadder. You can’t have one without the other, and the pain to me is something I now know how to use to tenderize my heart, while it used to be something I just raged about.

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