The recent horrific stream of events in Paris and Lebanon has brought us face to face with unimagineable brutality and its consequences. It seems as if this has brought a heightened awareness of both terrible human suffering in its many shocking and tragic forms, but also of human kindness from countless strangers who were prepared to support victims of the bombings in the street, opening their doors, donating blood, comforting, and even shielding others in the face of attack. And kindness in the form of world-wide gestures of caring connection and solidarity, the many impromptu street gatherings and vigils, and city lights. An image which has particularly stayed with me is the photograph of the lights from thousands of mobile phones held up in the darkness in a spontaneous vigil that took place in Trafalgar Square. Somebody had taken care to initiate the gathering through social media, and thousands responded. The light of each phone represented someone who had cared enough to make the decision to travel to central London and attend. Collectively, they lit up the whole square with a sea of lights and a shared expression of caring humanity; a conscious wish to connect.
These simple gestures of caring connection bring meaning and hope when not much else makes sense in the midst such of atrocity. They arise from a basic, innate human capacity for compassion, and a wish for others to be free of suffering. In the wake of these recent atrocities, the countless stories of courage, kindness, caring and empathy that have emerged, have emphasised the power of caring connection to sustain and nurture core human values in the face of despair and unimagineable suffering. In the questioning that inevitably follows events such as these, the mixture of horror and kindness has caused me to reflect deeply again on the value of practice, and how the many simple moments of caring connection that we make in relation to our own experience and and in relation to others, resonanates immeasurably through the sphere of our individual lives. Each moment of awareness flexes the muscle of mindfulness and compassion and builds an inner strength to deal more effectively with our own difficulties and to be more able to support others. These times call us to stay connected and to make conscious caring connection, rather than falling into disconnection, or simply feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
In last Thursday’s Staying Mindful monthly practice group meeting, held at the County Hotel, Neville Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, we practised and reflected together on how our intention and motivation to practice helps us to sustain caring connection, in ways that make a difference to ourselves and others in our daily lives. It felt helpful to give space for this reflection at a time when there is so much concious unease, fear and uncertainty. Wholesome qualities of mind are developed whenever we welcome our experience with kind attention and can remain open. Each drop makes a difference in the accumulative flow of our conscious lives, and brings something to the shared collective. We start with just this; conscious, caring conection in the middle of whatever is going on. I was reminded of a beautiful passage by meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, in which she talks about the value of practice:
“ This is why we practice meditation—so that we can treat ourselves more compassionately; improve our relationships with friends, family, and community; live lives of greater connection; and, even in the face of challenges, stay in touch with what we really care about so we can act in ways that are consistent with our values.”
(from “Real Happiness: the Power of Meditation”, 2010).
We can learn to trust the secure holding of being tenderly and mindfully present, no matter where we are, whatever is going on in our experience. What we practice grows stronger and influences life around us in simple and meaningful ways. Perhaps, in these troubled times, our motivation and intention to practice can be strengthened, and our practice be of even greater value to ourselves and others.