Three summers ago, I got these tattoos. These arrows came to me after a horrible break up and the subsequent months of agonizing heart break and pain that followed. The invisible threads that connect us all with lovers, with friends, with family, and yes, even strangers, felt as if they were winding themselves around my heart and cutting off my life line to happiness. I desperately wanted to make them visible so I could cut myself free. I begged the universe, and any other entity I could call upon – not to mention friends, my acupuncturist, you name it – to come to my aid and get rid of them. I was consumed by my own concept of suffering and victimization, until I realized that it was my own ego, my “me-ness”, not the invisible threads connecting me to my ex-partner, that was wrapping itself around my heart and squeezing.
These days, I like to sit in mediation and look at my arrows. I see the circle that is created when I open my palms and rest the back of my hands on my thighs, and I feel the tiny invisible threads that hold you to me and me to you. They remind me on the daily to not be consumed by my own suffering, and instead to hold space for all suffering, big or small, close or faraway. I am thankful we are tethered. No matter what. No matter how different you seem from me. No matter how much we disagree…about politics, about religion, about how we should live our lives. No matter what.
I am regularly frightened by the increasing divisive dialogue I see these days in our communications in the media or even privately. The grasping of of our personal ideas of right and wrong, the fear to shift our positions in arguments, the judgements on people who believe differently than us, and the anger, oh the anger! We see every day it seems, via acts of violence like in South Carolina or in Baltimore, what happens when we feed the monster that is the idea of a “you” separate from “I”. If my tattoo was an illustration of this kind of increasingly common communication, it would instead be two arrows shooting out from myself, partnered with the sound “Pew! Pew!” like an invisible laser shooting out at you, instead of the tiny delicate thread holding us together intimately.
This intimacy between you and I, and the society at large, is a responsibility. Today, I listened to a story on the radio about a settlement for a large oil spill. The woman speaking about the settlement was passionate in her outrage at the damage this tragedy caused. Through her words, I found myself becoming angry, equally outraged, at the horribleness of this large corporation. And then, I realized I was driving. The wrist with the outgoing arrow was holding the wheel of my car. My car I drive often. The delicate invisible threads were illuminated for me to see. In what appears to be our ever increasing desire to divide ourselves into camps, I can choose to meditate on our interdependence, and on those invisible threads that bind us. Recognizing them is our practice.
So, I am part of a circle, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful I am able to feel for someone other than myself. I am thankful I can have as much compassion for you as I do myself (not easy). All that I am tied to allows me to become a more complete, compassionate, yet still delightfully imperfect human being.
This Independence Day, practice with us. Hold space for yourself, and know somewhere you are connected to someone holding space for you. Meditate on interconnectedness. Visualize those tiny delicate threads, and do all you can to never sever them.
“You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.
Whenever we throw something away, whether in the garbage can, the compost, or the recycling, it can smell terrible. Rotting organic matter smells especially badly. But it can also become rich compost for fertilizing the garden. The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two sides of the same existence. Without one, the other cannot be. Everything becomes a part of the garbage. After six months, the garbage is transformed into a rose. When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in transformation. This becomes that, and that becomes this.
Looking deeply, we can contemplate one thing and see everything else in it. We are not disturbed by change when we see the interconnectedness and continuity of all things. It is not that the life of an individual is permanent, but that life itself continues. When we identify ourselves with life and go beyond the boundaries of a separate identity, we shall be able to see the permanence in the impermanent, or the rose in the garbage.”
From Thich Nhat Hanh: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living