This is not a drill. This existence is my opportunity to practice living in real time. Do I bring my entire consciousness, the sum of my experience, and everything that I am, to the task? How tolerant am I with my flaws and those emotions that I'd rather not deal with? How open am I to others, with their flaws and emotions that I'd also rather not deal with. Am I staggering through the days in a zombie-like haze of high walls and rusty locks? The monkeys in my head, on my back, and in my heart can deny me precious opportunities; if I let them. Isolation in my own private zoo is familiar (and therefore almost always preferable), but it prevents me from putting my life on the line.
In "When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times," Buddhist nun Pema Chodron explains this practice of "balls out" living (which also applies to writing, and the street term is mine) as follows:
"Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we're not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.
"Compassionate action is a practice, one of the most advanced. There's nothing more advanced than relating with others. There's nothing more advanced than communication--compassionate communication.
"To relate with others compassionately is a challenge. Really communicating to the heart and being there for someone else--our child, spouse, parent, client, patient, or the homeless woman on the street--means not shutting down on that person, which means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don't like. To do this requires openness..."
As a writer, and a human being, I am most effective when I'm willing to put myself out there and love, even when it's not perfect. Especially when it's not perfect. Those niggling, omnipresent distractions and criticisms that constantly dog my attention, what the Buddhists call "monkey mind"; must be answered with a compassionate return to the moment. Acceptance, followed by a loving resumption of the task at hand are the challenge of any practice, be it musicianship, meditation, love, or writing. The words that I put down on the page are only a start, but it takes a tremendous leap of faith to make that beginning. Once off the cliff, though, there's a foothold from which to make the next shaky move, and the next, until the mountain takes shape beneath my feet and hands.
Chodron's compassionate communication is the same process. We reach out where there is nothing and connect, however imperfectly. If we can bear with each other (and with ourselves), if we can muster the will to remain open and allow someone else into our defective hearts and souls; then we are authoring the contribution to the world that we are meant to make. We are together on this journey for a reason, each with our own lessons to learn and teach. Dealing with the monkeys just goes along with the territory.
"Come on, it's such a joy. Come on, it's such a joy. Come on, take it easy....The deeper you go the higher you fly. The higher you fly the deeper you go....Your inside is out when your outside is in. Your outside is in when your inside is out. Come on, come on, come on...." Click on the play button below to hear the Beatles, "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey."