And so we lift our gazes
Not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know,
To put our future first,
we must put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms,
so we can reach out our arms
To one another.
The above lines from Amanda’s poem stole the hearts of many at the recent inaguration. . Her poem has echoes of the gospel; it radically calls us to see what unites, rather than divides us Jesus tells us that God’s dream is for this connection, for oneness, ‘that they may be one, as we are one’ (John 17;21).
At the root of compassion is the belief that you and I are not separate, but connected with a common humanity. The word compassion comes from the Latin word ‘compati’ meaning ‘to suffer with’. Author and psychiatrist Gerald G May tells us ‘we are so intimately joined in Divine mystery, that when a single one of us falls we are all wounded, and when a single one breathes freely and opens to the exquisitely painful ecstasy of love we are all nourished’. We have, however, many inherited and cultural beliefs which supress our compassionate ‘breathing freely’ and instead foster cruelty and neglect. We often compete, defend, judge and protect the imagined safety of our ‘in-group’. Our compassion is then dependant on attachment and does not widen to include those who seem ‘different’. Likewise, when our understanding of evolution is linear, where human beings are placed superiorly at the pinnacle, we tend to cut off from a compassionate relationship with all of creation.
We have all had moments where we sensed the interconnecting flow of compassion. In such moments, we sense that we are not alone, and so in our fallibility and suffering we long for cooperation and community in place of individualism and competition. As the poet Rumi, invites ‘there is a field out beyond right and wrong, I will meet you there’. This is the field of compassion, the silent language of the heart where we see the struggle of another, regardless of race, colour etc.
Compassion and healing.
Cultivating compassion is not a soft fluffy feelgood practice, it is not about scented candles and sitting crossed legged for hours of meditation!. Perhaps some people fear that self- compassion is a kind of self- indulgent narcissistic practice or they fear that it will leave them too open and ‘soft’ in a harsh world. Yet when you think of people who are compassionate, you will notice how these people tend to hold a proactive stance around values relating to justice, advocacy etc. The Dali Lama defines compassion as ‘sensitivity to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to relieve it.’ Perhaps the part we find most difficult here is the compassion towards self. Most people in psychological pain have high levels of shame, self-criticism and lack a healthy compassion for themselves. Self- compassion is increasingly recognised by psychologists, therapists and neuroscientists as the most important ingredient for healing. When we turn compassionately towards our woundedness, we discover, paradoxically, that the medicine is in the wound!. As psychologist, Carl Jung states ‘I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness; I am the enemy to be loved’. Perhaps, it is only then that our frightened hearts can truly hear the invitation to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt5; 44)
Judgement is always an act of separating, whether we are judging ourselves or somebody else. Our reactive responses are often heavily biased, when we place others outside our field of compassion. Genuine compassion must be extended, even to those who disagree with us, maybe even those who ‘hate’ us.! That is very challenging! However, when we refuse to forgive, we remain attached to our identity as ‘the one who has been wronged’. We replay the hurt over and over and re-wound ourselves
So, lets pause, drop the battle in the mind and for a few moments, create an intention to widen our filed of compassion. This will not be a once off, we will need to practice it many times,….in fact Jesus tells us we will need to do it ‘seventy times seven’!
Trellis For The Soul
Suggestions for a Trellis Programme…
Whether you engage in the book, alone or with others, I suggest you put a little time aside each day to reflect on your ‘trellis’, and to create the supports you will commit to etc. Buy yourself a beautiful journal where your precious thoughts, insights and hopes can be recorded.
Consider creating a little ‘sacred space’ in your home where you can have some un interrupted time to reflect, dream, pray and do some journaling. If you live with others, you may need to tell them that this is your time and space, and you will not be taking phone calls etc during that time.
You might like to team up with one or two anam charas and work through the book together. I would suggest two chapters per week. You can read the chapter once through firstly and then on second reading, begin to jot down phrases or concepts that resonate or stay with you. At the end of each chapter there is a section called ‘creating your trellis’. Take plenty of time answering the journaling questions. This can be the basis of your sharing. If you team up with others, arrange a weekly check in where each of you have ample time to share whatever is arising for you. At the end of the meeting, make a commitment together to commence the next two chapters. You will need to commit to eight weeks unless ye decide to read more than one chapter per week.
If you want to start a group via zoom, you might like to begin with an opening short meditation, (you may use the prayer below). Create a safe space, with confidentiality etc, where people can share in small groups, chat box, etc.
If you wanted to join an organised group, there is a six week programme commencing in the Margaret Aylward Centre Retreat Centre commencing on Jan 27, 730 to 930pm . This will be in the form of a book club where I will lead participants to journey through the material of the book. This programme is free of charge. For booking, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, I will be co -facilitating a Lenten Programme (via zoom), commencing on Feb 14th at 7pm to 830pm. This will run each Sunday evening until Easter. While it is not directly based on the book, Trellis For the Soul, it will be drawing from a lot of the main concepts. It will also include weekly Lectio Divina Scriptural Reflection, Christian Meditation, Poetry, Music etc. It will also include video reflections for Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The full programme will be 120 euro.
For booking email me at email@example.com
I hope the above offers some suggestions that you will choose.
This Prayer was created by the late and well-loved Fr Daniel J O Leary. He encouraged me to write all of my previous books. A short time before his death, he wrote this for me as a blessing for all who would engage on this Trellis For the Soul journey. Feel free to use it at the start of your reflections, alone or with others.
May we stay strong and persevering,
Courageous and wholehearted in our vision.
May this journey be kept free from all harm,
filled only with love,
belonging and a new incarnation of God’s beautiful presence.
May love be stronger than fear. Light stronger than shadows.
May we have eyes to see the face of Christ before us.
May we always have the breeze of the
blowing our hearts wide open to