Our son Dan is coming home for the holidays tonight. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Dan is a Buddhist chaplain who blogs at Rev. Danny Fisher. Lately he's added a feature to his blog called the gift of dharma in which he shares a teaching from one of the many wonderful Buddhist teachers. Yesterday's teaching from the radiant Acharya Ani Pema Chödrön struck a strong chord within me.
The basic theme of the teaching, as I interpret it, was that when we are listening to people, particularly people with whom we might have issues, we have a tendency to compartmentalize what they say. If their verbal offering makes us angry, we lay all the blame at their feet or we feel guilty and blame ourselves. Pema Chödrön suggests that there is another alternative:
"Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live."
Reading this teaching immediately brought Dickens' A Christmas Carol to mind. Scrooge pushed people away because it's very difficult and messy and sometimes hurtful to be involved with other people. To experience the joy of others, you also have to buy into the less joyous aspects. When Scrooge says, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year," it literally means he's choosing compassionate action over suffering. Dickens also said, “Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” Great words to live by in this and every season of the year.