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The Hearth of Compassion

Meg and I had an interesting discussion the other day. She mentioned a Pema quote that stated, “We die how we live.”

Of course this brought on a whole rounded out conversation of what that could potentially mean. I had to simmer and stew on the bits and pieces of the conversation that we had, because the conversation of death is always an eye-opening one for me. Or in this case, a heart-opener.

A few days later I stole away to the confines of the cabin somewhere north. I continued to reflect on the conversation that we had. I also reflected on a card I pulled from my Pema lojong deck the week prior. It discussed the importance of training in the three difficulties.

Number one, recognizing neurosis as neurosis

Number two, to do some thing different to stop the habitual cycle

Number three, to make this practice a way of life

Both of these (the death quote and lojong teaching) are a lot to digest because, first of all we don’t want to identify ourselves as having a form of neurosis. It feels ugly. Also, as mentioned previously, death can be very scary for most of us.

Within the confines of the cabin, I started a fire in the darkness, in the morning. I proceeded to do a trataka (gazing) meditation. As I stared into the raging flames, I decided to look at a different point in the fire than the tips of the flames. I chose to look in the middle of the fire. I rested my eyes on the forms of the logs that were turning red and white and I thought of anger. How anger rages all around many of us in different forms in different ways, and yet in the center of us we have these pieces that put together create our hearts of compassion - the reflection of who we are in the heart of the flames. Warmth. Gentleness. Kindness.

It brought me back to Pema’s quote of, “We die how we live.” And I thought of people in my family who I have seen physically die gracefully, and didn’t fight the changes of life, and the leaving behind of what was, seeing the truth of what is. What came to my mind is not necessarily the Pema quote, but the question that followed, “How do you want to die?” Which means we need to reflect on how we want to live. How are we allowing ourselves to change in life? Do we fight it? Or do we embrace all of the changes, the physical, the mental, the spiritual, and embrace what is, leaning into who we are.

When I closed my eyes after the flame-gazing meditation, I saw the hearth of the fire within my mind. When it started to dissipate I tried grasping at it because I didn’t want it to leave; it was a comforting visual. I wanted to have that vision in front of me because I questioned what happens when it goes away. I wanted to continue to feel that. That moment a tear fell from my eye and began to stream down my cheek. And there was my answer. The tear was cool. Not hot. Signifying a form of sadness. It felt tender and soft. My heart. Compassion. I was able to feel the hearth of my heart. I didn’t need to see anything, but to feel. It felt also like strength and beauty.

We have this. All of us. So I guess I leave everybody with that question, in the form of our neurosis of fighting life, how are we embracing life? How do we want to embrace it? In order to stop the neurosis cycle, it might be important to look into the reflection of who we are, and who we are becoming, and recognize the changes in our bodies, in our minds, as growth, compassion, a life of living love. “Death” becomes less scary within these changes when we embrace the grace that we have within us and let go of the resistance.

Hand to heart,



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