This month's tool was inspired by William Stafford's poem, "The Way It Is", which appears below. In it, he writes about an unchanging thread; something that might not be visible to others but that gives you something to hold on to when you face difficulties in your life. One way to understand this thread is to see it as a metaphor for having a compassionate relationship with yourself and your life.
If you've ever faced a life-altering challenge, you know that such times can make you feel like there's nothing to hold on to, and no solid place to stand. The death or illness of a loved one, a lost job, a relationship falling apart ~ any of these experiences can leave you feeling gutted, distraught, and bereft.
At the same time, if you're reading this, you likely have lived through a life-altering challenge (or you are living through one right now), and something sustained you. What was it? Was it the friend or loved one who surprised you and really showed up when you needed support? Was it your spiritual practice? Was it a stranger who said just what you needed to hear at just the right time?
Perhaps it was the alchemy of the experience itself that showed you something you didn't know about yourself: that even when faced with unanticipated difficulties that completely alter your life, you keep going. You find resources that you didn't know about ahead of time. Even when it's really hard, somehow, you're okay.
I invite you to reflect on a life-altering experience you've had, and take the opportunity to remember who was there; who accompanied you. In addition to friends and family, this can include pets, the bands whose music you listened to, the authors whose books you read, the actors and directors whose movies or TV shows you watched, and anyone else whose life touched and nourished yours, and made it possible for you to live through that dark time.
Let yourself acknowledge the ways that you were supported when you were just feeling your way along, one day at a time. These people, animals and experiences ~ you can see them as the thread of compassion that you follow, that you don't let do of. That doesn't let go of you. As William Stafford said, while you hold it, you can't get lost. It reminds you that you are not alone, that you are connected to your deepest self and to others, that you are woven into the fabric of this world.
Shunryu Suzuki, founder of San Francisco Zen Center, once said:
"Zen is to feel your way along in the dark, not knowing what you will meet, not already knowing what to do. Most of us do not like going so slowly, and we would like to think that it is possible to figure everything out ahead of time, but if you go too fast or are not careful enough, you will bump into things. So just feel your way along in the dark, slowly and carefully. When you do things with this spirit, you don't know what the results will be, but because you carefully feel your way along, the results will be okay. You can trust what will happen."
This feels like a description of the thread of compassion, too. It is present and available to you always, but it often requires you to move slowly and carefully, not knowing what will come next. Not trying to figure everything out ahead of time but allowing yourself to respond and be supported by what you experience, remembering that it's safe to trust your life.