This weekend, I attended “Compassion and Fearlessness,” a retreat led by Roshi Joan Halifax and Sharon Salzberg. Both are tremendous dharma teachers and the weekend was filled with profound moments as well as laughter and joy. In the middle of all of it, Roshi reminded us that the weekend also marked the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I have a dream” speech. As she shared this with us, I realized — with great appreciation — that in every retreat or dharma talk I’ve ever heard Roshi give, she always brings some aspect of the world-at-large into our practice.
Roshi’s bio appears in a previous Quote of the Week post. This week’s quote comes from her book Being With Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death; and though she offers it in the context of working with dying people, it can easily be applied to any social service or social justice work we may be engaged in.
All too often our so–called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply when we begin the process of being with dying.
How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly — and letting the world see into us.