We invoke your name, Kshitigarbha. We aspire to learn your way of being present where there is darkness, suffering, oppression, and despair, so we can bring light, hope, relief, and liberation to those places. We are determined not to forget about or abandon those in desperate situations. We will do our best to establish contact with those who cannot find a way out of their suffering, those whose cries for help, justice, equality, and human rights are not being heard. We know that hell can be found in many places on Earth. We will do our best not to contribute to creating more hells on Earth, and to help transform the hells that already exist. We will practice in order to realize the qualities of perseverance and stability, so that, like the Earth, we can always be supportive and faithful to those in need.
The first thing that comes up for me around this verse is that as practitioners, we must be deeply in touch with our own self, in order to determine where our balance is in regards to being in touch with those who suffer. Learning and practicing to take good care of our self must be the first priority. If we attempt to try to be in touch with the suffering of others but are personally experiencing an imbalance of mind/body/spirit, it would not be beneficial to the other person or to our self. I think this is implied in this verse, however it is not directly addressed or spoken to.
There are many ways to be in touch with those who suffer. As the Fourth of the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, entitled: Awareness of Suffering, states: …We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact and using telephone, electronic, audiovisual, and other means, to be with those who suffer…
For my own practice of staying in touch with the suffering of others, I volunteer with hospice and meet with patients every week; I intentionally watch documentaries that are centered around heart-heavy topics or that highlight hardship stories; I read news articles that are especially challenging and difficult to read, centered around trauma, mental illness, and matters concerning inequality; and I currently have a pen pal in prison who I stay in close contact with via letters. And, I am careful not to engage in such documentaries/news stories when I am not feeling well-balanced and stable in mind and heart. So I practice to stay in close relationship with myself, as some days I need to focus more on self-care and wellness vs. being in touch with the suffering of someone else. So for me it’s important to routinely and continually check in with myself, so that I know what I have to offer and when. It’s very easy to over-extend myself in this regard – and to put tending to others above my own self-care.
One of my guiding life mottos that I remind myself often of is: There is only so much time in the day. In relation to this verse on being present where there is darkness, it means that I must be careful not to get caught thinking that I need to step into ALL the darkness, ALL the ares of oppression, suffering, and despair. I used to have a world savior complex back in my teens and early 20’s – activism-minded – and I am not interested in reverting back to that.
I also find it really helpful to keep fresh in mind how wonderful it is that we have a world filled with so many people who gravitate towards different areas of need. I am only one person – and there’s both a lot I can do and only so much I can do. We all dig the well in different spots – and thank goodness for that.
1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?
We aspire to do our best not to turn a blind eye towards matters of suffering and to keep our own practice strong, in order to be of support to others.
2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?
Strength: I feel as though I do pretty well in practicing to stay in touch with matters concerning suffering while also keeping an eye on my own balance, so as not to over-extend myself. For the most part I know what my limits are. Weakness: Sometimes I try to offer support to friends who are really struggling but I do so with an energy of “I’m going to save them!” and it isn’t what is most beneficial to them – or to me. People who are suffering may not be ready to transform and heal, no matter how much I may want to help them. Sometimes I can push too much. I recently watched a talk by a doctor as part of an online wellness summit and he said that his motto is to help only those who are swimming towards him, verses trying to go after all the people he saw and felt were struggling but ultimately weren’t ready to start healing. He said when he used to do that, it was a waste of time and energy, for him and the other person. I can still get stuck in trying to help those who aren’t swimming towards me.
3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?
What came up for me was the reminder of how important it is to 1. Be in close relationship with myself in order to know where my limits are in regards to delving into matters of injustice, suffering, and the desperate situations of others, so as not to lose myself and become overwhelmed and 2. To diligently dig the well in the places I can and know that I cannot dig all the wells in all the places; to draw from the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things that I can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.