The Creator’s Compass is my newsletter for people wanting to transform their lives through courageously living with a compass pointed towards compassion and wisdom. We don’t gloss over the difficulties of this path, and instead boldly walk into Truth so we can infuse our innate wisdom into all that we do. The best way to support my work is to become a free subscriber and share The Creator’s Compass with others. Thank you so much for being here.
In a world in which being strong means being a “bad-ass”, we choke out what makes us actually strong. Embedded in fear and anxiety, bad-ass is fueled with that all too familiar experience of being disconnected, of seeing ourselves totally separate from others. Bad-ass is bravado. It is that feeling of being ‘juiced up’ inside, ready to prove ourselves to be in the right, to submit the other side to our righteousness. It is a never-ending battle of the “I” or “me” asserting itself against the backdrop of a hostile world.
From the first tumbles with our tiny feet learning to walk to the seemingly constant barrage of people challenging us, hurting us, threatening our well-being, we need to be strong to thrive. And to survive, we need to be a bad-ass, but not the kind with poison dripping from our fangs, coiled up and ready to strike anything or anyone we deem a threat. That path is too obvious, too easy, and it sinks our fangs into an endless well of suffering. The other path is more subtle, less obvious at first, hallowed with soft light and looked upon as naive and weak by those who have never walked its terrain. It’s a road where the trees speak wisdom and the heart folds into its innate compassion. One path is fraught with never-ending battles and the other path reveals an ever-deepening joy and peace.
Let us not pretend that the path to joy and peace is easy and passive. The path to peace takes us through dark valleys where our inner world struggles to make sense of itself with the outer world. But these valleys are where we begin to see that we carry with us a sword of such greater strength than any sword we may find along the path of bravado and poisoned fangs because it’s the sword of awakening mind and when the mind is awake, there is nothing more powerful.
It takes immense courage to choose the path leading to peace, for that road requires vulnerability, a vulnerability speaking to the idea of staying open and fully alive. There is a sharp edge at first to staying spacious and open to others, and to ourselves, because it requires us to accept the very real possibility of getting hurt, sometimes profoundly so. But if we stay open long enough, nurturing wisdom and compassion, the sharp edges blunt and our fears dissolve.
Courageous vulnerability allows us to be open to the world, to soak in the rays of sunshine instead of fighting them. Instead of a war cry, we sigh in peace. Instead of resisting what is, we learn to accept. And instead of weakening our spirits by kicking and screaming at what we think of as bad, we throw our arms up in complete surrender to life with unbridled curiosity and appreciation.
Leading to our expansion, the courageous path makes our hearts burst with aliveness and purpose. On the opposite side, the path of bravado constricts us, essentially shutting us off from the world in an emotional self-defense protectiveness. Our inner beings crouch down like a tiger ready to pounce. In this protective stance, we experience feelings of disconnect and depression because it’s us against them… always.
It’s understandable why we shut off, why we shield ourselves from the inevitable pain others will hurl at us like cannon balls. The question is, how do we remain vulnerable yet not a pushover? How to be open and a powerful force?
During the first summer of the great shutdown of COVID, my family and I thought we were losing my dad because of a complex web of medical issues. I live about as far away from my family as one can in the USA and couldn’t help. Even if I wanted to, at that point, COVID was still a huge unknown and flying seemed out of the question. Fear was gripping my chest every day as I did my best to support my parents over the phone while juggling the every-day living duties. Amid my dad and Covid, I had to set some boundaries with the longest friendship of my life. It broke the friendship. I sincerely needed those boundaries, but I disrupted decades of a long dance and I should have predicted the outcome. I naively thought love would outshine the initial discomfort.
The sear of that broken friendship was startling, and the oddest thing was that the effects compounded over the next two years without me quite recognizing what was happening. I was becoming closed off to others. My trust was disintegrating. It was as if I was digging a deep moat to protect myself each day, one shovel worth at a time.
I refused to initiate meet-ups with friends. And with COVID still raging, I had the perfect excuse. My bubble was safe. I was safe. Or so I thought.
Then, I had to set boundaries with another person in the middle of all that chaos. This person also didn’t take kindly to my boundaries. I was finding out that disrupting the familiar rarely goes smoothly.
I polished my shovel, and I started deepening the moat. One dig with anger, another with sadness.
My Dad was recovering while I was losing what makes me be able to breathe life, to fold into its sunlight and honor the softness in me. I needed a savior, a lighthouse, to grab my shovel and lower the bridge for others to cross into my castle again.
With patient quiet whispers, the Buddha’s words wrapped around the handle of my shovel. His teachings on suffering reminded me that all sufferings inflicted on others by others arises from suffering. And when we behave with words or deeds that stem from our pain, we believe somehow our suffering lessons. But it never works this way. We are not dancing with our true selves when we act out of pain; we are dancing with our shadows. The more we move from our pain, the denser and denser our shadows become until we forget we are not our shadows. It is digging a moat without knowing it and one day finding we have dug so deep we can’t remember what the sunlight feels like anymore.
For me, the Buddha’s teachings on suffering were like a golden dagger of remembrance: We all suffer. We all share the same emotions. We all crave love and safety. And at times we reach for these blankets of peace with trembling fearful hands, hurting ourselves and others along the way. This golden reminder is the very seed for blossoming our compassion into full bloom. But…..
Oh, yeah, compassion. Dang it. Annoying. Stupid compassion won’t let me keep digging my moat. My instinct to strike with poisoned fangs was fighting for its chance, but my heart knew better, and now my head was finally catching up.
The ones who hurt me are hurting.
I felt the tentacles of anger relax with the embrace of compassion. The power of compassion always dissolves the pain underneath the anger and hurt. It allows us to accept both the glory and struggle of life with a peaceful walk. With compassion as a guide, I came back to the scary and liberating realization that I’m completely responsible for my inner landscape of thoughts and emotions. It’s my choice to fight the sunshine or bask in its warmth. My choice alone. Contract and harden, or expand and soften? I choose to soften.
As soon as we soften, we might ask, if walking with compassion can soften us, what can protect us? What can make us not weak or a pushover? Boundaries. Is this not what I did? Yes, and the results were not what I would have chosen, but I gained strength and self-respect. I was determined to live fully embodied and confident, and to do so I needed to, and must still, set boundaries, but do so without fangs of poison. We all need boundaries and we can build them so that they shine our worth like a cloak of light so brightly that our boundaries are an expression of authentic loving-kindness, both for ourselves and others.
There is a saying I learned from the teachings of Tai Chi: Be like steel wrapped in cotton.
Being ‘as steel’ is knowing our worth and setting boundaries to honor that worth. Sometimes that results in hurt feelings, and in more extreme cases, it may mean physical self-defense. But this defense is born out of compassion for self and others and not an attitude stemming from fear and a disconnected sense of ‘me’ from ‘you’.
But we can’t be all iron. We need softness. And the softness of cotton wraps around us like clouds circling our iron strength. Our softness is our compassionate nature in action and how we interact with ourselves and the world around us. The root of compassion is seeing others as valuable as ourselves and when we do, we treat ourselves and others with loving-kindness as naturally as a brook bubbling and dancing after a spring rain. There are many blessings with acting out of loving-kindness. One of these blessings is that we are free from the need to seek validation from others because we act not for external approval, but from our inner compass of unshakable compassion. The freedom from being needy shows we have cultivated an inner strength by discovering our true worth.
We are now steel wrapped in the softness of compassion.
And as such, we become the most bad-ass warrior a human can become. We are not a pushover, or weak, or one who cannot defend ourselves or others who need us, yet we are able to remain vulnerable so we can yolk ourselves to the unimaginable strength of compassion. Our sword is now sharp, our minds and hearts linked.
Next you or I experience pain inflicted on us from another, let us close our eyes with our compass of compassion firmly in our hands and hearts, remembering three things:
Compassion is impartial, and with that understanding we can see that those who hurt us falsely believe their actions will relieve them of their suffering. Because we know suffering ourselves, deep down we don’t want them to suffer. This reminder will soften us so that we can experience our true worth born out of wisdom and compassion. And this allows us to:
Be like steel wrapped in cotton. We know our worth, and with that we can set strong boundaries, allowing our compassion be how we greet the world. And this makes us:
True warriors with no need to carry the suffering others inflict upon us. We all are meant to expand into love and wisdom, not contract away from these very waters that soothe our parched throats.
Write a story, a song, paint a picture, take a photograph, or create anything that inspires you with this prompt:
Imagine yourself as a warrior with a polished sword. You are steel wrapped in cotton, completely at ease with yourself and others, but never one to be pushed around. Now picture yourself coming upon your scared-self. What would you say to ease your scared-self? How would you help that self see his or her value and worth? How would you comfort your scared-self?
Write or create from your heart, for the scared-self is stuck in the head and all it wants to do is melt with the warrior-you into the heart-center.
Until next time, may we all remember each other holding the compass of compassion so we know we walk not alone.