~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Superpowers of the Heart

May 8, 2020
To my family and friends, near and far,

I'm writing you several weeks into our quarantine, from the strong and sheltering family ark that has weathered so many storms over the years. I'm writing to reach out, to send my love, and to share my deepest wishes for health and happiness, for safety and strength, to you all.

The world has come to a screeching halt as the novel coronavirus has made its way across the globe. We have been sent running for cover, heading back home to shelter in place, to self-isolate, to hide. Staying apart and staying home seems to be our best hope for now, if we want to keep as many of us as possible healthy and alive.

Does it feel surreal to you, too, to see our human lives contracting inward just as spring bursts forth in all her glory? The daffodils and trillium and tulips are still in bloom here in Ohio, and the peonies are already poking their heads up and reaching for the blue sky above. The spring birds are calling - the finches and the sparrows and the cardinals brighten each morning, and the bluebirds and grossbeaks make an appearance from time to time. Each day now I scan the grove for lilies of the valley, which should be popping up next.

You know how much I love silver linings, and so I have been keeping my eyes out for them, even as this storm rages across the planet. More than anything else, I have latched hold of this: We seem at last ready to acknowledge the profound ways we are bound together, the ways that our lives are connected, the secret unity within us all. The little "me" of each of us is so much more closely bound to the big "we" of the whole wide world than we had ever thought. There's nothing like a pandemic, it seems, to clarify the mind and heart!

I love the way we have all stepped out onto our front porches to offer what we can. "I'm at a loss, too," we've said, "but please take whatever it is I have to share." Medical advice, masks, a poem in the den or a song from the kitchen. These offerings tap into a longing that lies at the heart of us all - a longing to reach out, to touch, to offer solace, to acknowledge our shared experience and love. It is strange that it takes being so far apart to bring us all together.

And yet, millions of us are suffering as we seek to survive alone, quarantined and apart. We have witnessed the ways we are diminished by loneliness and isolation. College graduations have been cancelled. Jobs have been lost. Schools have gone virtual. Walks with friends on the bike trail can only happen six feet apart, and not at all when too many of us are out at the same time.

And worse, when we fall ill, we are banished to our basements to ride out the virus alone, in the hope that we won't spread the sickness to our loved ones. If we are ill enough to be sent to the hospital, our family is forced to leave us at the curbside. We are left to suffer - and sometimes even die - all alone, physically far away from everyone we know and love. These stories from the front lines tear my heart apart.

And so here is what I want you to know, in this uncertain and topsy-turvy time: I have a superpower and I intend to use it, on behalf of you, me, and all of us, and in the name of connection and love.

And, better yet, you have this superpower, too.

You and I already know how to be together even when we are physically apart. We know how to hold one another in our minds and in our hearts. We know how to call up a sense of togetherness, no matter how far apart our bodies may be. Our lives and our hearts are already so knit together - through shared experience, through shared family, through common vision, and through lots of love. We already have within us a togetherness that no physical distance could ever cleave.

It just might help us all, in this scary and uncertain time, if we give voice to the many ways we are already one, to the ways we can stay together even while living apart. I want us to see clearly, as we face this pandemic now, and  also always, that love knows no bounds, as the mystics have long preached. Let's embrace that possibility together.

I found my truths from Eastern spiritual traditions, which have much to teach us about unity and connection. These philosophies offer us the possibility that our lives are deeply woven together into a beautiful web of connection and shared experience. Some even teach that our sense of separateness is a myth, an illusion. They show us the many ways that breaking out of our self-imposed separateness can lead to a new and perhaps more enlightened way of being in the world.

In one beautiful image, called Indra's net, the cosmos is offered as a vast and unending lattice of shimmering connection, with a jewel strung at every intersection of the strands. Each gem reflects all the others, in a sort of cosmic mirror trick, so the entire world can be found in each glimmering shard of light. And if you pull the world's tapestry from any single point, every other thread moves, too.

We are bound together by invisible strands of life. None of us shines alone. And all of us shining together create the whole wide world. Isn't that a beautiful and comforting vision?

Inspired by this image, each morning as I nestle into a chair by the big bay window and watch the morning wake, I practice what the Buddhists call metta, or lovingkindness. I sip my tea and I practice being close to you. I start near by, with my family. One by one, I call up an image of each of you in a happy, peaceful place. I settle into the feeling I have whenever I am sitting next to you on the porch or at the dinner table or out in the garden. I sense the you-ness of you, the way the air feels when you are near, the way my mind tilts in just that one way whenever you are around.

I rest with you in that way for a little while, and then I wish you well. Sometimes I call up the traditional words of lovingkindness practice ("May you be safe and protected from harm..."). Sometimes I come up with my own words and wishes. And sometimes I imagine myself offering you something I know makes you smile: that perfect cup of coffee, the lily in the garden, the canoe paddle at dawn, the exhilarating shush down the mountain. And then I smile and nod your way, imagining my sense of love and connection traveling across imaginary telephone wires all the way to you, where ever you may be.

And then I move on, to friends near and far, to neighbors, and, of course, to teachers and students whose web of connection has been honed through years of tree poses and togetherness. And then finally, I give up naming names and offer wishes for unshakeable wellbeing to all creatures, everywhere.

Does it matter? Do you sense it? I have no idea. To the logical brain it seems implausible that little beams of love are making their way from my heart to you. On the other hand, the world is full of mysteries that haven't yet been explained, and I am increasingly inclined to cast my lot with the mystery.

Here's what I do know for sure: being together in this way changes me. It diminishes my sense of isolation. It deepens my allegiance to you and stokes the flames of love in my own heart. And in these dark times, that feels good and right.

And, there is this: Now that I have told you I am always sending you love, that I am with you, that I am always whispering secret wishes for your peace and happiness, you will know in your head what you may or may not sense in your heart. And that, I hope, will bring us both a little comfort in these troubled times.

In other words, my superpowers - and yours, too - grow stronger when we tell each other we are using them.

In these next few weeks and months, if you are forced into self-isolation, or get sick or sent to the hospital without a single loved one, I want you to know one thing: Even if I am not by your side, I will be using the superpowers of my heart to stay close to you, to support you, to surround you with togetherness and light.

Maybe you will sense it - maybe there are angels out there after all who hear our prayers. And if not, maybe it will be enough if you remember that I am holding you close, that I am inclining my love toward you. Maybe, just maybe, when you remember this you will feel a little less alone, a little less afraid, and a little more at ease.

And I have a favor to ask you, too. If by chance I am suffering in any way - now or ever - would you mind holding me in your heart, too? I would feel so comforted to know that when I can't hold my head up on my own, you will be there for me, in the flesh or in the heart.

Use whatever language works best for you: send me love, or say a prayer, or offer up blessings or healing vibes or happy memories. Or, just think of me with a smile and a little bit of sunshine. You could imagine me sitting in my favorite chair high above the Caribbean blues, or settling deep inside into the world's "natural great peace," or maybe lying in the backyard with the kids just watching the clouds drift across the vast blue sky. And, I wouldn't protest if you envisioned a blue mug of moonlight jasmine tea and a sliver of dark chocolate nearby.

I smile even now just to think of your generosity and care.

Thank you so much for reading this. I feel much better now, having given voice to what I know about our superpowers of the heart. I find deep comfort in the mystery and poetry of our interconnection, of the ways we are entwined. I feel better having shared my vision of true love as deep presence and connection that can never be torn apart.

Spring is my favorite time of year, and I am looking forward to being out among the sweet-smelling blooms of the greening world. I wish we could share the season together in the flesh, which is the best form of togetherness I know. Until then, our superpowers of the heart will have to see us through. May this time of being apart strengthen the shimmering strands of love and connection that hold us together, both now and forever.

Sending you my love, always,