Yesterday as I sat in meditation I heard some words that I remember hearing 20 years ago at the Shambhala Centre I attended then. I believe they are attributed to Chogyam Trungpa: "Have a strong back and a soft heart" I may be off in the exact words and the trusty, know-it-all "google" couldn't find them for me. But they seem important to me in my practice lately.
If all we have is a soft heart (which is kind of my inclination) we tend to be weighted down by the troubles of the world, our own and that of others. The sadness and the suffering pile up and we feel overwhelmed. I remember when I first went to the Dharma talks of my teacher it seemed all I could see was the suffering around me. I felt like an open wound, oozing and raw. But a soft heart is an important part of the practice, to be open to the suffering and pain of others (and ourselves) to be willing to walk into it, to be with it, not pushing it away and saying everything is copacetic.
And yet this is not the whole picture (as I sensed in my overwhelmed state) As a senior teacher at the Shambhala Centre suggested, yes we need to have a soft heart, to let the world in, to let it touch us but we need to have a strong back to bear it all. We need to find a way to hold that suffering and not collapse or push it away. It is about this balance, this blend of soft and strong, and I like that it is described with the body. I see this picture of me with my soft heart being pulled forward and rolling up into a tiny ball. That's too much soft heart. And if you only have a strong back, perhaps your body is pulled so straight up, so tightly, that things simply bounce off your heart and can't enter there?
And for those of us with soft hearts, how do we develop the strong back? I am not sure about that? I am working on it. Our training helps us develop wisdom and clarity that allows us to see the truth of situations. To me that means that it is not always the "soft, kind, fuzzy" action that is helpful in a particular instance. As in the story I told of my friend repeating her problem over and over I have come to realize it is not helpful for either of us to let this go on. I need to have a strong back and in as kind and skillful way as possible not indulge delusion.
I need to have the strength to do the hard thing. I need to trust that the universe is unfolding as it should. If something seems horrific to me I can remember as my friend the monk says, "that something greater is working itself out" that is beyond my understanding. It doesn't mean I give up action and caring, it means using my strong back allows me to lift and hold a weight that would otherwise oppress my soft heart and render me "unhelpful" to myself and others.
And my wish for you is, may you go out into the world with your strong back and your soft heart and embrace what the world has to offer you.