By now you may have noticed that I do more than drinking hot beverages and eating whole-wheat cranberry scones while sitting at the little café down the block. I also watch and listen to other early birds, including a fidgety pair of swallows preening their wings in the sun. A ‘regular’ stopped by to say that she’d seen a name in the obituary column and wondered whether I’d known the deceased. “I scan the paper every morning, wondering whether you might have known that person,” she told me and we talked for a little while how one might live in the face of other people’s pain and loss each day and not become depressed or permanently sad oneself.
Taking her leave, she said, “I admire what you do [at hospice]” to which I replied, without another thought, “So do I [admire what I do, that is].” Nothing heroic or saintly; simply to be of service four days a week, to be allowed to enter into intimacy with others at difficult moments of their lives.
My café neighbour departed and I returned to my reading:
It’s a myth that spiritual people are not attached, that they’re somehow above the trials and tribulations of ordinary live. Not only are they affected by things, they’re tremendously affected by them. For rather than living in the realm of ideas and feelings about suffering, they live in the realm of action.
How do they know what action to take? …
When we bear witness, when we become the situation—homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, death—the right action arises by itself. We don’t have to worry about what to do. We don’t have to figure out solutions ahead of time. Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.
[The Buddha taught that] loving action is Right Action. It’s as simple as giving a hand to someone who stumbles or picking up a child who has fallen on the floor. We take such direct, natural actions every day of our lives without considering them special. And they’re not special. Each is simply the best possible response to the situation in that moment.
source: Glassman, B. (1998). Bearing witness: a Zen master’s lessons in making peace. New York: Bell Tower, p. 84.