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in the face of distress

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(Based on actual events.) We were having tea. My friend sat quietly, eyes looking past mine, not her usual way. “What’s up?” I asked. Oh, nothing. Wait. Sit. Listen. Don’t crowd her.

My parents are divorcing. Everything’s chaotic at home. I’m getting the brunt of their anger. I wish I could ….. “Could what?” Protect them from each other, maybe?

“What about you, how are you coping?” I’ve seen this coming for a long time, we all have. “How are you coping?” I ask again. When one of them speaks to me in anger, I know it’s not at me personally … but still, I feel hurt.

We sat in silence for a little while, until she spoke again, this time looking straight at me: I’m learning to see that it’s not my fault. And I’m careful not to be lured into their dance. One of  them is looking to fight, to argue, to … avoid dealing with what’s going on, I guess.

“You’re taking care of yourself, huh? It may seem selfish to focus on your own well-being with all that suffering going on around you. To practice compassion — to support your parents and your brothers during this time of high stress — requires that you take care of our own heart, first and always. There’s a temptation — at least it is for me — to want to step in, give advice (grin!), make chaos go away.”

After she’d left, I turned to a book by Ezra Bayda which has helped me navigate some rough seas in the past. He writes:

Dense and intense emotional reactions can leave us feeling lost and overwhelmed. In these darkest moments, the [Zen] practice is to bring awareness to the center of the chest, breathing the painful emotions, via the inbreath, directly into the heartspace. It’s as if we were breathing the swirling physical sensation right into the heart. Then, on the outbreath, we simply exhale. We are not trying to do or change anything; we’re simply allowing our heart center to become a wider container of awareness within which to experience distress.

text: Bayda, E. (2003). being zen: bringing meditation to life. Boston: Shambhala, p. 92. image: “Two tea cups” by Benoit Philippe at


One response »

  1. “I truly appreciate your blog every time you post, Peter. Such is the human condition that I relate to almost each one with my own ‘story.’ I’ve just read today’s posting that included a quote by Ezra Bayda that was very helpful….”


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