Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keeping Empty Mind and Open Heart

The first time I sat with residents at Zen Hospice, I came with an empty mind, and open heart. Not knowing anything about them, other than whatever little information I could gather from their physical appearance, and sometimes, a few personal items.  With each person, I sat and listened, with my ears, and my eyes, and I let each moment unfold with its own mystery. It felt easy.

Of course, I had questions. I wondered about their history. What had brought them here? What had their life been like before they got sick? What was their prognosis? How about their family? Did they have any friends? . . . I asked the people in charge. Should I bother to know more? 

The next time I came, I made sure to read up on each resident, before I set out in the ward. And got many of my questions answered. And something else too.

Right away, I noticed a change. Previously open mind was now filled with judgments, and preferences, and assumptions, and stories of my own, superimposed upon the dry, clinical facts I had just read. Sure, I was more informed, and maybe better prepared in some cases, but was the tradeoff really worth it? One can never underestimate the power of information. Diagnosis, labels, stereotypes, personal memories of past interactions, gossips, information gained through hearsay, . . . so many bits the mind can use to create distance in our heart, between ourselves and others. 

Not all is lost however. Under the gentle gaze of awareness, if is up to us to loosen the fixed views we hold of those we come in contact with. Keeping and cultivating in our mind, only those thoughts that open our heart, to all the possibilities within each moment. 


  1. This so resonates with my experience... I have been taking Hakomi workshops (a mindfulness-centered psychotherapy), and I really notice the habit of mine to want to ask questions... "how long have you been married?" "where'd you grow up?" "what do you do for work?" etc., and also how wonderfully liberating it is to NOT ask those questions, and to just take in whatever they're sharing in the moment and find myself nourished by the true-heart connection that can happen, even with (and maybe especially because of) the absence of "data."

  2. Thank you Stacy. Such a beautiful comment! I wonder, where does it come from, that need of ours to categorize, and judge based on such static and limited information? As I investigate, I find it usually comes from greedy mind, and aversive mind, both looking for hooks to latch on. No hook, and both of these unwholesome tendencies are left hanging in the emptiness of true mind :) Of course, it takes effort!