When despair grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I would tell people, not just in music… I would just say to anybody… If you want to do something, go for it. Try. Don’t tell yourself you can’t make it. Don’t let your parents tell you you can’t make it. Let the world tell you you can’t make it after having tried. Or, maybe, let the world discover you. But don’t fail to try because if you don’t try you can’t succeed… I had hopeless times in my life about different things. You just have to persevere, because one day that door does open, but if you don’t persevere, you won’t be there when it does.
~ Carole King
You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face And show the world all the love in your heart Then people gonna treat you better You’re gonna find, yes, you will That you’re beautiful as you feel
I like to say that Planet Earth is a learning campus and that we are here to learn.
I keep thinking that if life is a course we are taking, it really doesn’t matter what happens to us, be it good or bad. Since every occurrence is a new lesson, we should welcome all of them as opportunities to learn. What happens to us matters less than how we respond. What really matters is our ability to learn from all experiences, so we may be able to choose better responses to whatever may happen next.
We are here to learn many things, among them to love and to let go.
When you are interiorly free you call others to freedom, whether you know it or not. Freedom attracts wherever it appears. A free man or a free woman creates a space where others feel safe and want to dwell. Our world is so full of conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations that we often wonder what is expected of us. But when we meet a truly free person, there are no expectations, only an invitation to reach into ourselves and discover there our own freedom.
Where true inner freedom is, there is God. And where God is, there we want to be.
~ Henri Nowen
How do we create this space?
I believe that we create a space where others feel safe and comfortable to dwell by curbing our cravings and aversions, by accepting everything and demanding nothing, by diminishing our self-importance, and by just showing up as who we really are. By doing so, we allow others to relax, feel safe, and be who they are.
Jonathan crafted this poem during the “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in Mind-Body Medicine” 7-day retreat at the Omega Institute, in Rhinebeck, NY, that we both attended, and which ran from June 10 to June 17, 2016. Saki Santorelli, one of the instructors, showed pictures of Bruno Catalano’s sculptures during his presentation, and those images inspired Jonathan to write this beautiful poem that I post here with his permission.
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
~ Wumen Huikai
Wumen Huikai (Japanese: Mumon Ekai) (1183–1260) is a Song period Chán (Japanese: Zen) master most famous as the compiler of and commentator on the 48-koan collection The Gateless Gate (Japanese: Mumonkan). Wumen was at that time the head monk of Longxiang (Japanese: Ryusho) monastery in China.
There are two primary collections of koans in Zen/Chán Buddhism: The Blue Cliff Records and The Gateless Gate. The Gateless Gate was first published in 1228 and consists of 48 koans compiled by WuMen Huikai with his commentary and poetic verse.
Who am I when I am not playing the character I have created?
Who am I when I am not imitating, impersonating, pretending?
Who am I when I am not trying to please or impress?
Who am I when I am not obsessing with what to say and the right words to use?
Who am I when I not striving to be perfect, wanting to be someone I am not?
2nd Room – Shanti – Calmness
Who am I when I am not thinking about what I like and dislike, what I approve and disapprove, what I want and don’t want?
Who am I when I am not wanting life to match my expectations, wishing the world and people in it to be as I would like them to be?
Who am I when I am not daydreaming pleasant fantasies, or daymaring scary dramas?
Who am I when I am not plotting how to satisfy my cravings?
3rd Room – Bhodi – Awakening
Who am I when I am neither the one who is being observed, nor the one who observes?
Who am I when I am not who I think I am?
Who am I and who am I not?
Who am I and who am I not, really?
What remains after all that I think I am is gone?
Beyond all Rooms
Who am I beyond all the ideas I have about myself?
What continues to exist after all that is I, and all the ideas I have about this I cease to exist?
What persists when the I disappears?
What remains after all that is I vanishes?
Who am I beyond the I?
Who is the I beyond the I?
What is beyond?
~ Piero Falci
6/15/2016 – Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY.
The genesis of this poem:
Today, Saki Santorelli, one of the instructors of the mindfulness retreat I am attending recited David Whyte’s “Enough,” a poem that I love very much, and that has been a companion in my life for many years now. He said, “David wrote this poem during a silent retreat when he was instructed, just as you were, not to write.” After a pause, Saki added, “Well, I guess that, actually, he was not writing; he was listening.” Well, I, too, listened to the words of this poem in the middle of the silence. What emerged and became evident during these days of silence was not so much my true self but my many false selves; not so much who I am, but much more who I am not. So, it made me ponder: “Who am I when I am not who I think I am?” At the end of the retreat, Saki mentioned that he was pondering on that question, and it made me think how we affect each other’s lives in unexpected ways. I am very grateful for the entire retreat experience, and deeply touched by the generosity of the instructors and participants.
This poem came to me, again, during a silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Society on January of 2017. Originally, I divided it in three free-form strophes and simply gave a number to each (1, 2, 3). More recently, I have been reflecting that although the use of the term would not be rigorously correct, I could refer to each part as a stanza (the word means room, in Italian. See the definition of the term below). And since every morning during this last week I walked through the corridors that give access to the bedrooms of Karuna (Compassion), Shanti (Calmness) and Bhodi (Awakening), the three dormitories at IMS, sounding the bell in the early hours of the day to wake up the retreatants, I felt called to include those names in this poem as a way of reminding me to honor this journey we are in.
Stanza – In poetry, a stanza (from Italian stanza, “room”) is a grouped set of lines within a poem. Stanzas can have regular rhyme and metrical schemes, though stanzas are not strictly required to have either. The term stanza is similar to strophe, though strophe is sometimes used to refer to irregular set of lines, as opposed to regular, rhymed stanzas.
Piero Falci loves to observe, reflect, write, and teach. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who not only strives to live a life that matters, but who also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is a promoter of peace who works to advance the idea that Heaven is here, if we want it to be. He teaches mindfulness meditation and mindful living, and organizes Silent Peace Walks.
For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself. From within, I couldn’t decide what to do. Unable to see, I heard my name being called. Then I walked outside.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.
I feel your pain. I am in pain too. I feel your anger. I am angry too. I feel your despair ’cause I’m in despair too. You don’t need to hurt me ’cause your wound is open in me. Let us leave it all behind.
Come with me to the Land of We.
Remind me of all the times I’ve hurt you. Tell me about the times I’ve excluded you, and made you feel defenseless and afraid. Help me see how heartless and violent I am. Show me all the pointless and petty wars I am constantly waging. You’re hurting and I’m too. Yes, hurt people hurt people, but we can forgive each other and be free. Help me! Heal me!
Take me to the Land of We.
Twists of fate took us to different places; I ended up sitting on a cushion, and you, with a rifle in your hands. I could easily be you, and you could easily be me. I see myself in you. Can you see yourself in me? Yes, I am in you, and you are in me. I belong to you, and you belong to me. I need you, and you need me. Hold my hand, and let me hold yours. Fill my void, and I will fill yours. Let us melt our loneliness and despair in the warmth of this embrace. Let us cultivate kindness in a new place. Let us walk together slowly, gently to where there is no you or me.
Let’s go together to the Land of We.
~ Piero Falci
I heard the news of the shooting and deaths in the Orlando nightclub while attending a mindfulness meditation retreat in a place of peace and beauty called Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, a real example that it is possible to bring Heaven to Earth. On the early morning hours of Monday, June 13, 2016, the instructors told us about the tragedy. We meditated, walked in silence, and afterwards many of the participants shared their thoughts in what came to be a highly emotional moment. I thank all of those who expressed their feelings in such heartfelt ways, especially Andrew and Audrey.
I am convinced that we need to silently and reverently go inside ourselves to that peaceful place of wisdom. I am commited to spread peace through practicing and teaching the inner work that will heal this world.
Darling, I am here for you. Darling, I know you are there and it makes me happy. Darling, I know you suffer. Darling, I suffer, please help.
This is a Happy Moment. Darling, you are partly right.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
The first mantra is, “Darling, I am here for you.” — When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? And you look into his eyes and you say, “Darling, you know something? I’m here for you.” You offer him or her your presence, and your true presence. You are not preoccupied with the past or the future, or your project. You are there for your beloved one.
The second mantra is, “Darling, I know you are there and it makes me happy. I am so happy because you are truly there.” You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious. And you use your mindfulness to recognize that. Embrace your beloved one with mindfulness, and she will bloom like a flower. To be loved means to be recognized as existing.
These two mantras can bring happiness right away, even if your beloved one is not there.
The third mantra is what you practice when your beloved one suffers. “Darling, I know you suffer, that is why I am here for you.” Before you do something to help her, to help him, your presence already can bring some relief.
And the fourth mantra is a little bit more difficult. That is when you suffer, and you believe that your suffering has been caused by your beloved one. So you suffer so deeply, and you prefer to go to your room, and close the door, and suffer alone. You get hurt, and you want to punish him or her for having made you suffer. And the mantra is to overcome that. The mantra is, “Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please, help me.” You go to him, you go to her, and practice that. And if you can bring yourself to say that mantra, you suffer less right away.
Oh! Stay, dear child, one moment stay, Before a word you speak, That can do harm in any way To the poor, or to the weak; And never say of any one What you’d not have said of you, Ere you ask yourself the question, “Is the accusation true?”
And if it is true, for I suppose You would not tell a lie; Before the failings you expose Of friend or enemy: Yet even then be careful, very; Pause and your words well weigh, And ask if it be necessary, What you’re about to say.
And should it necessary be, At least you deem it so, Yet speak not unadvisedly Of friend or even foe, Till in your secret soul you seek For some excuse to find; And ere the thoughtless word you speak, Ask yourself, “Is it kind?”
When you have ask’d these questions three— True,—Necessary,—Kind,— Ask’d them in all sincerity, I think that you will find, It is not hardship to obey The command of our Blessed Lord,— No ill of any man to say; No, not a single word.
~ Mary Ann Pietzker, in “Miscellaneous Poems,”
published in 1872 by Griffith and Farran of London.
Here is communication’s golden rule: Listen attentively and empathize! Listen first, without saying anything. Or, as Stephen R. Covey taught us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Use the magic words, “Let me see if I understand,” and then repeat in your own words what the people you are interacting with have said. Make them feel that you feel what they feel. Make them feel that you understand them. And, then, only then, speak. And when you speak, talk about you, not about them. Describe the situation from your perspective, expressing your feelings, and avoiding, as much as possible, finding fault and criticizing them. Use the “I-message.” Start your phrases with “I,” not with “You.”
Here are nine guidelines to consider before speaking:
1 – Is it true? Is my speech based on facts, or not? Speech should be true.
2 – Is it helpful? Should I say something, or not? Will my words add anything of value, or will my silence be more helpful? Speech should be helpful.
3 – Is it inspiring? Do my words carry criticism or optimism? Speech should be optimistic and inspiring.
4 – Is it necessary? Do I speak words that are going to make situations and relationships better, or not? Speech should be helpful and beneficial.
5 – Is it kind? Do I speak gently or harshly? Do I speak with a kind heart, or with malice? Will my words hurt someone? Will my words make someone uncomfortable? Will my words arise the impulse in others to defend and attack? Will my words damage relationships? Speech should be kind, affectionate, and endearing.
6 – Is it just? Or unjust? Speech should be just.
7 – Is it peace-producing? Do I speak with my heart, expressing love and understanding and fostering good will, or do I let my ego speak, wanting to be right and win an argument? Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right? In minor things, I’d rather be at peace than in conflict with others. Sometimes it makes more sense to surrender and let go of the need to prove that you are right. Sometimes the best response is a shoulder shrug accompanied by “Whatever.” Speech should be conducive to harmony.
8 – Is it well-spoken? Or poorly spoken? Am I explaining myself properly? Am I making myself understood? Speech should be well-spoken.
9 – Is it timely? Is this the right time to speak, or not? Speech should be spoken at the right time.
Many centuries ago, a certain Rev. Mr. Stewart advised three questions to be put to ourselves before speaking evil of any man:
“First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary?”
If you feel the impulse to speak, always pause first, breathe, and ask yourself:
Today we remember and celebrate the birthday of one of the best men I know. His coming to this world affected me in profound ways.
Here’s the story of Pedro’s birth…
It was late night, and the bustling daytime activity had vanished; visitors were long gone, and most of the patients and their companions were sleeping. But I couldn’t. So I kissed my wife — lovingly, gently, and carefully, trying not to disturb her sleep — and left the room in silence.
I remember how quiet and dim the corridors were; “They must turn down the lights at night,” I pondered.
“That one,” I said, even though I knew she could not hear me. “That one,” I said again, pointing at the newborn in the little crib whose sign bore my last name. The nurse smiled, picked him up, gently nestled him in her arms, got closer to the glass, and allowed me to take a lengthy look at him… and that was it! That was the moment when my life changed forever!
Yes, I had been in middle of all the excitement in the delivery room a few hours before. Yes, I held him in my arms minutes after he was born. But that moment, in the quiet of the night, when I took that long look at him, that was the moment when the entire Universe slowed down, everything around me became a blur, and time stood still. Something mysterious and magical was happening. I didn’t know then, and I only came to realize years later that who I was looking at, just then, was the greatest guide and teacher I would have in my life. And even though I was completely unaware of my role as a neophyte explorer, he immediately took me to unexplored territories. And although I was utterly oblivious of my role as his student, he, at once, exposed me to fundamental questions. I looked at him and asked myself, “Who am I? What is this thing we call life? Who creates it? How does it come about? How can I, this simple man, be a part in something so miraculous, inexplicable, and extraordinary?”
And the Voice of the Universe spoke through him: “There’s something bigger going on here; something that you don’t quite understand. You must pay attention and be alert.” And I heard a whisper, “It’s time to let go of the old. It’s time to embrace the new.”
In that moment I was forever transformed, never to be the same again.
During the years that followed, my son guided me to take a deep look at my life and change my ways. He patiently endured the pain I made him go through while I was learning. And no matter how many mistakes I made, he always reaffirmed his unconditional love for me. He taught me what real, innocent love was. He believed in me more than I did myself. He believed that the good in me would prevail. He, more than anyone else, made me a better man.
I look back and I think, “How fortunate I am! How blessed I am to have him in my life! What a vast joy it is for me to have him by my side during my journey here on Earth!”
The Forces of the Universe brought you here. They gave you power and authority. This is a gift that was given to you. Be grateful for the gift and the added responsibility. Now is your time. You are in the leader seat now, making the decisions. Take your responsibility seriously. Remember that “with great power comes great responsibility.” You are well prepared for the job. You are unique and special. Pause, look at your trajectory, and see the wealth of experiences you’ve accumulated, and how well life has prepared you to be the leader you are called to be. Be conscious of your strengths. You have a strong moral and ethical foundation, high values and principles. You have a great attitude and a calm demeanor. You have a beautiful essence, a rich core, a gentle soul. Your thinking is not shallow; you are able to look deeply and process complex situations. You were blessed with this wonderful reflective quality that makes you take time to ponder and evaluate before speaking and taking action, and you use it well. This is great!
DECISION MAKER – Learn to listen to what your intuition is telling you; usually it is pointing you in the right direction. Listen to everyone, but, in the end, make your own decisions. You are the leader now. It is your time now. It is your turn now. After listening to everyone, retreat to your place of peace in the center of your being, and make your choice. Find the right balance, and beware of paralysis by analysis. As Bruce Lee said, “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” Decide within the right amount of time you have to come up with your decision. In certain occasions you will have plenty of time, and in other occasions you will have almost no time at all. No matter what, decide, and communicate your decision. People are counting on you to lead. Do what is right, even if it is not popular. Own your decisions. If you are at peace with the decision you made, it will be much easier for you to calmly stand your ground even in times of great opposition.
INNER EXPLORER – Go inside yourself and make your decisions inspired by your innermost wisdom. Remember that, in the final analysis, everything and everyone is impermanent, and that we are here on a journey of transformation and awakening, of purification and liberation. Have a practice of introspection and reflection. All leaders who gave the greatest contributions to humanity – Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the man whose name is in your job title today – they all had a practice of silence and solitude. So meditate assiduously and look for answers within your own self. Allow the Divine Wisdom to inspire you, guide you, and manifest great things in the world through you. Ask yourself often, “How is my decision going to impact others?” and choose what brings about the greater good.
SERVANT LEADER – Be a servant leader. See every individual you meet as your customer. When approached, no matter how busy you may think you are, stop what you are doing, and give them your undivided attention, even if just for a brief moment. Ask, “How can I help you? What can I do for you?” When you meet someone, quietly ask yourself, “How can I help this person? What can I do for this individual that will make his or her life easier and more enjoyable?” They are all your customers: sometimes you will be dealing with external customers, but, most of the time, you will be dealing with your colleagues, your internal customers. No matter who they may be, internalize that you work for them all.
TEACHER, MENTOR, GUIDE – Hire good people, people who you will enjoy having around, who are smart, curious, and excited to learn. Teach them. Develop them. Motivate them. Inspire them. Apply the principles of Situational Leadership. Get to know their personality types, level of maturity, and how ready they are to do the tasks that are requested from them. Supervise closely those who need guidance, and get out of the way of those who know what to do, and, actually, can do it better than you; that’s why you hired them. Teach everything you know. Be generous and unafraid. Mentor those who will know everything you know and will be able to replace you. Become dispensable, remembering that, in all truth, we all are. Resist the temptation to be the sage on the stage and choose to be the guide on the side. Let others shine and feel how their light brightens yours. In the final analysis, your job is to help others be who they are meant to be and do what they were brought here to do. Support them so they can be the best that they can be. Help them fulfill their destinies and give their best contributions to the world. Remind yourself often that “it is not about me; it’s about them.” So, whenever praise and accolades come your way, gladly accept them on behalf of your team, and publicly acknowledge them, thank them, praise them in abundance. It’s about them, not about you. We never accomplish anything alone.
“So many of our dreams, at first, seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable”
~ Christopher Reeve, actor of Superman fame.
VISIONARY – Take time to develop a vision. Great leaders create visions and share them effectively. They motivate, generate enthusiasm, and create allies. Invest time and energy in creating a vision of the future and communicating it skillfully. Encourage other people to create these visions together with you. Invite them to think and share their visions with you. Put people together in brainstorming and planning sessions, knowing that there is great synergy when people are invited to share their ideas. There is a renewed energy that makes things better and impacts the workplace in positive ways. Listen to everyone, but make your own decisions. You are the leader now. It is your time now. It is your turn now. Take time to communicate the vision. Talk a lot about it. Present it. Share it as often as possible. The communication and sharing will clarify the vision – for others, but also for you — and make more people understand, buy in, and become helpers in the process of making the vision a reality. A clear mission and vision will make it easier to say “yes” to tasks that are in alignment and advance the vision and mission, and also easier to say “no” to those that are not and do not.
COMMUNICATOR – Effective communication is the most important element for a well functioning organization, so take your time to communicate. Be in contact with people. Whenever you have some time available, talk to the members of your team. Ask and listen to what they have to say. Let them share. Listen some more. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. Use the magic words, “Let me see if I understand,” and repeat what they said in your own words. Once they felt that they have been understood, they will relax and listen to you. Listen to them, and let them know what you think. Exercise restraint in your criticism, but be generous with your praise. And don’t shy away from the difficult conversations. Don’t let the little, manageable things pile up and become an enormous, unmanageable crisis.
Develop your own self.
Develop those who were entrusted to you.
MAN OF GRIT – Everyone faces tough times. Hopefully, by preparing yourself properly, and acting with equanimity, you will reduce your exposure to such situations. But when they pop up, remember that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Be resolute in the face of difficulties, and never give up, never surrender. No matter how many times you may fall, get up again. Show who you are: a courageous man with firmness of character and an indomitable spirit. Be that hero you hoped would show up to help you when things are difficult. Be the hero others hope will show up to help them. Be your own hero, and the hero others already see in you.
Remember that nothing is permanent; everything passes away. So, whenever you err, don’t be too hard on yourself; no need for harsh self-judgment and condemnation. Failure is part of the process of redirecting people to where they must go and be. So, treat yourself kindly, gently, with lots of self-forgiveness, and learn to laugh at your own lapses.
“The 9 Ls”
(and by doing all this, day in and day out, you will…)
Be prepared to
Let go fo everything
and you will
Leave an honorable legacy.
~ Thanks to John Shelby Spong, Stephen R. Covey, and Thich Nhat Hanh
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY – You are well prepared for your journey. Be attentive to the situations that will come your way and the lessons you will have to learn. There’s no end to it: we are learning and teaching all the time, throughout our lives. Believe in yourself. You have a strong foundation, a solid set of principles and values, ethics and morals. You are a beautiful human being, and you are at the right spot. You have a giving heart, a desire to serve, and you are in a place where you can help a lot of people. Just do it! And have a great time! Feel good and have fun! Remember: a good life is a collection of good moments. Make each moment count! My advice: Print The Optimist Creed, the Desiderata, and the Prayer of Saint Francis. Frame them, and read them often!