July 10 – The Ring of Safety – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

“Who sees all beings in his own Self and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.” The Isa Upanishad

I was sitting on a bench in the sun, waiting for Robert, when a yellow jacket landed about four feet to my left. I watched its striped anterior pulse and protract, the sun making its black rings blacker and its yellow rings almost orange.

It made me think of my mother and how if that yellow jacket were within yards of her, she would aha rolled up the nearest magazine and with trepidation tried until she swat it. Her fear of being stung made her kill many a small thing. She couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty that something living might hurt her, and in her deep fear of being hurt, she walled herself in, swatting everything away.

Almost forty years later, I realize that we all suffer the uncertainty of being hurt by the life that surrounds us, and we all have a changing ring of safety beyond which we are likely to hurt other living things in the guise of self-defense.

I sat on the beach and the yellow jacket flitted closer. But having almost died from cancer, feeling blessed to be here at all, I let the little insect come much closer than I used to. With a softer, more truthful eye, I could see it had little interest in me, and I am ashamed to admit just how many times I have harmed others because, like my mother, I couldn’t tolerate the unpredictable nature of their advance.

How often we imagine things are dangerous when they are only doing what comes naturally. The  yellow jacket came closer till; when it was almost on my arm, there was time enough to gently shoo it on its way. It flirted with me for some time, coming close till I would shoo it on, buzzing at a distance, then coming closer again.

This is so much like the dance we do with strangers and loved ones alike. How often we murder parts of ourselves and loved ones alike. How often we murder parts of ourselves by not letting things advance or come close. How often we let fear and the swat rule our emotional lives. How often we kill or chase away everything that moves.

I think of Francis of Assisi, who held so still the birds landed on his branchlike arms, and we wonder why we are so lonely when we won’t let anything full of life come near. If we could only see the bee, or the bird, or our enemy as a brief living centre like ourselves, we could let them go on their way without pulling us into opposition.

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