What does it mean to hold someone in your thoughts?
I wrote a condolence card to a friend recently, a Christian friend, and I offered some words like this. I couldn’t say I was praying for her in her distress and grief since that’s not part of my practice but I am holding her in my thoughts a lot. ‘Sending good vibes’ is often used in the strange (to my ears) parlance of modern yogis. I’m sure the intention is good but the words sit uncomfortably with me. It sounds too flippant, the relentless positivity that I feel undermines how people might really be feeling, suggesting they just need to make more of an effort (or do a more vigorous asana practice!) and their difficulties would evaporate and be magically replaced by better ‘vibes’. But you know, sometimes life is sad; we lose those we love dearly and we feel abandoned. I think we should take care to feel all that for as long as we need to. It’s hard but honest, but time and experience suggests to me that the pain and poignancy of these times offers depth and meaning to our lives, if we allow it to linger naturally, to hold it in our thoughts, rather than pushing it away.
My teacher said something recently about the offering of blessings. Again not a word that I’m totally comfortable with (now because it’s too Christian-sounding) but at least it seems imbued with some generous compassion and loving-kindness. He posed the question already on my lips: what right do we have to offer blessings to another? Indeed! It’s always seemed a bit hierarchical to me, and I definitely wouldn’t make any assumptions about my place in any hierarchy….
And yet neither would my teacher, I think. Or indeed another teacher-friend who also liberally offers blessings. So I enquire a little more deeply for myself and play with this idea of offering blessings, to see what they might have found here, how they might have accommodated themselves to this idea. I’ve been simply setting aside some space around my practice to sit quietly and turn my thoughts to others, taking the time to bring them to mind, intentionally noting my relationship to them and feeling that in my heart, wishing them well. Perhaps this is offering blessings.
Through this gentle practice I am more aware of myself in a network of relationships, coming to perceive it that way rather than as a hierarchy. There are many around me with particular difficulties in their lives at present. Some are my teachers (where I must work hard at not feeling this as a daunting hierarchy), some are my students, some are family, and some friends. And I’m sure if my heart had capacity, I’d become aware of more, in a growing circle rippling out. All is suffering…
But before I get overwhelmed by the magnitude of suffering or feel the need to engage with it all too personally, I find some comfort in the ritual of mantra. Perhaps the formality and familiarity of these words allows me to settle into some heartfelt intentionality without the need for personal agency