Whenever I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or sad, I go to my meditation corner and sit for a while. I set up my meditation corner with a green, satiny pillow on a yoga mat, facing the White Tara tapestry my parents brought back from one of their trips to India or Tibet or Nepal. The room where I sit also serves as our storage space, and my pillow thus faces, in addition to White Tara, four bicycles (from small to large), a car bike rack, some deflated balls in a box, and a towering filing cabinet. But the clutter does not seem to matter. The meditation pillow has become my haven of peace and quiet, a place where I can rest my thoughts, or at least slow to a halt my physical body if my thoughts persist in slipping in and out of my mind.
White Tara, the goddess in my tapestry, is a Buddhist deity who represents the motherly aspect of compassion as well as truth, purity and wisdom. She has seven eyes to show her vigilance and ability to see all the suffering in the world. The tapestry had been hanging in that corner of the room for years now, and while I always loved the way White Tara looked, I did not think to invite her to participate in my spiritual practice till a few months ago.
If anything, rather than compassion, I was ever accompanied by the judging voice of a Critic. This voice has been especially disruptive in my writing. So many times I’ve given up on what I had written, thinking it was awful, only to come back to it months later and discover that it was not bad at all. Through therapy and after reading Tara Brach’s life-changing book, Radical Acceptance, I slowly became aware of this Critic and his dictatorial rule over me. Fortunately, knowing the problem is half the solution. Rather than reject the Critic, I decided to invite him in closer. Yes, it was difficult to listen to this voice, but the fact was, I knew the Critic was a part of me. I wanted to accept this part, but how? Criticism does not equal feedback and rarely serves as encouragement. Perhaps, I realized, the Critic and I could learn to be a little gentler with my other, more sensitive, creative parts if we treated ourselves and each other with compassion.
I’ve been practicing in the room next to the tapestry for a while, longing for peace and quiet and not always finding it, before I figured it out. I wanted to be more compassionate to myself, and here was White Tara, goddess of compassion, watching me! What if I asked her to bless my practice with compassion, to help me be more compassionate to myself? And so I asked. And she had answered.
These days, whenever I feel frustrated, sad or overwhelmed, I go sit in the warmth of White Tara’s compassion. I’m pretty sure that her compassion and love are beginning to rub on me. Certainly, her presence has become my haven, my retreat. Where before meditation seemed a duty, something I was repeatedly encouraged to do but preferred to avoid, now I wait for the moment I can go and sit. From a woman who rarely slowed down,here I am, enjoying a daily pause.
Here are my tips for building your own compassion-filled meditation space and practice:
1. Your meditation corner doesn’t need to be perfect! Any old space could do, as long as you bring compassion into it. My corner is cluttered and hardly private, but when I close my eyes and feel compassion for myself for not having a better space, it becomes sacred and just enough perfect.
2. Invite White Tara, Kwan Yin, or any other deity who brings compassion and love with her (or him) to help. Meditating requires so much self compassion! Jack Kornfield compares meditation to training a puppy. You tell the puppy to sit, and the puppy wanders off and pees in the corner. You tell the puppy to sit again, and it goes off to bark up a tree. Have compassion for your poor mind, your puppy. It’s interested in many things. Bring your attention back to your breath or the belly, pat your mind a little to let it know you love it, and let the cycle of quieting the thoughts start again.
3. Even if thoughts persist in sucking you in, having the body be still for a while is worth the meditation. Pausing physically is as important as pausing the mind. Our bodies deserve to rest too, you know.
4. Expect your meditation to be different each time you sit. Sometimes I sit, and twenty minutes or half an hour pass by in a second. Other times I find myself peeking at the clock every two minutes, hardly believing that only two minutes have passed. Sometimes my mind is quiet and clear like a High Sierra lake, and at other times it is muddy and stormy and restless. Whatever it is, the best way is to accept it with — guess what? — compassion!