zenhabits : breathe

Unraveled? Here’s How to Knit Yourself and the World Together

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Mary Jaksch of Goodlife ZEN.

What unites us as human beings is an urge for happiness which at heart is a yearning for union. ~ Sharon Salzberg

Have you ever looked into the mirror and wondered who is staring back at you? Or longed to unite the many parts within you? The friendly one, the angry one, the resentful one, the sad one, the calm one, the impatient one, the confused one – that are all jumbled up behind a public persona that’s buffed and glossed – but tends to crack when you’re angry or upset.

This post is about how we become unraveled and alienated – and how we can reunite with ourselves and the whole world.

It is about the healing power of love.

There are four ways we become divided within:

  1. We fragment through ‘if-only’ thoughts.
  2. We think, “If only I had a different job; if only I was married to another person; if only I lived in a different place. If only I could study, travel the world, get a job, find a partner, win lotto, make friends.”

    We think, “If only I was somewhere else, or doing something else – then I would be happy.”

  3. A divided mind splits us into two.
  4. Our mind is often divided. One part may be paying attention to what is happening, but another part often skips ahead to look at what comes next, or wonders how our actions or words might be received.

  5. We deny aspects of ourselves.
  6. We fragment when we deny the unloved parts of ourselves. When we try to cut off our anger, or our fear, or our shame, our emotions become muted, enthusiasm is hard to come by, and we feel alienated from ourselves and others.

  7. Change leaves part of us behind.
  8. Whenever we make a change in our life, a part gets left behind. That’s why change – even wholesome change – is often painful.


The French poet Anatole France said:

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

What makes us whole?

We long to become whole. Every spiritual quest is about union. Not just with ourselves, but with the wind, mountains, sea, grasses, clouds, loved ones, and people far distant.

What makes us whole is love.

In her book “Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness”, Sharon Salzberg’s says:

Great fullness of being, which we experience as happiness, can also be described as love. To be undivided and unfragmented, to be completely present, is to love.

Yes, love makes us whole again. I’m not talking about romantic love, because romantic love wants to grasp and own the object of passion. I mean our innate ability to cherish ourselves and others in a loving and kind way. Loving-kindness is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves, as well as all parts of the world.

Not only does loving-kindness knit us together when we fall apart, the practice of kindness re-teaches us our own loveliness and opens our eyes to the beauty of all beings. Here is one of my favorite poems. It’s by Galway Kinnell:

The bud
Stands for all things,
Even for those things that don’t flower,
For everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
Though sometimes it is necessary
To reteach a thing its loveliness,
To put a hand on the brow
Of the flower,
And retell it in words and in touch,
It is lovely
Until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.

So how can we flower again from within? How can we heal our fragmentation?

The practice of loving-kindness can knit us together.

Loving-kindness is an ancient spiritual practice. As Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says, “Love and compassion are not the possession of any group or religious system. They are woven into our human spirit.”

I want to share with you a very simple loving-kindness meditation which the Dalai Lama teaches:

As you breathe in – cherish yourself.

As you breathe out – cherish all beings

If you find it difficult to cherish yourself, lay a hand gently on your heart as you do this meditation.

This is my back-pocket meditation. It’s the one I pull out at odd moments during the day. When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, or when I’m waiting for the water to run hot in the shower; when I stand at the window looking out at the rain, or walk under tall trees. Breathing in, I cherish myself; breathing out, I cherish all beings.

It’s simple. But it can transform life.

This meditation will make you happier, especially if you make it a daily practice. As your heart’s capacity for love and kindness grows, you’ll find a great fullness of being, and discover a warm kinship with all beings.

Mary Jaksch is a Zen Master and writer. Read more on her blog Goodlife ZEN and join her free Virtual Zen Retreat The Miracle of Kindness.



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