On my walk this morning, I was so moved by my love for the familiar trail. The newt in the middle of the muddy path, paused and utterly still. The drip, drip of the rain, the fresh smell of earth and of trees. The rush of water along the sunken edges of the path. These are the woody, moist tips of the great body that is home.

It is so vital for our spirit to stay in touch with the natural world, our home, and not be heedlessly swept along by the human drama of the world we build and narrate. We renew our vitality by coming back to the simplicity of love and the direct breath of earth and sky that is so freely offered.

I’ve walked here regularly for years. Sometimes, I barely take in where I’m stepping while deep in thought, fretting about the situation in the world. Does that happen to you? Taken to the extreme, we may indulge our despair and forget to love, to be open, patient, inclusive. Despair quickly becomes overwhelming.

Maintaining an open heart brings with it the energy to work on what we care about. To roll up our sleeves and act from insight and vision and from a loving sense of responsibility to this dear creation.

But this morning, as birds chirped among the bare branches, and the first tips of new grass poked up among last summer’s limp and sodden growth, I was moved with delight in their familiar company and reflected on how easy it is to tilt entirely away from appreciating the simple blessings of this ordinary moment.

You may have noticed how fretting contracts your field of self into a narrow band of muscular and mental tension. In this state of mind and body we can move senselessly through the world. But when we come back to the heart of love, the sacred heart, there’s a great expansion that happens — and an all-embracing awareness shines through.

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How easy it is in this new year and all its collective challenges, all its business, competition and warring, to frequently lose track of our loving heart and compassionate body which may, in fact, be the very survival mechanism that will see us through this difficult transformation into the emerging new order of things.

Buddhist practice grounds us in seeing every aspect of our experience as a blessing. Loving what is familiar as well as being open to what is foreign or difficult is our path as spiritual beings. There are some blessings that require us to go deeply into the nature of our life and be able to say “Yes, this too.”

We cultivate a loving heart even in circumstances that challenge us and — especially — with people who we find most difficult. It’s easy to love people who are easy to love, but what do we do with those we find more difficult to love? In our Buddhist practice we say, “go deeper,” and look into what it is in our selves that is so difficult to experience in this circumstance or with this person. A Buddhist friend of mine compares a compassionate life to water in the desert or light when all else is the impenetrable pitch of night.

So it’s so important to nourish a loving heart and to appreciate the spiritual nature of our shared life, which runs toward the spacious, the limitless, loving, and wise expanse of joy and possibility and kindness.

Abby Terris is senior teacher of the Corvallis Zen Circle, Sangha Jewel Temple. She has been practicing Zen Buddhism for 40 years and teaching it for nearly 20. She also co-leads Buddhist retreats at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie and at Empty Field Zendo in Eugene. She is a psychotherapist in private practice in Corvallis and mother of two grown daughters.


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