Gazing Upon Mercy

The tender gaze of mercy


On this New Year’s Day, I struggle with what to do about New Year’s resolutions.

Should I bother? If past years and decades are any indication, they will just turn into a source of disappointment and an odd confirmation that I am just not up to the task of _______ – just fill in the blank.

Over the years I have come to appreciate this First Day of a New Year for me as a time of vulnerability. I recognize that yes, I do want to lose a few pounds and sit longer and more often, but it means confronting that which gets in the way.

Of seeing the deep grooves a lifetime of habit patterns have etched in my soul (conventionally speaking, of course). If this material were not so well hidden by heavy defenses, it would be scary stuff.

I like these deep grooves, even though I know they may not be working the way they were originally intended.

Last year we moved to this new place, but sometime I find the car seemingly turning itself, making wrong turns, heading back to the old house.

The old is comforting.

Like my favorite, washed out, T shirt. The one which may not survive intact the next wash.

Thinking of the future “me” in the idealized way the ego is so good at, I have come to see it as just another set-up. Maybe rather than thinking in terms of what I should do or not do in this New Year, I could think in terms of a New Year’s Theme.

Like a new Spotify channel of the heart.

I am thinking of calling it The Channel of Loving-Kindness. Of Forgiveness.

Of loving what appears absolutely un-lovable.

The Buddhist meditation teacher Jack Kornfield’s line comes to mind:

It is not enough to know that love and forgiveness are possible. We have to find ways to bring them to life.

I reflect that on March 13, 2015, Pope Francis did an unusual thing. He declared 2016 as a special year in the Catholic Church. He declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In April, the Pope said the church needs to be more open, and there is a need to understand the importance of “mercy and gaze upon it.”

Bringing love and forgiveness to life requires us to get close to what gets in the way, and for most of us, it’s some form of pain.

We need to “gaze upon mercy” as a daily practice, and see it play out in our lives and in the world.

When we know what we are, it no longer matters who we have thought we were.  – Rainer Maria Rilke.

As I reflect on the past year, I was initially skeptical when the families of those killed in the historic African American church in Charleston, North Carolina spoke one by one to the young man who killed their loved ones. Nadine Collier, whose 70- year-old mother was a victim, said, “You took something very precious form me. I will never talk to her again. I will never ever hold her again. But I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.”

Can this be our first thought we hear the horrors of attacks like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino?

Hard-core metta.

Remember the Amish families who offered forgiveness after their daughters were killed in the school house?

Forgiveness seemed to come organically from their religious community. Mercy came from folks acting from the deep knowledge that love is stronger than hate, that non-violence is what holds the universe together.

I want that.

I want mercy, forgiveness and love to flow out of me organically. I don’t want to have to practice to get there.

I’ll end with this, from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron:

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times, the stress of trying to find solid ground – something predictable and safe to stand on – seems to intensify.

But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not. The real cause of suffering is not being able to tolerate uncertainty, denying the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

The spiritual practice of awakening to our fundamental ambiguity is not a process of building ourselves up – but a process of letting go. It is a process of relaxing in the middle – the paradoxical, ambiguous middle, full of potential, full of new ways of thinking and seeing – with no guarantee of what will happen next.

May 2016 be a year of “relaxing in the ambiguous middle”, of celebrating uncertainty, vulnerability, our tender heart gazing upon mercy.


Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.

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  1. Thanks Tom and Happy New Year.
    I have been thinking a lot lately about conventional wisdom and how it doesn’t work for me.
    Like: “that’s the way it is”, “suck it up”, “don’t take it personally” and so on. These always seem to be engaging in a game with the ego. However; “relaxing in the ambiguous middle” has that smoothness of peace and love. I can sit with that. Mahalo

    1. Yes, I also love the way Pema expresses these wonderful insights, like this relaxing in the ambiguous middle. SO freeing! Take care my friend.

  2. Aloha and Happy New Year,
    I just want to say thank you for your emails.
    I appreciated hearing about generosity and forgiveness because I need to practice more of this in my own life. Not easy when I feel like I’m up against a wall. I get impatient for change especially when I think I’ve done everything in my power to improve a situation. Why can’t a positive change just happen? I think as you say it must be in the letting go.

    1. So sorry fro such a late reply. I do so much appreciate you taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. As one of my first teachers told me “I didn’t say this work was going to be easy!” Adm I think he even had a glint in his eye, possibly adding in his mind — especially for you! (me). It’s in the letting go… again and again. Positive change comes when you don’t try to force them. Just hang in there and meditate when you can.

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