The Path of Tenderness, by Mark Coleman
About Mark Coleman:
Mark Coleman has been engaged in meditation practice since 1981, primarily within the Insight meditation tradition. He has been teaching meditation retreats since 1997. His teaching is also influenced by his studies with Advaita Vedanta and Tibetan teachers in Asia and the West, and through his teacher training with Jack Kornfield. Mark primarily teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California, though he also teaches nationally, in Europe and India.
I was having a dinner with my friends who are teaching us which retreat up to help, and they were asking me what else I’m going to talk about. And I said, well, I’ve got this talk prepared, but I don’t think I’m going to give it. It’s really just, rather, a talk. You know, speak towards here in the room and speak to, what, once done. Unfold, just far more interesting than any prepared talk. Well, maybe. I don’t know. Who knows? And we’ll find another one. Maybe I think the prepared talk was a good idea after all. So, as I was sitting, I was reflecting on the word tenderness. So I’ve been speak and I do speak a lot about compassion as one of the essential, beautiful human qualities and one of the essential qualities in life and the spiritual path and as a beautiful, flowering, an expression of practice of awareness of awakening. And that path or journey of cultivation, cultivating of compassion is never an easy journey. We don’t just pop out and suddenly went very compassion. It’s usually just a very hard one to confronting pain, to confronting our own struggles, our own challenges, our own burdens of which we have many.
And when I think about this practice, this grounded mindfulness, awareness practice, one way of looking at it is it’s a practice of bearing witness. It’s a practice of bearing witness through ourselves, to life, to each other, to the world, to the beauty and the tragedy of life. And if we do that fully, wholeheartedly in every corner of our lives, one of the things that arises is we come to be intimate with our own humanity and our own vulnerability. You could say, one of the nature, one of the fundamental aspects of being human, and being in a body is to be vulnerable. We are vulnerable. Period. And sometimes, that’s looked upon as a weakness or something to be overcame, to be strong, and to be all those things. But the truth is, it’s vulnerable to be human, to be in a body, in a heart, to be susceptible to sickness, to death, to loss, to hardships, uncertainty. And so, that vulnerability, if it’s to be met, it’s to be met fully, it requires the tenderness. The tenderness to meet our human-ness.
And so I was reflecting on tenderness as I was sitting. I was feeling a lot of tenderness, both in my experience and reflecting on tenderness in my life and then my day actually. I’m thinking all the different ways that tenderness informed and came out of the different things I did today.
And I was reminded of when I was, I started my Buddhist training with an organization in England. I was in this ordination process. And one of the things that, as part of the training was we were asked to give some spontaneous talks and someone in the audience would just give you a theme and you had to give a talk about it, which was I was 22 and petrified. And someone, and people just shouted out randomly, somewhat intuitively, but randomly. And someone said, “Give a talk about tenderness.” And I was clueless. I don’t know what to say about tenderness. I was 22, for God’s sake.
But you know, I had enough ___ was all in that moment to sort of drop in to my experience and to reflect that actually that quality does permeate our experience in different ways, in different ways we relate to us, each other, to nature, to loved ones, to animals, to different things.
And so, I probably planned to ___ a reflection, conscious and unconscious about what does it mean to live with tenderness? Sometimes, it’s a usual quality we reserve or think is reserved for our loved one, our ___, animals perhaps.
But I thought about a- just a various, ordinary, simple interactions that I’ve had today in the last few days and just distracted by the tenderness, the tenderness of being human. So, on the phone with the students, psychiatrists, wonderful, amazing practioner and works with cancer patients, has done for 30 years, and she’s telling me about this patient she’s working with, who is a bone cancer, I believe, I think ___ all the details. She’s going for a bone marrow transfusion. Just a 1% chance of surviving. Pretty much the whole entire staff have given up on him. She’s that to be that psychological emotional report. And she was reporting of how she’s feeling the very fear and heartache and physiology that the patient’s experiencing coming out of the tenderness in which she’s holding and not running form this person. That means pain and ___ of facing certain death, almost. And I was talking to a student today and friend who is experiencing the pain of ___, of lost, of profound lost of a parent, and as it happens in this mystery we call life that at times, usually when we have the capacity and strength to re-experience and re-integrate those very traumatic experiences when we were young, he’s working through that experience. Meeting up with a very beautiful tenderness and again, I’m just touched by how tender life is, you know, that we carry within us these wounds. I don’t like that wound. It’s a little bit too pathologizing, but these tender places that guide and inform our life and decisions consciously and unconsciously, and asking for healing and to be met with the tender awareness. Tender heart, yeah? We can’t meet those with hostility or rejection, and heal. Usually, the very react and often our initial reaction is to ___ that we receive in the first place and becomes re-traumatizing. So, you can maybe, think for yourself the different ways that you maybe invited to feel your own tenderness. Maybe it’s the frailty of your body. A different of mine who’s doing a lot of work within near death experience and feeling her essential, existential aloneness.
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