Detail from St John the Evangelist by El Greco
While I took these photos of El Greco’s painting in a cathedral in southern Spain the image of a spiritual being with one or both hands outstretched and facing palm upwards is common to many religious traditions. Lately I’ve been wondering what such a gesture symbolizes.
In the book that accompanies her oracle cards “Earth Warriors” Alana Fairchild writes of the diversity of life and the concept of holding space. As the world becomes increasingly chaotic with more and more voices clamouring to be heard there is a part of me that just wants to crawl into bed and pull the blankets over my head until it all goes quietens down. The problem with that idea is that the turning away from life results in personal isolation and creative stagnation.
“If we cannot hold space for increasing diversity, we risk extinguishing our creative passion for originality, and then the energy, excitement and evolution that uniqueness evokes will be lost.” – Alana Fairchild
Alana Fairchild goes on to say that to hold space for others we need to hold space for ourselves. Buddhist teachings say that we cannot find compassion for another until we find it for ourselves.
“You can search the whole tenfold universe and not find a single being more worthy of love and compassion than the one seated here—yourself.” – the Buddha
Of course it is much easier to write about holding compassionate space for oneself than it is to actually do it. The Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield advises-
“In developing compassion start exactly where you are, whatever your situation. Having compassion for your own humanity and your struggles is critical. Let yourself sense a wish to live with greater kindness. Hold your own fear and shame with compassion, and let this practice open you to better self-care and to greater tolerance and kindness for others.
The Buddha taught that we can develop loving-kindness by visualizing how a caring mother holds her beloved child. Slowly and tenderly we can begin by remembering ourself as a child, deserving of love and compassion. We are still that same child, now grown. With practice we can learn to hold our own life with love.”
The Black Madonna, Montserrat, Spain