Hanging on my bedroom wall is a small painting of the lunar surface. It was created for me by a palliative care patient with whom I worked about 10 years ago. He gave it to me as a gift of gratitude for the therapeutic relationship that we had created together to support him on his journey of incurable illness. The angle of the picture is looking from a Moon crater directly at the Earth which appears like a small blue marble floating in space. There is a depth of solitude in this picture which invites the observer to contemplate the world in silence looking upon it like as a beautiful luminous ornament, suspended in the blackness and vastness of space. When I look at the picture it conveys to me a sense of stillness. The Earth and the Moon seem to be silently contemplating one another. They are old friends who have been extending silent presence to one another for millions of years. Lifeforms have come and gone on the Earth; people have come and gone; wars have been waged between nations; wise teachers, sages and avatars have shared their gifts; empires have arisen and fallen; pandemics have proliferated and natural catastrophes have occurred, and yet the lunar rock and the big blue marble have looked upon one other without a single word or gesture.
It is hard to comprehend all the billions of events that have occurred on the Earth when you look at them from the vantage point of the Moon. All you see are hues of blues and greens and touches of white on the top and bottom of the globe all melding into one another. It’s hard to imagine that there are countries, cities, towns, villages, forests, mountains, deserts and oceans and billions of lifeforms all hosted on this bluey green sphere. It’s impossible from this position to comprehend both the deep suffering and deep love of many of the lifeforms on the Earth. In order to comprehend the experience of the other, you need to move much closer, into relationship and presence.
The patient who gifted me with this beautiful painting wanted to communicate something of his inner landscape in this picture. I think he wanted me to consider the importance of his perspective in the vastness of his life. He was preparing to make a journey from the Earth into the unknown. I sensed that he wanted me to somehow look upon his journey thus far, from his perspective, and from a position of witness to help him piece together the many fragments of his experience. As the Earth and the moon are present to one another in the inky blackness of space, in the mystery of silence and of not knowing, so too was our relationship as he progressed forth this on his journey into the infinity of the unknown. Being in proximity to this gentleman’s life was an invitation into his world. It included intimacy and uncertainty and hope and preparation. His world was not mine to shape or determine. His journey into, and beyond death was not mine to narrate. The invitation was to witness, to honour and to accompany him in the unfolding of his grand narrative. You see, when we try to control the experience of another we do the greatest disservice to them. We often inadvertently try to control the story through projection, conjecture and an inability to empathise. To stop doing this we need to move from the headspace into the heart, which speaks a very different language to conceptual thinking.
The great Cosmic Narrator, in contrast, is the perfect and most loving silent witness to each and every story; the ever present observer within us, who never infringes upon the telling of our story. There is profound respect from the great Cosmic Storyteller towards each person’s experience and perspective. This Presence is grounded in a love and compassion beyond anything we can imagine. There is a stillness that this inward Presence communicates to us as we tell our story, so as to give us permission to be vulnerable and open. This Presence is grace, the very substance of our true nature and being, beyond the structures of the ego. And as this Presence listens, it evolves our story; it unfolds our story not so much in words but in the language of the heart. It takes us from the head to the heart.
We can do this cosmic listening for the other when we respect and honour their life. In the relationship between my patient and I we communicated the gift of divine listening and presence to each other on each encounter. It was a gift of grace working in the therapeutic relationship. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. And when we give this gift to the other, we give it to ourselves too because in essence, there is no separation. Profound compassion seeks not to assert, demand, command or judge, but to gift the other with unconditional presence and acceptance.