Updated: Jun 23, 2021
What's Possible as We Re-Emerge, and My Experience in a Laundromat.
A day after a spiritual healing retreat I attended in Feb, 2020, I was at the laundromat. As the Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, says in his book, "After the Ecstasy, The Laundry". This was about three weeks before COVID, so a pretty appropriate title. Someone near me had about ten loads of laundry spread out everywhere. I looked around and saw a woman noticeably upset, yelling on the phone at her partner. He was supposed to come pick her up, but didn’t. Her screams turned into violent threats, and her back began to take on a distorted, hunchbacked shape. She had quickly become her pain. One might say she looked possessed. This went on for about ten minutes on the phone.
People in the laundromat were visibly scared of what might happen when her partner arrived. It had the makings of a physical confrontation, and potentially violent one. My first thought was, “Oh man, I just want to do laundry in peace.” My desire to stay clear of the situation, though, ended quickly. I felt the fear in the room intensify and take hold of me. There was a sense of 'otherness' growing.
Eventually, I heard a voice within me saying, “Ryan, just do what you’re already doing.” With all the commotion, I had forgotten that I was listening to a talk on my iphone by A.H. Almaas, an enlightened teacher of the Diamond Approach. I heard very distinctly, “Attune to his voice.” After a few minutes of taking in the vibration and rhythm of his words, I felt my mind relax, my heart soften, and a Presence embrace me. I then saw clearly what was happening with the woman. She had a deep pain in her heart that she was carrying from childhood. Scenarios where she felt abandoned could easily trigger an extreme trauma response in her nervous system.
A few minutes later, the owner of the laundromat took charge and asked the woman to take all of her laundry and leave. People in the laundromat suddenly moved from fear and trepidation to aggression towards her. Some started yelling at the woman for taking up so much space with her laundry and being so aggressive on the phone. Their fear turned to rage, and her rage turned to shame. A familiar cycle of pain in our world.
I asked myself again what I could do. I heard, “Just open the door for her so she could take her clothes out. Smile at your own heart first. Then acknowledge the innocence of hers.” That’s all, I wondered? “Yes, that’s all.” As I did this, the woman looked at me, came back into her body and said ‘Thank you’ with a very sweet smile. Her hunchbacked, violent energy was gone. After a few more minutes, she seemed herself again. The energy around the laundromat settled, and she waited for her partner outside. I began to wonder the last time someone saw through her rough exterior and directly into her heart.
After I left the laundromat, I sat in my car reflecting on what happened. I could see the pain of humanity trapped within itself, knowing that this energy lives within me too. In reality, within most of us. I thought about how so many enlightened masters have invited us to reach deeper within our hearts to heal and then find our own innocence. Only then could we see it in another.
I remembered the endless stories of Jesus speaking compassionately with those who were considered to be the most undesirable members of society, even the ones who accused and tortured him. He saw hearts that were tormented, but also the innocence behind them.
I remembered a story of Buddha who was approached in the forest by an assassin ready to kill him. As the assassin got closer, he saw the Buddha just standing there with so much compassion and grace. The Buddha saw behind the assassin’s pain and straight to his innocence. The assassin was so struck by this profound Love, that he stopped, threw away his weapons, and later became one of the Buddha’s most devoted monks and eventually an enlightened teacher himself.
I recalled the story of an older man on a New York subway who started talking to a young man who was threatening the passengers. He asked the young man to sit down and talk with him. The young man agreed and shared stories of painful experiences in his life that led to where he is now. The older man listened with compassion. The younger man cried and felt seen. A potential threat of violence was disarmed.
Over this past year, I’ve been finding myself more curious about this experience of Innocence. I’ve heard one definition of innocence described as “pure, guiltless, the quality of being free.” Since my experience at the laundromat, I’ve invited myself to spend more moments here.
I have seen Innocence while looking at a flower that I’ve passed by a hundred times, and finally let myself slow down enough to take in its fragrance. I have felt it with people in my past who I’ve judged, but now, having embraced an unloved part of myself, a space within me is opening to gratitude and understanding. They are my fellow brothers and sisters on this journey. I have experienced it when in physical pain, my body simply inviting me to love itself again and again. This loving kindness breaking apart an ancient fear from its hardened grip, allowing more peace and joy to rush in, even amidst the pain.
Each time I meet reality as it is, I experience this quality of Innocence, and I come in contact with a tangible, heart-opening, life giving experience that is continuously blessed by an infinite Source. There at the core of my experience is a Presence that melts away any guilt, shame, doubt, or fear that sits within this field of Love.
When we see the Innocence behind the exterior, we come in contact with that which is undeniably our own true nature. We can not help but see ourselves in another, or even within nature itself, when we reach deep within our own hearts and see with the eyes of Love. The darkest parts of ourselves can then be integrated into the Light, and we hold open a door for others to do the same.
I have been reminded a number of times this past year about a passage from a Course In Miracles about Holy Encounters. It’s a message that invites us to open up to the mystery of the Heart. In fact, it can only be truly understand from the heart. I had the good fortune to experience this in the laundromat last year with the woman I came across – one of my fellow travelers.
"When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see her, you will see yourself. As you treat her, you will treat yourself. As you think of her, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in her you will find yourself or lose yourself."
As we begin to emerge back into the world again, may we all embrace these holy encounters that come in the most unexpected ways.
May we have the courage and strength to Love ourselves in the Presence of another.
May the recognition of the innocence that lies within our own hearts heal ourselves, our ancestors, and the world.