It has been a long time since we have been able to move about, see one another, hug, shake hands, stand closer than 6 feet. Some have given up eye contact, a smile, even a nod rather than risk breaking the barriers of social distancing. It has been a long few weeks.

In exchange for the friendliness that we often feel around our town in shops and restaurants, town buildings and offices, we are learning more about those in the next room—our families, our roommates, even our pets. Perhaps we’ve never noticed until now how many hours each day we spend away from those closest to us.

This can be a challenging time for some because of devastating loss. For others it is an inconvenience. For all of us, this can be a time of reflection, a time to look inward. Lama Tashi is a Tibetan monk known around the world who takes time to visit friends in central Virginia. While here last fall, he gave a series of talks at The Music Room in Orange. He shared his wisdom with the community on what it means to live with a happy mind. At the end of each presentation, he sang an ancient chant in Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages known. We sang with him the chant “Om mani padme hum.”

In one of his visits to our time of meditation at Imani Works, I asked Lama Tashi to help us gain a deeper understanding of this chant. In his clear and methodical manner, he explained the meaning of each word. Then he explained what the phrase means when the words are put together. He taught us:

Om is our mind, body and speech. Singularly, it represents all that we are in the physical world.

Mani is a most precious jewel. In this chant, the most precious jewel of mankind is compassion.

Padme is the lotus blossom. It struggles against the mud of spring. In its wisdom, it overcomes all odds to become a fragrant flower.

Hum is the balance of a bird in flight. Both wings must work in tandem. Or the bird cannot fly.

Taken together, the chant means, “May my mind, body, and speech rise as a bird on the balanced wings of compassion and wisdom.”

Compassion is the unconditional goodwill we have for one another. It is the desire to help a stranger or to share the last of what we have with someone in need without a desire for reward or notice. This selfless love is tempered by wisdom, the good sense to know when giving is enough. Wisdom is the presence of mind to know when our help is not harmful.

Taken together, the balance of compassion and wisdom will help each of us guard our minds, bodies and speech so that we can thrive in this time of great sacrifice.

For information on Imani Works, click here.

This article was first published in the Orange County Review. Dr. Dena Jennings is an Orange County physician and executive director of ImaniWorks, a 501©(3) nonprofit public charity for the promotion of human rights through advocacy and education.

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