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“The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others. The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal.”
~~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
For me, the hardest thing to do is to practice the “not is”.
What the heck does that mean?
It means, for me, it is hard to be compassionate when I don’t see or feel compassion going on around me.
It means it’s hard for me to feel motivated, inspired, and creative when I feel like creativity is discouraged and hampered.
I don’t feel like I am odd with this. I bet you are even shaking your head to a certain extent.
But, let’s face it, we wouldn’t have to practice if this came as second nature.
If someone said, Hey, be loving when there’s no love around, and poof, we could do it, well, would we need metta mediation?
For me, it’s being lazy… spiritually and existentially lazy.
When I had migraines daily for 3 years, when I moved somewhere I felt exiled to for 5 years, when I did work that I found uninspiring, I took the “easy way out”. I say that tongue in cheek because it didn’t feel like the easy way out. It didn’t feel sloppy or lazy or anything like it. It felt like some sort of surrender because some days, I didn’t “give a care” (exchange care for expletive).
I gave into the path of least resistance, sometimes for survival, other times because I just didn’t give a damn.
But when I practice the path of least resistance… hold on, that sounds to active… when I live the path of least resistance, my world falls apart and it is a world that I don’t want to be truly alive in.
It is only when I face what scares me, start where I am with what I have, and practice staying that I find that I am inhabiting a world where I am connected with all and care about all.
Three years ago, I found myself in a situation that felt hopeless and I adopted some hopelessness and then added a layer of learned helplessness on top of it.
I gave up my practice of mindfulness because I didn’t feel supported by those around me. No one would understand. No one would also practice or remind me of my shenpa or my lack of mindful awareness.
I closed off my heart to hide from the pain that I felt when I looked out.
I allowed myself to stop seeking creative solutions for the problems I saw around me.
But you know what it got me?
I was more isolated. I had a heart that was walled off but was still aching. I was still hip deep in problems and ear deep in feeling like there was no way out.
Now, to be honest. . . I haven’t just come off of 10+ days of horrific pain. I haven’t come out of a whole day of staffings that made me want to poke my eyes out. And I have been quite blessed recently with good news and supportive, faithful friends letting me know how loved I am. So, if any of those things were going on, I might not be able to say all this. That’s part of chronic pain — whether it is mental, physical, or existential.
Isn’t this the very point though?
I’m in the same crappy apartment with a fridge that freezes everything. I’m in the same crappy job that’s only purpose is insurance and to pay the bills (or to give me money to do what I love). And I haven’t gotten a new team of friends who are pouring love all over me. But it’s different.
I started this blog in December that brought me back in touch with my passion of end-of-life care.
I went out to Upaya Zen Center and was brought back into community and to the Dharma.
I just got hired to teach part-time which has given me another project to devote my heart and soul.
So all journeys, all paths, all lessons start from within; I truly believe that today. It’s making a choice, even between two lousy choices.
It’s taking a step even if it’s followed by 6 back.
It’s about not giving up.
And it’s about having faith in something. Not the blind faith that was suggested I have when I was little and in parochial school, but a deep lived bodily experience of knowing that some things are just Right and in some ways Eternal.
For instance, the Eight-Fold Path, to me, is right and eternal in that the buddha shared that with us and beings for generations have practiced it or attempted to practice it and have known that it helped create less suffering in their lives.
I don’t need to follow it blindly.
I have to experience it, live it, try it and that’s it. Then I am reminded of its validity and its vital place in my life.
The best part? I get to choose. . .
I can choose to let it all go, to suffer in the silence of my own faulty thinking, the loneliness of pain, and the despair of believing that there is no way out.
I can also choose
For me, the Three Gems, the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, are both right and eternal in that despite the ever-changing nature of the universe, the Three Gems are always there for me as a touchstone. And it is me that moves away from them, not vice versa.
It is me who decides to hang on tight, to hunker down, to close off, to not believe, not experience, not try, and hold on to all the garbage.
And it is me who decides to practice compassion, to let go, to be at ease with how things are, and to know when to take an active role in making changes.
The whole point in having a spiritual practice is to have a foundation for when things work and when things don’t work
– To learn from the blessings and the curses and to have the all-encompassing vastness of equanimity that comes from being present and not pushing away.
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