Tag Archives: Pema Chodron

Isolation Journal: Week Four (I think that’s right…maybe….)

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room
for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

– Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Things do seem to have fallen apart and there is still room to fall some more. We feel like we’re on one of those elevators that begins to fall, stops, then falls some more and stops again. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet. I look around at this precarious juncture, feel terrified, and think, “Maybe it’s time for a cup of coffee” or “Time for another Hallmark movie or Britcom.”

Often, during this roller coaster ride (yes, mixing metaphors is allowed during lockdowns) it is easier to distract oneself, to find tiny avenues of comfort (coffee, movies, blankets, showers, food, walking) rather than to stop, sit still, and take in this moment’s reality. This week, with the support of some of my favorite people* – online and by telephone – I’ve had the opportunity to sit still and take in the moment. Despite my internal resistance and intense addiction to distraction right now, I’ve had moments of collective stillness and illumination with these folks, moments of deep peace.

IMG-0343
from Sufi Scribe, Facebook

On this day, there is global heaviness unrelated to the pandemic – it is both Good Friday and the third evening of Passover. Humans will take themselves through very painful memories concerning suffering, human failings and cruelty, and will recall those few women and men who found a way to be compassionate and present even during such times.

Moments of illumination, where we can find them, help us to shake off the cosmic heaviness and the “briefings,” “summaries” and alerts coming through the news media. One part of us takes in the data, the news, while the moments of stillness, acceptance, groundedness, and turning toward the Sacred help us to take in something else.

This morning the Friday Summary that popped up in my email was very grim – illness, death tolls, lack of resources, potential food shortages, economic meltdown, political stalemate and so on. As I took my shower following that mental jolt, the phrase that popped into my head was from Byron Katie’s “Four Questions” – “Can you absolutely know that it’s True?”

Katie points to the same reality as Pema Chodron – but she arrives there using a different set of tools. Katie suggests that you identify your stressful thoughts using her “Judge your neighbor” worksheet. Once you’ve written out your fears, stressors, and bald faced complaints, you apply the four questions to what you’ve written. The first question: “Is it true?” The second question sometimes brings one up short, “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?”

For example: If I write, “The world is falling apart. Everything is horrible.” Is it true? Yes. From my perspective, this is true and the news says it’s true. But can I absolutely know it is true? Hmmm…. Well…I suppose not. People are being extraordinarily heroic, sharing resources, sharing their lives and livelihoods. The earth and its creatures are having a IMG-0376hay day. Mountaintops are visible, waters are running more clear. Goats, deer, and sheep (even javelinas) are romping through towns unobstructed by traffic. And actually, now that I think of it and look around, it is a sunny day, flowers are blooming, I have fresh water to drink, I have adequate food, I have shelter, I even have enough TP for the next week or so – and chocolate. So, maybe I can’t absolutely say it is true that everything is horrible. (There are two more questions and interesting turnarounds on the worksheet. Check it out.)

But for the time it took us to write this stuff down, to apply the questions and sit with them, we have held our fears and faced them. We’ve looked at them from one side and another. And we’ve come out in another place. Even in much more dire circumstances, there is some miraculous transformation which can take place as one applies these questions – to any and all situations.

Pema Chodron writes:

“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.
“If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

So, my summary of Week Four of my journal is that:

  • I’ve had moments of mindlessness – distraction to the point of forgetting which way I was going and why more than once (I also found my measuring tape in a most unlikely place).
  • I’ve had some very low moments of grief. The overwhelming death toll numbers in New York City, illness numbers here in the Navaho Nation, and the death of John Prine was an individual low point – he has been one of the sensitive and accurate narrators of life during my time – and I have just always liked his melodies, humility, hope, humor and grit.
  • IMG-0335I’ve had irrational fears (Do I feel odd? Am I getting sick? Did I remember to bleach the door handle after I washed and bathed the groceries?) including a dream about bugs and worms getting into the house, the food.
  • And I’ve had moments of joy – phone calls from grandkids, kids, friends, and walks with Johnny. I’ve even had some moments of enlightenment – thanks to my favorite shamans, gurus, ministers, and friends.

Several years ago, when I was really grieving and struggling with my sister’s cancer, my daughter sent me this quote from Pema:

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation
can that which is indestructible be found in us.

I cried and cried and was deeply comforted by this truth. We can’t get to the core of things by floating around carefree. We find the indestructible connection, we find the eternal by coming face to face with our own impermanence.

As a collective, we have the opportunity to face this together. I am so grateful for taking this journey with all of you.

Love,
Karen

P.S. Another unlikely “winner” we’ve noticed during all of this. Trampoline sales appear to be skyrocketing.

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* Some favorites this week (in no particular order):

Contemplative Monk on Facebook (Bob Holmes)

The Four Winds Society (Alberto Villodo) on Facebook – livestream shaman updates

-The Psychology Babes on Facebook

Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz (Poems & Quotes) on Facebook

Netoflight.org (website)and Facebook (Sharon McErlane) – have enjoyed livestream events

Sacred Training Ground(lessness)

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,
to realize our dream of constant okayness….
But when…we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation
and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment….”  

– Pema Chodron

For many years, whenever my household had a financial surplus for a moment, it seemed a law of the universe that a car would break down and use it up. It didn’t seem fair at times, when friends’ lives appeared to be much more abundant. They took vacations, they celebrated special occasions in style. The benefit, however, was that this “life close to the edge” kept me always returning to my Source for comfort.

In those days, we named our Source our “Higher Power” and we found solace, guidance, strength, and peace each time we humbly returned to this spiritual well. Sometimes we found our Source in prayer and meditation, oftentimes we found these things in the words of other people – while they lovingly advised us or as they told of their own pain, struggle, or joy.

A belief that I lived by then was to “live simply.” This elevated my lack of abundance to a more spiritual simplicity – though I was never tempted to embrace the concept of “voluntary poverty.” I was fairly certain that abundance had its place, too, alongside simplicity.

Anyway, these days in a similar pattern, I’m recognizing that each time I reach a place in which it feels like I’ve finally integrated a spiritual concept that I’ve been struggling with for years, life seems to offer a challenge to put our integrity and groundedness to the test.

In the world of “manifesting” what we focus upon, I hope I’m not somehow calling for these challenges. If so, it is time to figure that one out – and soon!

No sooner do I have the sense of “Wow! I finally understand this!” that in the next breath the challenge appears. I guess if life is really and truly our spiritual training ground, this could make sense (though it seems kind of brutal!)

Pema Chodron print Etsy
Rebecca Borrelli, artist

In the midst of our most recent crisis, on an evening in which I felt my foundation shaking, my loving daughter sent my husband some encouraging notes. The last image she sent was beautiful – like a lovely Zen tangle. I zoomed in to read the words that encircled an image of waves crashing within a turbulent sea. It read, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Tears of recognition rimmed my eyes.

I read it again. This simple statement from wise woman, Pema Chodron, calmed and centered me. It reminded me that when overwhelming challenges arise, though they blow us off course and tear everything apart, they help us to grow. Though we would never knowingly wish for such chaos, they raise before us the possibility that maybe the goal is not to “have it all together.” Perhaps the goal is, when we are a shaken to pieces, to learn how to lovingly hold each tiny shard that’s been tossed, turned, broken, and tossed again. Perhaps it is also to recognize the calm, unmoving center in the storm.

So my daily practice, as we walk through this turbulent landscape together, is to ask: “Which places within need the most love and care today? And how shall I hold and honor them today – in myself and in my fellow journeyers?” In stillness, the answers arise for the moment.

Sigh. It is really pretty basic, isn’t it? And then I laugh at how complicated I make it.

Autumn Leaves

_ACT5558When things are shaky and nothing is working,
we might realize that we are on the verge of something.
We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place,
and that tenderness can go either way.
We can shut down and feel resentful
or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” 

― Pema ChödrönWhen Things Fall Apart:
Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It has been a while since I have put pen to paper. It may be that I have been:

  • scattered
  • in the midst of seasonal change
  • confused (When someone I’m close to is struggling, I’m not sure how to stay in my own stuff.)
  • distracted

It is possible that the scattered and distracted energy I have been experiencing is more or less on purpose. If I’m scattered, then I don’t have to focus on what is really going on inside or around me. If I’m distracted – by tasks, urgent emails and phone calls, silly addictive computer games, and so on – then I can stay somewhat numb. After one is substance-free, food isn’t the only thing we can use to numb out!

So today, in this lovely fall weather, in the quiet and somewhat solitary journey I find myself on – instead of being distracted, busy, confused, I’m just hanging out with myself. When painful thoughts or feelings arise, instead of slamming them down like those little whack-a-mole, pop-up games in the arcade, I’m trying to soften into them.

Having compassion for ourselves sometimes means stopping completely when we’ve been going full-tilt on our favorite numbing behaviors. Sometimes seated meditation is just sitting still and breathing – allowing what we feel to be there without running from it.

Can I love and accept everything that bubbles up inside and just let it be? Gently sitting with ourselves with the same unconditional acceptance that we find for others is often the most powerful therapy we can experience.

I know about this. I’m sitting here meeting each temper tantrum, screaming fear with love…and it is the most peaceful I have been in weeks (or months).

Welcome autumn. Let the leaves fall. I’m just going to observe them them and maybe even find some beauty in the process.

New Beginnings

flowerAsh Wednesday 2014…

The branch that was nearly bare last week
bursts with leaves – shiny, delicate, green.
Finches and sparrows dart among moist, shady branches.
Showing off, the grass glistens with dew.
Irridescent leaves and blades
reds, greens and yellows, too –
translucent and shimmering with new life.
Opening my eyes, I am awake to beauty;
Breathing in, I am reborn, soaking in new life –
potential and possibility
in each moment.

My phone lights up with words
calling me back to tasks,
to familiar thoughts and worries.

Will I breathe this new breath
and be a bearer of new life
or return to habitual anxiety
as I reply?

Today is Ash Wednesday. I wouldn’t have remembered except for the posts on Facebook and the foreheads of various people (who I’m assuming were Roman Catholic) in Trader Joe’s this afternoon, marked with a gray cross. On the drive home, I felt a pang of displacement, of being “without a community.” As I have continued to think about it, I realize that I do have a spiritual community, it is just more diverse these days and more spread out geographically.

My local spiritual community embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and accepts a person’s freedom to walk his or her own path – with or without God at the center. In many ways it is a community which reflects my childhood upbringing – equally diverse – and my years in Twelve Step circles where members are free to define their Higher Power or God as each person understands God. Throughout my years of Christian ministry, this has always been my core. It is freeing to both return to my spiritual roots and to open new doors to deeper understanding.

Still, I honor the Christian tradition which has been my home and teacher for over twenty years. I am finding more and more – and this pertains to my thoughts on Ash Wednesday – that I reject much of the institution but I embrace the heart of the church – the life and teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of various prophets and disciples, the legacy of people learning what it means to live life in relationship with the living Spirit of the Holy.

If Lent is about death, guilt, rejecting one’s own worth and embracing only God’s worth, then I don’t think I it is my path. But if it is about spiritual housekeeping and renewal, deepening one’s relationship to the Holy, embracing each moment as a revelation of the Sacred, opening one’s heart in compassion for all living beings, letting go of ways of living that keep us stuck and which blot out light and life, then I can get with that program. That, after all, is what I am now dedicating myself to each day.

When I think of the ancient concept of Ash Wednesday as a day to meet with one’s spiritual counselor, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and commit to doing a thorough inventory of oneself in the weeks to come, I’m all for that. The intent isn’t to identify “wrong” or sin or flaws. The point is to open to the Sacred, and, if necessary, to remove obstacles to that opening.

Byron Katie defines God or the Sacred as Reality or “What Is.” She teaches us how to live in Reality. Eckhart Tolle talks about the difference between living life attached to the “pain Body” versus living life from one’s inner or eternal self or body. He teaches about the transformative quality of living in the Now. Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nat Hanh and others (like the Dalai Lama!) teach about awareness, awakening – seeing our egoic mind and lower self along with our higher self, our Buddha nature. They teach ways of awakening the Buddha nature within each one of us.

Christians who are truly centered in Jesus’ teachings do much the same thing using different words and practices. They open their eyes and awaken to the “Kingdom” or Realm of God which is present for us in each moment, in every location – and become aware of the image of God, the image of Christ revealed in each person we meet.

So today, I will play in the dirt a little bit, transplanting some potted plants. As I play, I’ll reflect on the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and think about the transient quality of my current reality and the eternal nature of my deepest self and its unity with the same nature in all living beings. I will light candles and blow them out.

I hope to open to joy, to the eternal, in as many moments as possible. And breathe in that life-giving breath – stretch my body, bend and release tension and fear – so that I may approach each person and creature I meet with love.

Namaste.  Peace.