I feel like the universe has been throwing a lot at me lately, sort of slapping my head with a signboard marked “impermanence” while I keep saying “ouch! I get it!” But I guess I must not really “get it” based on how thrown I keep feeling by each successive incident. I’m not feeling particularly centered or focused lately; I’m noting a lot of heaviness within. At the same time, I’m feeling a lot of gentleness with myself, which is encouraging. I’m not being harsh or disappointed with myself. I know that this is hard stuff, and I’m okay with the fact that it’s throwing me.
Pema Chödrön is one of my favorite Dharma teachers for her ability to both be gentle and inspiring. Her writings are in the vein of Suzuki Roshi, who once looked out on his students and said “All of you are perfect, and you could use a little improvement.” In The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness, Pema Chödrön expresses this wonderfully: Continue reading →
Choosing to be happy is hard stuff. The first time I read the lines from Pema Chödrön’s book Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change that I quoted in my last post, the ones about how we have a choice between fighting everything that happens to us (and thus suffering all the time) or relaxing into the moment (and thus finding freedom), I grabbed a pen and wrote in the margin of the book: this is my fundamental problem – I actually seriously can’t decide sometimes which of these 2 options I want . . .
It’s scary how much of a hindrance I can be to my own happiness. It’s hard to admit that sometimes I can’t even decide whether I want to try something new in the hopes that it makes me feel better or just keep repeating the same old behaviors that have only brought me suffering every time I’ve relied on them in the past. When Thầy talks about the power of habit energy, the image that comes to my mind is deep ruts in the ground that my wagon wheels just naturally get stuck in. The ruts are familiar after all, even if they are confining and not particularly comfortable, and part of me gets frightened at the thought of leaving their security. Sometimes I’d actually rather complain about my own misery than risk making a change. At least I know what the misery feels like. Change feels risky.
I once read an article written by a pacifist who was tired of people saying that nonviolence could never work. The pacifist’s response was that we won’t know nonviolence won’t work until we’ve tried it for as long as we’ve tried violence. After all, we’ve been using violence for thousands of years and it hasn’t brought permanent solutions – so why do we keep giving it another chance? Habit energy. Continue reading →
My life is not all equanimity and joy. I’ve gone through periods of darkness when my mind has felt literally fogged up with clouds of misery. During such periods, it’s very difficult to think clearly, like trying to see the world through mud-colored glasses. Sometimes during such periods people have tried to be helpful to me in ways that haven’t been helpful at all. I have never once been comforted by hearing “it could always be worse”, no matter how true the statement is. “The universe never gives you more than you can handle” is another one that does not resonate with me. Sometimes I’ve faced situations that are more than I can handle. Sometimes I have broken. What I have learned, however, is that breaking gives me the opportunity to put myself back together stronger than I was before.
One of my favorite books is The Chocolate Cake Sutra by Geri Larkin. I was pretty skeptical when I started reading the book. There are a lot of pop culture references that initially felt pretty jarring in a Buddhist book and the author tends to be perky in a way that made me doubt whether she’d ever really been tested by difficult experiences. But the more I read, the more I realized that she’d been tested in far greater ways that I ever had and she’d come out with a deep happiness based not on platitudes but on radical acceptance of whatever life was throwing at her in the moment. She writes “Accepting what is leads to the surprise of a lifetime. Suddenly you realize that happiness is yours. And that it grows from the opposite of what you expect. Instead of control, it grows from letting go. Instead of stuff, it grows from simplicity. Instead of the need for fifteen minutes of fame, it grows from planting flowers and vegetables in an abandoned city plot – anonymously.”
This was revelatory to me. On some level, I’d always thought that my life was supposed to be happy all the time – and not little happiness like a clear sky or a fresh strawberry or a hug from my child but Hollywood-style happiness like fame, fortune, and vacations in Europe – and if I got less than that, I was being cheated. And yet. When I look deeply and really think about it – that’s not the way life is. Continue reading →