I’ve said and done some awful things in life. Nothing criminal, really, but, I’ve said mean things to people I love. I’ve acted selfishly. I’ve acted violently. Some of these recently. There have been periods of better behavior. Periods of calm. I have not really given adequate focus to my spirit, though. I have not put enough effort or intention into truly cultivating lovingkindness and compassion. Even with a hopeful blip last spring half-reading Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life it quickly fell flat and I was back to my usual self.
I feel like I have come to a place, though, now, where I can take the leap. That phrase comes naturally to describe what I mean to say, and is coincidentally the title of a book I’m reading (slowly) right now. Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears is Pema Chodron’s latest. It focuses on shenpa or “attachment” or ” being hooked” and helping the reader see how certain habits of mind tend to “hook” us and get us stuck in states of anger, blame, self-hatred, and addiction. The idea is that if we can recognize these patterns, they instantly begin to lose their hold on us and we can begin to change our lives for the better. She talks about how this path entails uncovering three basic human qualities—natural intelligence, natural warmth, and natural openness. “Everyone, everywhere, all over the globe, has these qualities and can call on them to help themselves and others,” Pema says.
I am only at the beginning of the book (I am reading at least 3 others concurrently, but do need to focus a bit, don’t I?) but boy do I need it! I have been having a lot of difficulty in my relationship with my husband lately. I have been feeling like he is very selfish and uninterested in my happiness, to summarize a whole host of painful details. I am trying to muster the spiritual and emotional strength to not be so self-centered myself, either (ironic that I am accusing him of this, while I am saying “I am not getting enough”). It is difficult because I feel wanting for nurturing myself.
I also have issues of shenpa with judging and always trying to find fault. Even in abstract things or things that don’t directly affect me. Parenting, politics, whatever. Pema, in an interview with Bill Moyers, notes that there is “something delicious about finding fault, even in ourselves,” and we do have to let it go to find peace. Not surprisingly, this comes from insecurity.
Pema says, “Alot of us are just running around in circles pretending that there’s ground when there isn’t any ground…somehow, if we could learn to not be afraid of groundlessness, not be afraid of insecurity and uncertainty, it would be calling on an inner strength that would allow us to be open and free and loving and compassionate in any situation. But as long as we keep trying to scramble to get ground under our feet and avoid this uneasy feeling of groundlessness and insecurity and uncertainty and ambiguity or paradox or any of that, then the wars will continue, the racial prejudice will continue, the hatred of [people with a different sexual preference, skin color, politics] it will always continue because you can’t avoid being triggered…” The trigger she means is the shenpa.
So, I was all wrong in a recent Facebook post (and so many other things) about “avoiding situations that oblige you to be inauthentic.” No, you have to embrace the discomfort. Perhaps not be inauthentic, but understand that there is no separate self and be mindful of why it is you are uncomfortable.
I think that sometimes, to some people, I come off as confident, but in reality I am actually quite insecure. I have made a life project of scrambling for ground and as I am aging, it is beginning to become quite clear that ground is shifting and that my best investment, per se, is in my spiritual wellbeing.
This may sound selfish, but my spiritual seeking has been spawned partially from a sense of wanting to be protected. I have come to a point in my life that the only way I can be content and assure my sanity is through spirituality. People will always do annoying things. Why are they annoying? It must be me. Why am I threatened? (I am finally admitting that what I feel is threatened!) I know that I will never achieve great wealth, no matter how hard I work—there have been missed opportunities, and we could save, save, save and work very hard and then suffer an economic meltdown beyond our control. My interest is, at least partially, in developing the spiritual strength to weather that, should it happen. I am an aging woman and my beauty will fade, no matter how healthy I keep myself. I need to be comfortable in who I am beyond how I look. My child may not do everything I want. She may disappoint. My husband may be cruel. My friends may abandon me. A whole host of awful things may befall me. I simply can’t pin my wellbeing on things that are inherently fleeting. What’s more, all this lifelong grasping for ground has left me feeling not at peace and even when I let go, just a little, and think on things in the direction of mindfulness, I begin to feel more peace. So, I think, it works!
I have to be honest with myself without being too hard on myself, though, and this will enhance my compassion toward others. And compassion toward others is certainly a much more worthy goal than protecting myself, isn’t it? One may want to say “we are all works in progress,” but the first thing that came when I captioned my image and got the idea for this post was “we are all a work in progress”—the singular—which is a little magic in its observance of something universal and whole, and that there is no separate self. So hard to remember, but so important.