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Samsara & Selfhood: Being Where You Are

In this moment, I cannot think of anything in life that's harder than being fully present, just as you are, and exactly where you are, especially when you find yourself in a place of sorrow, discomfort, and uncertainty. Over the last two weeks I have been struggling, deeply and profoundly, with this endeavor - which is say that I have been repeatedly reminded that this moment is indeed, the perfect teacher.

It seems no matter how many years of studying the Dharma, or how many hours I’ve sat on the cushion, my initial, almost impulsive, response to suffering is still to run. Run as fast as I can to distract myself from the uncomfortability I am facing; run from the fear and uncertainty; work as hard as I can to convince myself of some other truth that will take me away from what’s right in front of me; push away, ignore, or distract myself in whatever way I can from the emotionality of my present moment. My initial response is always the same, “Get - me – out - of - HERE!” but that's okay, because its what happens next that makes the difference.

In these moments, we have a choice. We can either follow our first instinct: run, hide, distract, and ignore whatever variation of suffering we’ve come upon and dive deeper into our cycle of samsara. Or we can stay just where we are, just as we are, and use this moment to open ourselves to what is. The first option is usually more fun, much easier, and seriously, deeply entrenched in the American sociocultural infrastructure. The second option is, well, the Dharma. But let me be frank: despite the virtue and actuality I undoubtedly find in my Buddhist practice, in moments like these I find the Dharma arduous, and overwhelming. Quite simply, being present can really, really suck.   

My practice over the last few weeks has been to do my best to first recognize those moments when I want to flee, then work to bring myself back to the very place of suffering I was trying to avoid. (Wait, isn’t this always the practice in one form or another?) And yes, I am absolutely rereading When Things Fall Apart for probably the tenth time and that's perfectly okay. This is hard stuff, and if you’ve read any of my other posts you know Pema’s words resonate with me. Along with making a dedicated effort to meditate more, my contemplative practice is focused on two things: (1) being exactly where I am, and (2) being open to all that this moment has to teach me.   

Being where I am, being in this very moment means acknowledging and accepting that I feel groundless, unsure of almost everything, scared, a little angry, and really very sad. Sitting with these emotions means giving yourself permission to feel your feelings. It means learning how to notice your suffering with a kind of curiosity that doesn’t lead to self-indulging, making excuses, or perpetuating some storyline. It means accepting where you are without demanding or pushing yourself through subtle self-aggression into any other place you think you “should” be. It means letting go of judgments about your emotions while also letting go of your attachment to them. Being where you are, exactly as you are, means having compassion for yourself - because this is the first step to ever being anywhere different.

And this is why Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” Chaos, or uncertainty, or suffering is good news if we are able to open ourselves to all that it can teach us. It is through these moments that the Dharma becomes most apparent. Through our suffering we can develop a deeper level of compassion for others. We can connect more fully to the world around us, and can no longer ignore the realities of impermanence. The Four Noble Truths become embodied. We are reminded of our own precariousness, and can better see our habitual tendency to want escape from our inevitable vulnerability. Although they often feel like annihilation, these are actually moments of becoming. They are the ultimate teachable moments. As Pema says:

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. 

It is in these seemingly broken places, that we have the chance to begin; to begin again; to go farther; to ask the next question; and to become more present. To ask, with honesty: Why am I scared, what am I so afraid to see? …What am I clinging to with such desperation? … What is keeping me stuck? …What would it mean to let go? And what would that look like? …What is it that I do not yet know? It is in these places that we can become fully open to the Dharma, the world, and ourselves. Just as it is. Just as we are. If only we are ready.

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Thank you

This is a great reminder, very helpful.

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