Once a week, I receive an email post called: Heart Advice: Weekly Quotes from Pema Chodron. If you don't know Pema, she's a brilliant American Buddhist nun, whose writings have changed millions of lives, including my own.
Here's this morning's quote:
Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?” This is the trick.
You might be wondering why on earth you would want to sit with suffering instead of finding security and happiness. That's a big question, isn't it? Of course we would prefer to experience joy and ease all the time, but the reality is that our 3-D experience includes a great deal of inevitable, unavoidable discomfort. By virtue of our humanness, we will experience heart ache, loss, embarrassment, disappointment, illness, and a lot more (some of us more poignantly than others). So how can we move through life as happily and gracefully as possible, while at the same time facing and dealing with the issues that arise?
This is tricky business, and this dilemma is the core cause of addictions, obsessions, compulsions, phobias, codependency, and all sorts of other dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We want so much to be happy, and when anxiety or anger or depression arise, we can't handle the feelings! We will do anything to make them go away.
This is what Pema (and Buddhism and other mindfulness practices) are trying to teach us: We must be able to sit with the stress and the authentic feelings that come up in our lives, without running scared into the arms of that which would numb us out (and then take over our lives). We can handle life---whatever it throws at us. We are stronger than we think.
But there are more than two options (escapism or sitting in hell). There are many ways to work through hard feelings as they arise. For instance, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) has you acknowledge what's there, but affirm that you're bigger than the feeling, "Even though I feel humiliated, I deeply and completely accept myself." Then you work with the body's meridians to move the energy through more quickly, so it doesn't get stuck in your system. Likewise, Ho'oponopono, which we discussed last week, uses forgiveness, gratitude, personal responsibility, and heart-centeredness to move the energy in a healing direction.
So you can see that there are many options available to help us deal with the stresses of life. We can choose the unconscious crutch of escapism through substances, unhealthy relationships, or bad habits. We can practice the meditation, nonresistance, and acceptance found in mindfulness. Or we can find a middle place, where we're actively working with our thoughts and feelings in a way that suits our individual personality and style.
Personally, I practice all three options, but I find that the more I do #2 and #3, the less I'm tempted to go unconscious and eat a bunch of cookies or buy something ridiculous! And for that, I am grateful.
How do you deal with the personal challenges of life?