Lately, I have been thinking about the ups and downs of life. The steady ebb and flow that seems to be ever-changing and the way we endure what goes on in our lives, from the "good" to the "bad." One thing, among many that I learned throughout my yoga teacher training was to not be so attached to the outcome of anything. We often have a picture in our heads of what we want our lives to be like, then we run around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to make that life happen, meanwhile, the universe is working to give us exactly what we need. I mentioned in a post earlier that I have big decisions to make and within these big decisions is a huge fear of failure. Failure in my mind is making the wrong decision, because that would mean it didn't work out. But, we are so often told that things are working out exactly as they should. Although I do believe this, it's so hard not to attack myself or beat myself up when something seemingly "fails." About a month ago I picked up a book at the bookstore written by Pema Chodron called Taking the Leap. I opened it up in the store, sat down on the ground and started reading. I came across a word I had never heard before called maitri. I wasn't really sure what it meant until later on when it was explained that "maitri" is loving kindness to oneself, or unconditional friendliness to ourselves. Many of us have experienced unconditional love for others. If you have a pet, or a child, you know exactly what I'm talking about. But, when it comes to ourselves, we may not really recognize the same type of unconditional friendliness... we get hard on ourselves, beat ourselves up, all the while people are looking at us not expecting us to be perfect at all. But somewhere along the way we started expecting "perfection" from ourselves. Maitri doesn't mean we indulge our ego, senses or become reckless with selfishness, instead it's calling for compassion. Pema Chodron talks about a story and it is one I really liked, especially since I can relate to being uncomfortable during meditation, so here it is, along with a bit of her teachings from http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/maitri1.php:
There was a story about the Zen master Suzuki Roshi. This was a situation where his students had been sitting and they were 3 or 4 hours into a very hard sitting period, a sesshin. The person who told the story said every bone in his body was hurting, his back, his ankles, his neck, his head, everything hurt. Not only that, his thoughts were totally obsessed with either "I can't do this, I'm worthless. There's something wrong with me. I'm not cut out to do this." It was vacillating between those thoughts and "This whole thing is ridiculous. Why did I ever come here? These people are crazy. This place is like boot camp." His mind and body were just aching. Probably everyone else in the room was going through something similar.
Suzuki Roshi came in to give the lecture for the day and he sat down. He started to talk very, very, very slowly and he said, "The difficulty that you are experiencing now..." And that man was thinking, "will go away."
And he said, "This difficulty will be with you for the rest of your life."
So that's sort of Buddhist humor.
But it is also the essence of maitri. It seems to me in my experience and also in talking to other people that we come to a body of teachings like the Buddhist teachings or any spiritual path, to meditation in some way like little children looking for comfort, looking for understanding, looking for attention, looking somehow to be confirmed. Some kind of comfort will come out of this. And the truth is actually that the practice isn't about that. The practice is more about somehow this little child this I, who wants and wants and wants to be confirmed in some way.
Practice is about that part of our being that, like that finally being able to open completely to the whole range of our experience, including all that wanting, including all that hurt, including the pain and the joy. Opening to the whole thing so that this little child-like part of us can finally, finally, finally, finally grow up.
Trungpa Rinpoche once said that was the most powerful mantra, Om Grow Up Svaha.
But this issue of growing up, it's not all that easy because it requires a lot of courage. Particularly it takes a lot of courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it,. You seize the moment? moment after moment? you seize those moments and instead of letting life shut you down and make you more afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and to open and to become more kind. More kind to yourself for starters as the basis for becoming more kind to others.
One time when I was a child, I was feeling very upset and angry at one point. I think I was around seven or eight. And there was this old woman, who I later become very close to. But the first time I ever met her, I was walking down the street kicking stones with my head down, and I was feeling very lonely. I was basically feeling that nobody loved me very much and that people weren't taking care of me. So I was walking along angry at the world, kicking stones. And this woman said, "Child, don't let the world harden your heart."
And I always remember that. It was the first real teaching I received, I think. It's still a teaching I remember. And in terms of this teaching on maitri, this is really the key. People's lives, through all of time, have had a lot of difficulty in them The Buddha's first teaching was that there is suffering in life, If you're born as a human being , there's suffering. At the very least, there's the suffering of illness, of growing old and of death at the end. Not to mention that the more you love are able to open, there's the suffering of not getting what you want and of losing what you do want. Just some inevitable sufferings.
Nowadays, this is an especially difficult time in the history of this planet, Earth. it's a difficult time. And in times of difficulty, people get very frightened. Often when I'm teaching a lot of the questions are that people ask about just the subject. People inevitably say, "Yes, but it's dangerous, it's getting more and more dangerous just to walk down the street. We need to protect ourselves."
I think the point is when our lives are difficult, in small ways or large ways, when we're going through a lot emotionally, or when difficult things are happening in our environment, do those things cause us to become more uptight and afraid. or do those very same things, when the teachings are applied, soften us and can open us?
To me, this is how I practice and this is the most important thing. You never know what's going to happen to us. In any day of our lives you never know what's coming. That's part of the adventure of it actually, but that's what makes us scared, is that we never know. And we spend a lot of time trying to control it so that we could know, but the truth is that we don't really know.
Really, I think a lot of people, like children, you're wanting some kind of practice that's not going to take you into anything uncomfortable but at the same time you want the practice to heal you. And it just doesn't work like that.
The question is how do you relate when things are uncomfortable? That's really the question.
As far as I'm concerned, in terms of spiritual path, that's the main question: how do you relate with the difficulties? How do you relate with the feelings you have and the situations you find yourself in?
This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching on how to take the situations of your life and train- actually train- in catching yourself closing down, catching yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very point, or softening. In some sense reversing a very, very old pattern of the whole species, which is a pattern of armoring ourselves. It's sort of like the essence of the whole Path is in that place of discomfort and what do you do with it?
Pema Chodron tells this story so well, and I really love the message of this. In my life, I have experienced things that I blamed myself for, that I realize now, after a lot of therapy, were not my fault. I didn't practice loving kindness to myself at all for a long time, because I believed I didn't deserve it. The truth is, we all deserve it. When things are uncomfortable, it's a reminder that we are human, perfection isn't needed, but compassion is.
I just wanted to share this with all of you, because when I read it, it really made sense to me and it resonated within. Perhaps this week, this weekend, or even when you find yourself in difficulty or even good times to allow yourself some compassion. In difficulty, be kind to yourself, in times of joy be kind to yourself and let yourself feel it. Sometimes, that's the hardest lesson of all-- to feel what we feel and not be afraid.
Lots of love to you all!
image via pinterest/quotes