As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning!
Sometimes coming with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt comes together in a heartbeat. In a flash, in an instant, we really Get It! (Or perhaps, more accurately-- It Gets Us.) We can't help noticing. It's different now than before.
I was at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore a few years back, when I was fortunate enough to hear about a woman's experience of one of those moments. Suffering from what was diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across one of Pema Chodron's teachings on the genuine heart of sadness. As she told it, an awakening had come in a flash. In an instant she knew. At that instant she discovered a whole new way to hold her experience.
In a burst of tears -- and then with rainbows glistening through her tears -- the whole world had shifted. She clearly saw that her deep sadness about the human condition wasn't a sickness, it was an essential Connection to Bodhichitta, the soft and tender core of our Spiritual Heart. She had felt that as a child, but nobody in her life knew what it was. She now understood that sadness wasn't a personal flaw, an illness, She now knew that in her heart of hearts that she had touched what the Buddha had touched. Now, she just needed to learn how to work with it.
With the assistance of a supportive counselor and a regular meditation practice, she successfully decreased and then discontinued her use of antidepressant medications -- and at the point she was sharing her story, had been successfully, sometimes quite joyfully, navigating her life for a couple of years, drug free.
Please understand: My point here is not that medications are always the wrong approach. (As a child of the sixties, how could I ever claim that drugs are always a bad thing? Stephan Gaskin and Ram Dass weren't the only ones who learned a few things under the influence.) Drugs simply are what they are. Over the years, I have had dear friends whose quality of life has been dramatically improved through the use of prescription drugs to address their psychological and physical health.
Instead, what I am pointing to here, is that there is a great value in exploring what our society
conditions us to avoid, the so-called "negative" emotions. Oftentimes, "Don't be sad" can actually be a horrible message. In fact in the world today, we are in desperate need of teachings that enable us to approach sadness and grief with understanding and skill. * For, as many have seen through the ages, deep within our own personal sadness is a shared existential sadness that connects us to one another and to the One Love that we are immersed in. Once touched and understood, the Genuine Heart of Sadness is also the pathway to fundamental fearlessness, boundless compassion, --and deep joy.
As the Practice develops we see that in coming to intimately know the entire menagerie of our emotional boogiemen, a wider gaze and deeper freedom emerge. On the meditation cushion --and in our lives -- we find that the entire range of our human feelings (fear, sadness, anger, confusion, shame, to name a few) can be patiently embraced, gently explored and understood -- and ultimately transformed. Rather than stagger along with our minds clouded by our conditioning, over time we sometimes find ourselves dancing freely within the infinite expanse of a clear blue sky.
It just takes Practice.
* The Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism are one system of such teachings. Through the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness practice, tonglen meditation, and using a list of slogans, practitioners learn to cultivate kindness, clarity and compassion. For more, including an emerging bibliography on these teachings, see A Layman Looks at Lojong