As is. Behind the fear,
Sadness, then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.”
Like spring unfolding across the palette of April and May, our world slowly greens and blooms. What was tan, stark, and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms. At a point we notice: It's different now than it was before.
At other times, insight and healing emerge like a bolt of lightning in a late summer thunderstorm!
Sometimes bursting forth with a torrential downpour of tears, sometimes not, a Grand Gestalt crystallizes in a heartbeat. In a flash, in an instant, we really get It! Or perhaps -- more accurately-- It gets us.
We notice. It's different now than it was before.
The Genuine Heart of Sadness
Several years ago, I had the good fortunate to stop by Himalayan Views, a spiritual gift shop/bookstore, to hear a woman describe one of those moments. She was sitting in the back reading area of the store and, as is often the case, I found myself chatting with her about the book she was reading, then comparing notes on our lives and spiritual practice.
Her eyes were clear, her voice gentle yet strong as she shared her story. In her mid-thirties at the time of her awakening, suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had come across a book of Pema Chodron's teachings. When she read of what Pema's teacher, Chogyam Trungpa had called "the genuine heart of sadness, her life was transformed.
As the woman read that passage that day, the awakening had come in a flash. Reality asserted itself. At that very moment, She knew.
Encountering Life As It Is
In a burst of tears -- and then with rainbows glistening through her tears -- her whole world shifted. She saw clearly that her experience of a deep sadness about the human condition wasn't a sickness to be medicated. It was an essential Connection to Bodhichitta, the soft and tender core of our Spiritual Heart.
Like many of us, this woman had felt the power of this deep connection to the Mysterious Reality of Life and Death as a child, but nobody in her life knew what it was. Rather than receive acknowledgment, support, and skillful guidance, she was told she had a chemical imbalance, a broken brain. Like so many people today, medication was presented as the only answer. As happens for so many people, it fostered disconnection from herself and others, not Connection.
As she read the teaching from Pema Chodron that day, that Connection was made. This precious and gentle soul now understood that her sadness wasn't a personal flaw. It wasn't an illness. Remembering her childhood Catholicism, she recalled that Jesus had said Blessed be those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. She now understood. It was a Blessing to feel her heart's sadness. That day, she knew that in her Heart of Hearts that she had Touched what the Buddha and Jesus, and countless saints, sages, and seers had Touched.
Now, she just needed to learn how to work with it.
The Theory and the Practice
With the assistance of a supportive counselor, a regular meditation practice, and a supportive community of spiritual friends, this budding Bodhisattva slowly decreased, and then completely discontinued, the use of the antidepressant medications she had been prescribed since adolescence. By the time she was sharing her story that day, this courageous and inspiring woman had been successfully, sometimes quite joyfully, navigating her life for over three years -- completely 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? Stephen Gaskin and Ram Dass weren't the only ones who experienced significant awakenings under their influence.
Over the years, I've had friends whose quality of life, at least for a time, has been improved through the use of prescription drugs to make their lives more manageable. I have other dear friends who have found that carefully calibrated, long-term usage of such drugs, along with a supportive community, attention to diet, exercise, and a personal spiritual practice continues to work wonderfully for them.
Yet, I also have friends who, like the woman I met that day, found that their quality of life improved only when they stopped relying on medications. There is no "one size, fits all" mode of healing into our True Nature. Drugs simply are what they are. We each find our own relationship with them -- and with ourselves.
Sad But True
What I am pointing to here is that there is a great value in exploring what our society
conditions us to avoid. Oftentimes, "don't be sad" is a horrible message. It disconnects us from our hearts ability to feel the Truth of the Matter. Our grief is suppressed and denied rather than acknowledged, felt, and healed. This has horrible consequences for us, individually and collectively.
In the world today, we are in desperate need of people who have the courage to open their hearts and minds to face reality as it is. As the saints, seers, shamans, and sages of the world have seen throughout the ages, the Compassionate Heart is a Key to the Kingdom. Although we may first have to face, and embrace, the fear that shrouds true vulnerability, deep within and beyond our own personal sadness is the shared existential sadness that connects us to one another and to the One Love that pervades the universe. Rather than "harden our hearts" to life, we have the choice to soften, to open, to Love fully and completely. It is there that we find comfort and deep joy.
At age 74, having shared Practice with peers in the recovery community for years now, it is clear to me that we can learn to embrace with understanding and skill that which we've been conditioned to avoid. Although it takes commitment, effort and patience, the Genuine Heart of Sadness can become the gateway to fundamental fearlessness, boundless compassion -- and deep joy.
Rather than stagger along with our minds clouded by our conditioning, either repressing our feelings or acting out again and again in ways that don't serve us, we can heal. Allowing ourselves to feel deep sadness, we are able to feel deep joy. Over time, we increasingly find ourselves living from our hearts, meeting each moment with greater ease and clarity.
In special moments, we may even find ourselves dancing freely, like dandelion seeds glistening in the sun, sailing within the infinite expanse of the One Love.
It just takes Practice.
Originally posted April 18, 2014. Revised and updated