"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Monday, April 17, 2023

Sad But True

This world-
absolutely pure
As is. 
Behind the fear,
Behind that,
then compassion
And behind that the vast sky.
 -- Rick Fields
  “This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we’re unkind.  It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. ”
-- Pema Chodron

Sometimes, insight and healing emerge slowly during the course of Practice.   Like spring gently unfolding across the palette of April, our world slowly greens and blooms.  What was dark, harsh and frigid, slowly brightens, softens and warms.  At a certain point we notice:  It's different now than before.

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 but notice.  It's different now than before.

I love comparing notes with others on such awakenings.
I was fortunate enough to be at Himalayan Views, a nearby spiritual gift shop/bookstore a few years ago, to hear about a woman's experience of one of those moments.  
Suffering from what had been diagnosed as "clinical depression" since adolescence, she had struggled through a series of medications for nearly twenty years before coming across a passage on "the genuine heart of sadness" in a book by Pema Chodron.


As she read that passage an awakening had come in a flash.  In a burst of tears -- she knew.  At that instant, she discovered a whole new way to view her experience.  Rather than accept that she had a "broken brain" and needed medication to correct a chemical imbalance, she knew that she could trust her heart.  In that moment, she saw clearly 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.  

Like many of us, this woman had felt the power of this deep connection to the Mysterious Reality of Life/Death as a child, but nobody in her life knew what it was.  Her parents didn't understand. Neither did her teachers.  In a society steeped in scientific materialism and a pharmaceutical industry run amuck, she was diagnosed and "treated."  
As she read the teaching from Pema Chodron that day, she understood.  Her sadness wasn't a personal flaw.  It wasn't an illness.   That day, she knew that in her Heart of Hearts that she had touched what the Buddha had touched.  Suffering was inherent in the fabric of human life.
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.  At the point she was sharing her story, had been successfully, sometimes quite joyfully, navigating her life for several 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?)  Drugs simply are what they are.  
Over the years, I have had dear friends whose quality of life has been improved through the use of prescription drugs to address their psychological and physical health. 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.

Instead, what I am pointing to here, is that there is a great value in exploring what our society conditions us to avoid.  When approached skillfully, the emotional energies of honest grief can be the gateway to a deeper Connection to our True Nature. 
Sad Ain't Bad
Oftentimes, "Don't be sad" can actually be a horrible message. 
Sadness is inherent in the fabric of life itself.  With Practice, it can be approached with understanding and skill.
As many of the sages and seers through the ages have realized, deep within our own personal sadness is a shared existential sadness that connects us to one another and to the One Love that forms the groundless ground of our being. 
Rather than "harden our hearts", we have the choice to soften, to open.  Once embraced, the Genuine Heart of Sadness becomes the pathway to a fundamental fearlessness, boundless compassion,  -- and deep joy.

In fact, as Practice unfolds -- on the meditation cushion and in our lives -- we find that the entire range of our human feelings, including the so-called "negative" emotions of fear, sadness, anger, confusion, shame, etc. can be embraced, gently explored, and understood.  In the infinite space of an open heart and a clear mind, Love is all there is.
It just takes Practice.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Brother ❣️ Embracing ALL the emotions ---Beautifull ‼️‼️----
So often we hear, as on Sesame Street (and elsewhere): "Sing of good things, not bad, Sing of Happy, not Sad"...
We quit singing in a choir, because of not wanting to contribute to such an energy of denial of wholeness‼️
One Love ❣️❤️

Anonymous said...

Dear Lance,
Thank you for taking the time to share this wisdom. I love Pema Chodron. And am grateful for the gentle touch on my shoulder to be kind to myself as I navigate the deep grief and sadness I find myself experiencing. Love can hold
It all. 🙏

Lance Smith said...

I'm grateful that you each found some resonance and value in the post. It continues to be an interesting, although sometimes challenging, Practice.
One Love,

Anonymous said...

is this recovery dharma? It’s posted in all the recovery dharma groups and it doesn’t look like recovery dharma it looks separate. I’m confused. What is this good for, it’s unclear

Lance Smith said...

Hi Recovery Dharma Anonymous,
Having been involved in the earliest iteration of Refuge Recovery, then some of the conversations leading tot he emergence of Recovery Dharma from the ashes of Noah Levine's challenges, I sometimes share my weekly MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call to the Recovery Dharma FB page. I have been involved with Buddhist practices and the Recovery Community for decades.

In simpliest terms, what this post points is the possibility of recognizing the First Noble Truth of Buddhism in the reality of our own experience. Because of the widespread ignorance we encounter in modern Western culture, we are not exposed to wise counsel regarding that experience and attempt to escape this painful reality through an addiction to alcohol or drugs -- either prescribed or self-administered.

I shared this post in RD to underscore the point that healing from these addictions through a regular meditation practice. and the teachings of Pema Chodron and other Buddhist teachers is possible.

I shared the introductory poem by Rick Fields, who Tricycle magazine noted "occupied a preeminent position in the unfolding of dharma in the West for almost twenty years" in an article memorializing his death in 1999 because it resonated with my own experience of the heart of awakening. All to often, we have learned to deny, repress, or escape from the First Noble Truth. Having the courage and support to open our hearts to our own suffering aligns us with the suffering inherent in the human condition. At that point, we can begin to realize the other three Noble Truths from the inside out.

Anyway, that's my take on why I shared it to RD, Friend.