Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pema Chödrön: Beyond Our Comfort Zone

I am sharing this excerpt from Pema Chödrön’s book, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change, because I find here the core wisdom of what empowers us to grow in compassion and to increasingly be the peace our world yearns for. This is something I am often moved to speak of because everywhere we look, if we look deeply, we can observe divisions and barriers within ourselves and others to living with greater connection, compassion, courage, kindness and love. As I share this, I am also aware of feeling the humility that comes with my consciousness of how it is that we all fall somewhere on the continuum of being asleep on the one end and awakened on the other. This is very difficult work and certainly a courageous commitment to make – to seek to expand who we allow into our hearts and work to alleviate the suffering in the world.

It is my belief that if we are alive and breathing, there is always more work that can be done to chip away at the internal and external obstacles which are the roots of empathic failure, separation, suffering, injustice, judgment, violence and oppression. This lifting of the veils of our ignorance and illusions is one of the greatest challenges and gifts that I believe we humans are given. At least this has certainly been my experience. 

May we all go beyond our comfort zones and embrace and integrate the teachings, values,  healing and transformation which make possible the strengthening of our capacity to experience compassion, to awaken, and to be the peace our world yearns for. 

With warmest blessings ~ Molly

The Path of the Spiritual Warrior
Whose Weapons are Gentleness, Clarity of Mind,
and an Open Heart

Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of “life not on my terms.” The second commitment, traditionally known as the Bodhisattva Vow, or warrior vow, challenges us to dive into these noncozy waters and swim out beyond our comfort zone.

Our willingness to make the first commitment is our initial step toward relaxing completely with uncertainty and change. The commitment is to refrain from speech and action that would be harmful to ourselves and others and then to make friends with the underlying feelings that motivate us to do harm in the first place. The second commitment builds on this foundation: we vow to move consciously into the pain of the world in order to help alleviate it. It is, in essence, a vow to take care of one another, even if it sometimes means not liking how it feels.

The second commitment is connected deeply and unshakably with bodhicitta, traditionally defined as a longing to awaken so that we can help others do the same, a longing to go beyond the limits of conventional happiness, beyond enslavement to success and failure, praise and blame. Bodhicitta is also a trust in our innate ability to go beyond bias, beyond prejudice and fixed opinions, and open our hearts to everyone: those we like, those we don’t like, those we don’t even notice, those we may never meet. Bodhicitta counteracts our tendency to stay stuck in very narrow thinking. It counteracts our resistance to change.

This degree of openness arises from the trust that we all have basic goodness and that we can interact with one another in ways that bring that out. Instead of reacting aggressively when we're provoked, endlessly perpetuating the cycle of pain, we trust that we can engage with others from a place of curiosity and caring and in that way contact their innate decency and wisdom.

A friend who works in a department store decided some years ago that she would test her belief that everyone is basically good. She wanted to see if she could find anyone she felt was not a candidate. Every day she encountered friendly people, for sure, but also plenty of rude people, arrogant people, manipulative people, and downright mean-spirited people. In each case, she experiemented with ways to go beneath their facades, to go past their defenses and contact their good sense, their humor, and their kindness. When we last talked, she hadn't yet met anyone she felt lacked basic goodness, and she's been working at that store for fifteen years.

With the first commitment we begin to build confidence in our ability to embrace the raw, edgy, unpredictable energy of life. With the second commitment we stop further into the groundlessness as a source of awakening rather than a source of dread, as a path to fearlessness rather than a threat to our survival. If we haven't already been training in relaxing with fundamental uneasiness, then making the second commitment can be terrifying, because we're moving deeper into this open-ended, undefined territory called benefiting others.

Commiting to benefit others is traditionally called the path of the bodhisattva, the path of the hero and heroine, the path of the spiritual warrior whose weapons are gentleness, clarity of mind, and an open heart. The Tibetan word for warrior, pawo for male warrior or pawmo for a femail warrior, means "the one who cultivates bravery." As warriors in training, we cultivate the courage and flexibility to live with uncertainty - with the shaky, tender feeling of anxiety, of nothing to hold on to - and to dedicate our lives to making ourselves available to every person, in every situation.

The commitment to take care of one another is often described as a vow to invite all sentient beings to be our guest. The prospect can be daunting. It means that everyone will be coming to our house. It means opening the door to everyone, not just to the people we like or the ones who smell good or the ones we consider "proper" but also to the violent ones and the confused ones - to people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, to people speaking all different languages, to people with all different points of view. Making the second commitment means holding a diversity party in our living room, all day every day, until the end of time.

Initially, most of us are in no way ready to commit to all of that - we are in no way ready to leap into that much groundlessness without reservation. But if we have a longing to alleviate suffering, what can we do? For one thing, we can invite everybody and open the door to them all, but open the door only briefly at first. We open it only for as long as we're currently able to and give ourselves permission to close it when we become too uncomfortable. However, our aspiration is always to open the door again and to keep it open for a few seconds longer than the time before.

When we practice in this way, the results may be surprising. In opening the door gradually, not trying to throw it open all at once, we get used to the shaky feeling we experience when people we can't quite handle start coming to the party. Rather than thinking, I have to open the door completely or I'm not doing it right, we start with the strong intention to keep opening that door, and bit by bit, we tap into a reservoir of inner strength and courage that we never knew we had.  

Opening the door reflects our intention to remove our armor, to take off our mask, to face our fears. It is only to the degree that we become willing to face our own feelings that we can really help others. So we make a commitment that for the rest of our lives, we'll train in freeing ourselves from the tyranny of our own reactivity, our own survival mechanisms, our own propensities to be hooked....

The commitment to take care of one another is a vow to awaken so we can help other beings awaken. A vow to awaken so we can alleviate the suffering in the world. A vow to continue on this  journey for as long as it takes, even if that's forever. Shantideva captures the essence of this commitment in a verse that's said to be a favorite of the Dalai Lama's:

And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.    

-  Pema Chödrön
Excerpted from Living Beautifully
With Uncertainty and Change  


No comments: