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Lions Roar : March 2014
do,” says Cynthia. “I don’t know how to get off the floor right now. But because of Pema’s teachings, I learned that I could just be there. It was great to have someone say, ‘Yeah, you’re on the floor! I’ve been on the floor, too. And you can stay there. Just stop the story line. If you stop it for two seconds, you’ve moved forward.’” Meredith Monk is a renowned composer and performer who is a longtime student of Pema Chödrön’s. When I interview her under the umbrella of a tree, she tells me how Ani Pema helped her gain a wider perspective after her partner’s death. “When we’re in very painful circumstances,” Meredith explains, “there’s a way we can see that those circumstances are part of the big flow of life. At the same moment that you’re having that pain, there are millions of other people who are having that same kind of pain. There are millions of other people sitting in a hospital waiting room. There are millions of people who are dealing with grief.” During her last talk of the weekend, Ani Pema states: “When you feel bad, let it be your link to others’ suffering. When you feel good, let it be your link with others’ joy.” This understanding that our sorrows and joys are not separate from the sorrows and joys of others is a key to the fourth and final quality that is critical for waking up: taking care of one another. Sea anemones are open and soft, but if you put your finger anywhere near them, they close. This, says Ani Pema, is what we’re like. We can’t stand to see our flaws or failings; we can’t stand our feelings of boredom, disappointment, or fear; we can’t stand to witness the suffering on the evening news or in the face of the homeless person on the corner. And so we shut down. “That’s a kind of sanity,” Ani Pema posits. “Your body and mind intuitively know what’s enough. But in your heart, you have this strong aspiration that before you die—and hopefully even by next week—that you’ll become more capable of being open to other people and yourself. The attitude is one step at a time—four baby steps forward, two baby steps back. You can just allow it to be like that. Trust that you have to go at your own speed.” Habitually, we allow our difficult emotions and experiences to isolate us from others. We feel alone in our depression or despera- tion or sadness. But when we use these to link us to everyone else in the world who’s suffering in the same way, we find that we are not alone, and we discover a deep well of compassion for others. I take a long look around at my neighboring retreatants. Ani Pema, wrapping up the last talk of the weekend, is seated at the front with her glass of water and a flower arrangement. Flanking me, there is a middle-aged woman in a butterfly blouse and hoop earrings and a young woman in a hoodie and thumb ring. In front of me there is a man with a wisp of ponytail. Together, five-hundred-plus voices chant these four ancient lines from the Buddhist sage Shantideva: 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. ♦ SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 80