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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 55 There are various opportunities to make friends with yourself. Almost all of them involve a gap in your daily life, something that seems out of the ordinary. Many of them involve silence and solitude of some kind. So, once again, we may find ourselves in that empty room. But instead of fighting with the space, which just solidifies it, we explore it. To do this, we use a mechanism such as the sitting practice of meditation. This is a pow- erful means to get to know yourself, to introduce yourself to yourself. Meditation is a discipline, a technique to transcend technique. You sit down on a cushion or a chair and simply experience your- self: your body, your breath, and your thoughts. You just be there, very simply. There are several aspects to meditation that are part of establishing friendship with yourself. One is mindfulness. Mindfulness is keeping track, or keeping a pulse, of being there, in a nonjudg- mental way. There is no good or bad. Everything is allowed to be. Among other things, mindfulness is a stabilizing or pacifying influence. The panic of everyday life and every expectation laid on life can subside. This is a huge relief. It is called the discovery of peace. Finding peace in the practice of meditation involves slowing down. Physically, you call a halt. You park your body somewhere, and you stay put. Your mind may continue to race for a while, maybe for a long time, but you become aware of the mind racing. Awareness is being in a bigger space, recognizing that there is always an environ- ment around our thoughts and feelings. When you begin to sense that atmosphere, there is both intelligence, or sharpness, and relaxation. You begin to see things much more precisely and your native intelligence begins to awaken. Becoming more aware is a very courageous thing to do. You allow yourself to look honestly at your experience. And that solid sense of self— of who you are—is revealed as being not so solid. You begin to experience gaps, holes in your suit of armor. You realize that you are really more like Swiss cheese than Cheddar. When you are there, just there, without trying to hold everything solidly together, you also begin to find that you don’t need to sustain a storyline about yourself and your life. Who is it for any- way? You can afford to relax with yourself, get to know yourself. You don’t have to put on makeup for yourself; you don’t have to put on a smile. You TRADITIONALLY, WE ALL LIKE to plan our life. And of course we have to. It would become very chaotic if we just showed up for a plane or train without a ticket. But when we’re dealing with emotions and fear, deciding ahead of time how it’s all going to be doesn’t work. Our motto needs to be: “Learn as you go.” On the path of meditation, you are training your mind and body to end up in the same place. To do that, you need the discipline of openness, which quite simply means showing up for your life. Showing up turns out to be very fertile, tender ground. You find that there is an increase in your curiosity, inquisitiveness, and interest in what’s actually going on. You discover a shaky, tender quality of vulnerability that threatens to overtake you. But if you take it in small bites, if you don’t have a plan of getting the shakiness over with once and for all, you may find it’s workable. Each time you stay present with fear and uncertainty, you’re letting go of a habitual way of finding security and comfort. All those brain studies about meditation—where they place people in MRI machines or put electrodes on their heads—show us that each time you dare to remain where you are and do something completely fresh, unconventional, and nonhabitual, you open up new pathways in the brain. You experience that as strength and it builds your capacity to be open the next time around. By contrast, each time you follow your habitual approach, you reinforce the old pathway and make it more likely that you’ll go that way once again next time around. And don’t worry, there will always be a next time around. We get many reruns in life, big reruns and small reruns. If your heart is gripped by jealousy or rage or loneliness or any other manifestation of fear, you don’t have to learn from it all at once. It’s not like if you get it right once, if you overcome your jealousy or anger once, then it’s smooth sailing with that emo- tional pattern for the rest of your life. There will be reruns. It will keep coming back, following the old grooves in the brain. That means you have lots and lots of chances to rouse yourself and let go. No need to exaggerate an emotional pattern, fixate on it, fuel it with more thoughts, or go into a tailspin. When you feel the shakiness, when the thoughts start to arise, when the tailspin is beginning, another rerun is in progress. You sim- ply rouse yourself and let yourself be there. Adapted from Pema Chödrön’s teachings at the Smile at Fear retreat in the Bay Area last fall. Showing Up for Your Life You’re jealous or angry or lonely. Don’t run from the feeling, says PEMA CHÖDRÖN. Stay present.