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Lions Roar : March 2018
The Open Dimension by Pema Chödrön Generally speaking, the human species does make things a very big deal. Our problems are a big deal for us. So we need to make space for an attitude of honoring things completely and at the same time not making them a big deal. It’s a paradoxical idea, but holding these two attitudes simultaneously is the source of enormous joy: we hold a sense of respect toward all things, along with the ability to let go. So it’s about not belittling things, but on the other hand not fanning the fire until you have your own private World War III. Keeping these ideas in balance allows us to feel less crowded and claustrophobic. In Buddhist terms, the space that opens here is referred to as shunyata, or “emptiness.” But there’s noth- ing nihilistic about this emptiness. It’s basically just a feeling of lightness. When you begin to see life from the point of view that every- thing is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into. Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind up so it walks across the floor, can just relax. So shunyata refers to the fact that we actually have seeds of spaciousness, freshness, openness, and relaxation in us. Sometimes the word shunyata has been translated as the “open dimension of our being.” The most popular definition is “emptiness,” which sounds like a big hole that somebody pushes you into, kicking and screaming: “No, no! Not emptiness!” Sometimes people experience this openness as boredom. Some- times it’s experienced as stillness. Sometimes it’s experienced as a gap in your thinking and your worrying and your all-caught- up-ness. I experiment with shunyata a lot. When I’m by myself and no one’s talking to me, when I’m simply going for a walk or look- ing out the window or meditating, I experiment with letting the thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they go. This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice. You keep com- ing back to the immediacy of your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up, thoughts like bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk, you let those thoughts go, and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience. This is how we can experiment with shunyata, how we can experiment with the open, boundless dimension of being. From How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, published by Sounds True. * Why Emptiness Is the Antidote to Fear and Suffering by Norman Fischer The logic of emptiness is wonderfully airtight. Like all simple truths, its clarity is immediately self-evident: we are. And there is no moment in which we are separate and apart; we are always connected—to past, to future, to others, to objects, to air, earth, sky. Every thought, every emotion, every action, every moment of time, has multiple causes and reverberations—tendrils of culture, history, hurt, and joy that stretch out mysteriously and endlessly. As with us, so with everything: all things influence one another. This is how the world appears, shimmers, and shifts, moment by moment. But if things always associate with and bump up against each other, they must touch one another. If so, they must have parts, for without parts they couldn’t touch (they’d melt into one another, disappearing). But the parts in turn are also things in their own right (a nose, part of a face, is a nose; an airplane wing, part of a plane, is an airplane wing) and so the parts must have parts (nostrils, wingtips), and those parts have parts and so on: Emptiness HOW THINGS REALLY ARE Things are empty of the mistaken reality we project on them. ILLUSTRATIONS BY MICHELE LAPORTE LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 66