|David Johnson, Star Prairie Gallery
Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. I literally just sit here and laugh. It’s usually times when I am working so hard at finding something or figuring something out, only to realize it is either right in front of my face or has been blinking like a neon “sign” the entire time. This has been my week.
In defense of myself, it has been a rough week. Last weekend, for whatever reason, my body decided to succumb to yet another virus. Barely over the holiday flu we all got in December, I acquired a nasty sinus infection, which just seems to magnify all the other “issues” I battle on a daily basis. Then on top of things, it was already a busy week in regards to medical appointments. One of which was my infusion, scheduled for Tuesday of this week. Upon finding out that I was sick again, they promptly canceled my infusion and set up more appointments for me to get “checked out”. Ugh. So, to make a long story even longer (it seems), it looks to be just a virus, no lung involvement and not much new on the autoimmune front; an echo cardiogram stress test next week (just to follow up on things), a new medication for some skin issues I am having and a rescheduled IVIg appointment for next Monday. Done.
On an emotional level though, this week has felt like one of those dreams where no matter how fast you run you just can’t seem to get anywhere, or no matter how many times you dial the phone you just keep messing up…or, like the dream I had last night where I gave birth to two African American twin boys and forgot them at the hospital (I’m still trying to figure it out) – I just keep trying and for the life of me…it’s not working. Trying to write…not working. Trying to cook…not working. Trying to paint….not working. Trying to clean up the house…not working. Trying to help the kids…not working. Trying to read…not working. Trying to regroup…not working. Trying to eat healthy…not working. Trying to stop picking at my skin…not working. Trying to find some quiet space….not working. Trying to make time so I can figure out what the hell is going on…not working. Trying to schedule time away so that I can find my balance…not working. Trying meditate so I can figure out why nothing is working… not...working .
My first sign came when reading Oriah’s wonderful post on Wednesday entitled “Getting Unhooked”. She has been going through some personal challenges as of late that lead to her to comment to a friend, “I feel like I can’t quite get my feet on the ground. Every time I think I’m on solid ground, it disappears from beneath me.” (Hum…sounds familiar). She then goes on to talk about her experience of taking one of Pema Chodron’s books off her shelf (When Things Fall Apart) and randomly opening the book to this piece:
“We want to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we’ve tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us. Trying to get lasting security teaches us a lot, because if we never try to do it, we never notice that it can’t be done. Turning our minds toward the dharma speeds up the process of discover. At every turn we realize once again that it’s completely hopeless- we can’t get any ground under our feet.”
Just think about it…I’ll explain more later.
Second sign. In my reading this week I came upon a quote by Santideva, an 8th-century Buddhist scholar. The quote read, “We who are like senseless children shrink from suffering, but love its causes.”
Read that one a few times.
Third sign. Someone sent me a message this week on my facebook page suggesting that I listen to Pema Chodron’s interview by BillMoyer on PBS, done in 2008. It is in six, nine minute segments – completely manageable, so I decided to give it a go. Committing to only watching the first nine minutes, I quickly abandoned the next hour of my life and watched the entire interview. Simply amazing. If you have time, I recommend it with the sincerest hopes that you will be blessed as I was.
I've read many of Pema’s books, but this interview was a view into the essence of Pema Chodron that I had never really seen – or at least been ready to see. She talked about how no one really wants to suffer, yet our means by which we try to achieve our happiness or contentment most often seem to only escalate our suffering. For example, we yell when we are angry. We think this will make us feel better (that’s why we do it…for the release), but in the end, it only makes things worse. Our means of going about getting happy are not in sync with our desire to not suffer.
To give example of this, she tells the story of working on a project that she was very excited about. She was writing an article that was taking an unusually long time to write. The adrenalin from the excitement she felt was allowing her to devote more hours to the project that what was sensible. She eventually began to get physically sick. When she began to realize the cycle she was in, she stopped and asked herself, “Why am I doing this?” Her first response, “I’m doing this because I equate it with satisfaction. I’ll finish the article and it will feel good to be finished. ” The dialogue continued. “So if I start writing again - right now, will I feel better?” She sat there and thought a bit. “No, I won’t, because my health is starting to go.” “So, why are you doing it?”At this point, instead of answering right back, she sat there until the real answer came out, “Because I WANT TO.” She was doing it for the imagined satisfaction. Her desire for satisfaction was not in sync with her methods of attaining it.
So, how does this all make sense in my world? This was the deal. When my week began to fall apart, I did two things. One, I imagined what I thought would bring me satisfaction. Two, when it failed to work (because my desire for satisfaction was not in sync with my methods of attaining it), I made the incorrect assumption that what I needed to do was to get my shit together and find solid ground. Even if it was in the most well meaning and mindfully zen way, it was still grasping at something that simply does not exist. There is no such thing as solid ground. Everything is impermanent. Plans get canceled, meditation becomes distracted, positive thinking techniques fall short, time gets interrupted, people get sick, promises get broken, relationships fail...Life. Is. Groundless.
What if, instead of running around pretending there is ground when there isn’t, we could just learn to not be afraid of groundlessness, not be afraid of insecurity and uncertainty? As Pema says, “it would be a calling on an inner strength that would allow us to be open and free and loving and compassionate in any situation.” And I would add…especially with ourselves. The Buddha gives the analogy of being barefoot and walking across blazing hot sand and cut glass. Or in a field with thorns. And your feet are bare and it is terribly painful. You say to yourself, “This is really hurting; this is terrible, the glass is too sharp, it’s too painful for me, it’s too hot to stay here.” Then you think, “Ah ha! I have an idea! I’m going to cover the ground with leather! Then it won’t hurt my feet anymore!” That’s like saying, “I’m going to get rid of this person in my life that causes me pain, I’m going to get rid of loud noises and bugs and barking dogs and things that interrupt me and schedules and ticking clocks and…everything that causes me pain…and THEN I will be happy and content!” Sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what I do…what we do! If we could just cover everything with leather we wouldn’t be hurting our feet anymore! Or…we could simply wrap the leather around our feet...like shoes. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind instead of trying to change everything on the outside, then contentment or peace can be possible no matter what the situation.
Trying to find comfortable, reliable solid ground in this world is an effort that will undoubtedly leave you unsatisfied and exhausted. It sure did me. Learning how to make space and find rest within your our own mind, letting go of attachments and illusions of control, understanding that life is less about getting rid of all the bad stuff and more about wearing a good pair of leather shoes...well, this works.
Now, if I can just remember!