Pema Chödrön, renowned buddhist teacher and author, invites us to awaken ourselves through compassionate and meditative living.
It is an idea that I struggle to aspire to.
For most of us, the day-to-day frenzy and anxiety of keeping up in this world has disconnected us from our spirit, our being, our true self. We have to consciously take time to meditate, stop and contemplate, and remember to breathe.
Even with the best intentions, what we have to do, are expected to do, and should do creep back in and smother those intentions slowly, until we find ourselves back in the same hectic pace of “real life.”
The last five months of shelter-in-place, social distancing, and working-from-home have given some of us a rare respite from the hustle and bustle of our former pre-COVID lives. It is easier to incorporate a meditation practice when you don’t have to rush off to a physical workplace. It is easier to be more patient, more contemplative, more thoughtful about reactions and responses. There is time to breathe, to pause, to step away from the pressure of real life.
Except, real life is there, waiting. Right beyond that door. And maybe you’ve already had to return to a new normal, maybe you are making the transition, maybe you have yet to venture out, literally and figuratively.
For me, it looks like I will be returning to in-person teaching in a public school this fall. Aside from the still many unknowns about the COVID-19 virus and my fears about how our school system infrastructure is going to support the health guidelines, I am feeling a sense of fear and loss. Not because I don’t want to return, but because it has become glaringly obvious to me that how we as a society approach life and success and community has become so broken.
Sure, we can go there if you want: our nation has failed to take care of its people on so many levels. Simple basic rights involving health, citizenship, economic security, and respect for people of all races, gender, beliefs, and sexuality are in danger. Our society has seen an erosion of basic human compassion and understanding—so concerned about being right, being successful, having things, and existing in a comfort zone that cannot include anyone who doesn’t agree with each other.
In our own bubble, behind our closed doors, we are free to be meditative, to think the deep thoughts, to pause. When we have to go back out into the world, our doors are going to be cracked open. We will have to bump up against other people who don’t think the way we do, who don’t believe the same things we do, who don’t see the world as we do. And of course, it goes both ways: someone else thinks the same as us.
But the question is, how far are you going to allow that door to swing open? A crack? So easy to shut it back up tightly if we just leave it slightly ajar. Part way? Still not letting everything in, and if we are quick enough, the door can easily be closed again. A few heart-pumping moments of terror, sure, but we still have control.
How about swinging that door wide-open? Now we have to take the whole view in. Not just a slice through a narrow view. Not partially open so that we can shut that sh*t down quickly if we need to. We are completely exposed.
I don’t know about you, but I find this incredibly terrifying. The push and pull of a world full of people who want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and expect you to fall in line, even if it strikes a resounding discord in the very depth of your being.
So, I realized I would have to devise a plan, a coping strategy for when I return to the big, scary world out there. I hope, if you are feeling the same, that this may help you as well.
So, here we go. How do we crack that door open?
Here are three thought steps to get you started:
Step one: Realize it is your life.
You can live it the way you see fit. Of course there are laws to abide by, organizational rules and standards to follow, and societal expectations. I am not suggesting breaking laws or regulations or stomping over someone else’s dignity.
But, can you extend your mind for a moment and see the box of requirements not as hard boundaries, but as fuzzy lines that can be expanded and shaped to harmonize with your worldview better while still living with integrity and respect?
Step two: It’s your truth.
No one else can dictate that for you. Just remember that everyone else has their truth, too. It’s all about realizing that just as you would like to live your life and truth as you desire, other people do too.
The trick is to find a way to live your truth with compassion. You can live with kindness, empathy, and respect without giving up who you are.
Remember that pause? Listen. Listen to what others are saying (and many times what they are not saying), listen to how what is going on around you is affecting you in mind and body, and listen to your heart in choosing to respond (or sometimes to not respond).
That door? It is your heart. If you are true, you can open your heart; it doesn’t have to hurt or threaten who you are.
Step three: It’s your heart.
Why aren’t you following it? Remember step two? You can open yourself up and be vulnerable. You can be wrong, misguided, fearful, and uncomfortable. And at the same time, you can open your heart.
You can likewise change your mind, see a new perspective, conquer a fear, and bump up against your comfort zone. It is the only way to follow your heart and grow. Otherwise, that door will only ever be open a little crack, and you will miss out on seeing the big, beautiful, scary, exciting world beyond it.
So, come on, let’s take a deep breath into our heart, listen to it beating with your life, your truth, and kick that door wide open, come what may.
The world is waiting for you. Just listen.