Chaos is chaos.
Pain is pain. Sadness is sadness. Are there really any stronger, more powerful words that describe the human nature when in struggle?
I read this quote by Pema Chödrön the other day, and it frankly shook me up to my core:
“To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”
“Getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic” stuck with me. When I’m in the midst of chaos, as Chödrön puts it, it’s extremely hard for me (if not impossible) to relax. I mean, it’s chaos. It’s pain. It’s suffering. Who would sit back and do nothing about it?
I think this is what we mostly get wrong about pain. When something unpleasant happens that might cause us great suffering, we either shut down or fall into despair. Chödrön offers us another alternative: instead of running away or becoming discouraged when faced with setbacks, lean into your difficulties and let them transform you.
Although resisting our problems seems to be the easiest option, leaning into them is way more natural.
Here’s what Chödrön has to say about it:
“If it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it.”
“Whatever happens in your life, joyful or painful, do not be swept away by reactivity. Be patient with yourself and don’t lose your sense of perspective.”
“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief.”
“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”
“This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind.”
“We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy. It helps to remember that our spiritual practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.”
“We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.”
“Anything we experience, no matter how challenging, can become an open pathway to awakening.”
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of of the heart.”
“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”
“The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.”
“Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.”
“Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.”
“Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.”
“The approach is that the best way to use unwanted circumstances on the path of enlightenment is not to resist but to lean into them.”
“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘How can I find security and happiness?’ we could ask ourselves, ‘Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace—disappointment in all its many forms—and let it open me?’ This is the trick.”
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”
“I’m here to tell you that the path to peace is right there, when you want to get away.”