Lay Down Your Weapons – Living With an Open Heart

I wish I could say that I have walked through the trials and tribulations with ease, grace and joy, embracing each new experience, not as a trial or tribulation, but as a lesson to be savored.  But, as my grandma would say, I would be a big, fat fibber.

In fact, if anything, I’ve made the burden unnecessarily large by virtue of the fact that I’ve taken the lessons that I have learned and tuned them into weapons of regret against myself.  I’ve been using hindsight to beat myself up over decisions that I’ve made and things that I’ve done, not understanding that I was only doing the best I could at the time.  I wasn’t operating with all of the information that I have now.  It’s a classic case of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.  And it’s something that we all do.

Whether it’s something as seemingly mundane as a decision you made at work or something more grave like guilt over how you raised your child, we all have a tendency to judge ourselves using the knowledge and information we have now instead of seeing ourselves with compassion.  We can not be perfect – we can never be perfect.  There is no such thing.  So why would we continue to raise the whip and debase ourselves?  We weren’t perfect then and we certainly aren’t perfect now.

This was, and continues to be, a tough lesson for me.  This may be one I struggle with for the rest of my life.  And the tendency that I think we all have when we go through this is to close our hearts and shut down, both to others and to new experiences.  We become desperately afraid of making a mistake again – I know I am.  Why would I want to get burned again?  But here’s the thing, when you get burned, say by fire, you don’t go the rest of your life never seeking to find warmth again.  You would die.  You are always open to the possibility of, and in fact actively looking for,  warmth without the  burn because that is how you are meant to experience things (you know, being the warm-blooded, relatively fragile mammal that you are).  The same is true for everything else.

If you make a bad decision, don’t let that stop you from making other decisions using your new insight.  If you feel regret over how you raised your own children, don’t not love your grandchildren or think that you will make the same mistakes with them.  If you’ve had your heart broken, don’t let that stop you from loving again. These experiences are not meant to be ammunition to use against yourself or to use as an excuse not to open fully or as a reason to throw yourself a pity party.  They are there to serve as contrast and as lessons.

However, regret is a natural part of the human experience. But remember, regret is just another word for ammunition – the kind we use  against ourselves. The remedy for all of the things that you regret is to continue to live with an open heart and to continue to move to a place where you are feeling through, and leading with, your heart.  You must let the experiences move through you as music moves through a flute; the openness of your heart will dictate the tone and strength of the song. More and more, you will have a knowing about what is “right” and what is appropriate, and you will instinctively gravitate to those things.  It is a place of all-that-is-possible and a place of miracles.

And remember, you make your own miracles, after all……

In love and light,

heather

Staring down the Shenpa

“I am a train wreck,” I said to a friend of mine one day.  “What the hell?”

“You’re not a train wreck,” she said patiently.  But, as I felt she was biased, I didn’t believe her.  “What do you do when these things crop up?  How have you been handling it?”

“‘Handling it’ seems like kind of a pipe dream,” I countered. “I’m a basket case.”

“No you’re not,” she said calmly (again with the obligatory platitudes).  “You seem to have named these feelings.  That’s good.  You’re observing them.”

“Well then how come it’s not getting better?  It’s worse,” I said.  I was getting fairly desperate at this point.

“Because you’re just observing them,” she countered.

“Are you saying I’m copping out?”

“Yep.”

Dammit.

It seems like somewhere along the way from personal devastation to near-recovery, I had developed a few defense mechanisms to deal with the really deep and ugly stuff.  The stuff that we all have that’s lurking around in our depths; its been down there so long, it doesn’t have a name.  It’s just a bulky mass in the darkness.  And when it moves around, it knocks us off balance.

So what was I supposed to do about it?  I was effectively thrown sideways and felt as though I was watching my sanity slip.  Whatever I was doing wasn’t working.  It was the equivalent of a scared child trembling in bed, transfixed on the closet door, waiting – just waiting – for the monster to come crashing out.  I had to get out of bed and fling that door open, but I was just too damn scared of what was actually in there.

Luckily, I was not the first person to feel this way.  It turns out that Tibetan Buddhists are experts on this kind of thing, and have many practices that they teach to scared, half-crazed souls such as myself.  My friend told me about Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun who teaches meditation (among other things), and her recording “Getting Unstuck – Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality.”  I was game to try anything, so I went home and downloaded it.

Even after years and years of mediation, I had never done a Buddhist meditation on mindfulness.  There are many significant differences from other practices, the biggest (for me) is that you do this practice with your eyes open.  You can’t run. You’re there. It’s intentional for many reasons, but for me it meant that I very literally had to stare down what was going on inside my head.

But what made this recording really resonate with me is the teaching on shenpa – or the things that hook us and drag us down or lure us off into fantasy so that we don’t deal with the issues at hand.  The things that are so painful, ugly or disconcerting that they start us on the downward spiral towards numbing the pain with defense mechanisms or addictions just to be able to escape from them for a little bit.  And I was staring down some big-time shenpa.  This was what was pulling me into insanity, making me feel frantic and out of control.  The source of the shenpa is irrelevant to this discussion, its the process of working through it that I want to share.

Coincidentally, shenpa is the exact same thing that sneaks up on you in meditation.  Sometimes it pokes you, sometimes it takes you by the hand and drags you down some fantasy road or another.  And sometimes it mauls you like a Bengal tiger. I fell into this last category.  So there I went, armed with Pema’s recording and a frantic mind, I decided to sit through the practice to see if it would make a big difference.  Immediately I hated it.  This is mostly because the second I sat down and tried to focus on my breath I began hyperventilating – not good.  But, as Pema teaches, you must stay.  As big and painful and horrible as it is, you must stay with it.  You can not name it, rationalize it, escape it or destroy it.  And so I stayed.  I sat  for many hours over the next few weeks and stared at this shenpa until I got to know every crevice of it.  Over time it began to soften and melt a little bit, as though my gaze were warming it.  Little by little, it faded into the background – not gone, not completely.  Just a more manageable piece and something that didn’t have power over me any more.

That was a significant event for me, but also a deeply hurtful shenpa.  I have more; so do you.  And that’s ok.  What is important is that it is very possible to move through it and, as Pema says, face “naked reality.” You need only have enough self love to recognize that you must face these fears head on.  Be brave.

Namaste.