"Find out if there is something rich and true in even the most painful moments." Nirmala from his book Nothing Personal
And isn't it so that there is a rich truth in our moments of pain and sorrow? Poetry, stories and memoirs are filled with it. What would life be like without the darker side to things? I have trouble imagining continual peace and contentment because that is not the nature of my experience. I live moment to moment; there is no other way. The landscape is one of continual change, even when nothing appears to be happening, something always is. A fly lands on the wall beside you, a breeze comes into your house through the open window and each breath is entirely new. The Buddhist practitioners that I have been reading keep pointing to stepping into the present moment just as it is. Some of them go so far as to say that the present moment, regardless of what is happening, is exactly the way it should be. I've heard this sentiment before in self-help books I've read. One book in particular stands out, it's called The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. I bought this book while I was in my relationship with my abusive and alcoholic boyfriend. It's a daily reader for people who have been in codependent relationships and are trying to heal using some of the 12 step philosophy. The foundation of the philosophy seems to me to rest on admitting powerlessness over addictions and other people and a belief in some form of higher power that will somehow guide and direct individuals towards help and healing. Along with this comes the magical thinking that we are all on a journey learning lessons we need to learn, that God, in whatever form we connect with, is giving us just what we need and no more than we can bear.
At the time I bought the book, I took a lot of comfort in thinking that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, but that was usually during the moments of quiet. When things got intense and painful, I would lose sight of this idea and suffer. Lately I've been reading this Buddhist teacher Nirmala and I find myself getting pulled back into this magical idea that my life is as it should be, that every moment is somehow perfect and "right", if only I would open to it. Of course I think, but what about the people who are being tortured right now or what about me when I'm frozen by anxiety over the future? Are those perfect moments? I'm pretty sure Nirmala would say Yes. How can that be? Nirmala writes, "...our happiness depends more on our attitude about what is happening than on what is happening." What is happening could be very bad indeed, but often we make it worse than it needs to be. But why does it need to be at all, as in the case of torture? Nirmala writes about the Mystery that is life and about going to that place where we don't know. He writes about Awareness as if it were something in and around us, separate yet joined to us, a living entity. That Awareness exists is at the heart of the Mystery we call life. In some ways it's as if he's saying that Awareness is the higher power. It is always available and always good; there is no blemish on it, no mistake in it. It is completely trustworthy. This awareness doesn't discriminate. It is not meant only for "good" people. It is available to those who are being tortured as well as to the torturers. It is Love. It is Buddha Nature. It is the Holy Spirit.
Nirmala writes that Awareness is in love with everything and devoted to everything. So right this moment this mysterious Awareness is in love with me, with you. It knows you through and through and no matter what you've done or haven't done, it will continue to love you. It is the origin of unconditional love. But we're always so busy trying to get somewhere else or so caught up in our thoughts that we don't tap into what is right in front of us. We get restless, we get bored, we get scared. All that is a by product of our every shifting thoughts and feelings. But thoughts and feelings often misguide us, coloring our world with pain and negativity. Awareness embraces all thoughts and feelings as the sky embraces the clouds and rain. When the weather clears, the vast sky remains. It doesn't come and go; it's always there. And that's what we can return to every moment. Lately I've been noticing that when I don't have a thought in my head, I'm still acutely aware of myself and my surroundings. There is magic in that alone. The silence is pregnant with meaning. Why do we run from the present moment?
We run because we're ignorant and deluded. "God forgive them, for they know not what they do." We are collectively fooled by our thoughts and feelings. How often do we accept the lie over the truth? When I am experiencing deep anxiety I really believe that something outside of myself is threatening me, and yet when I look and listen, all is quiet and peaceful. When I stop and question the validity of my anxiety, I lessen it because I see through the lie of it. Buddhists say that most of us are asleep and that we accept the dream as if it were the reality and because of this we suffer. They also say get curious and question everything. Don't take things for granted; really look. This can be done despite the conditioning we've had since we were infants. Our conditioning tells us that we are separate individuals, alone amongst the many. It tells us that we have a Self that is solid and fixed. We cling to the idea of our individual selves as if life itself depends upon it. We say to ourselves and others, I, Me, Mine. We think our will to advance this I will lead us to happiness, but it never does. If we do such and such, then we will get such and such reward. But even if we get the prize at the end of our exertion, we still feel the hollowness of it, we're still left wanting more.
Buddhists assert that there is no Self, that it is a construct we've developed to try and make sense out of our worlds. The reality is that everything is in flux. I have memories of when I was 12, but I am 12 no longer and that imagined self was changing back then too, as it is today. Yes, I can put labels on my "self" that stick such as college graduate, Democrat, blogger, woman, cat lover, schizophrenic etc... but that is far from who "I" am. Everything that is alive is evolving from birth to death. Nothing is static, even in death the process of change continues. And some of us ask, How can there be no I, no self? Doesn't that mean that existence is pointless? No, existence remains very meaningful because Awareness is meaningful. The truth is you can have no self and still be very aware. Self is way over-rated, just as Awareness is under-rated. And all of us, whether we like it or not, are interconnected in the web of life. When I feel isolated, it is an illusion I take to heart. I am my own worst enemy because I automatically feed my illusions. That is why so many self-help groups stress keeping the focus on oneself, staying very honest and uncovering all the various misunderstandings that have come up over the years. They say, don't try and change others; change yourself. All we really have to work with is ourselves. Like the Awareness in and around us, we are always available to ourselves. This is great news.
Even in the most painful moments, there is something good at hand: space, awareness, love, breath. We do not need a separate Self to give our lives meaning, the meaning is already there, every millisecond. But we do need to understand that we are sometimes more in love with the illusions we create than with the ordinary Awareness that is all around us and in us. Waking up is about gradually stripping the lies from the greater Truth. Part of stripping the lies is retraining ourselves to see with clarity, openness and love. But first you must question and experiment. Don't assume that you know. Assume that you don't know. We're living inside a house of mirrors that we have made with our own two hands. The mirrors certainly reflect some of the truth, but the core of it is within you.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.