“In the garden of gentle sanity, may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.” Chogya Trungpa Rinpoche
While looking through some of Pema Chodrun’s writings the other day, I was reminded of bodhicitta, a place of loving kindness and of replacing suffering with bliss. A place of compassion for all of it, all that makes up who I am and what I’ve been and who you are and what we think and feel. I thought about my desire to not be bound by hopes and fears anymore and about equanimity and the possibility of sticking with challenging emotions instead of fighting against them.
I feel grateful when exposed to the works of spiritual gurus and motivational writers who talk about this “stuff.” The ones who “put out there” that fear can still creep into their days and that they’re not vaccinated and fully guarded against the unguarded moment where doubt wins over trust.
It’s a relief to be reminded that bravery is always a choice we have the power to make, over and over in the course of our journey, and a further relief to know that these masters sometimes have to be reminded to make that choice too. It inspires me to know that I am not alone in getting “hooked” by emotions sometimes and that my training towards spiritual warrior status is just that, training.
I used to think within my life’s work, that I could eventually arrive at some place, like the helm of a warrior ship, and thereafter be able to steer into any waters without doubts or worries or insecurities. I believed, for a while, that since I’d so courageously flung Pandora’s box open and ferociously took everything out, looking at it, studying it, processing it, talking about it, writing about it, confronting and forgiving the perpetrators and moved out and moved through, that I had arrived and that I could check the box. That I could claim my warrior spear and never again be afraid.
“How brave am I!” That’s what I thought, because I’d tackled issues head on as if bravery was a by product of arriving at that “helm,” after all your efforts and not, as I know now, a passing through place you claim until the next opportunity arises to choose once again between “fear and fearlessness.”
Ah, to be graced with yet another “aha” moment, which reminds me that I am not alone in sometimes getting “hooked,” and that other far more enlightened souls than I not only don’t claim to have checked the boxes, but actually claim there are no boxes to check. There are simply moments and then more moments where you can decide with dignity whether to embrace or fight against doubt and confusion.
It seems, along this journey to spiritual warrior, that every day, sometimes more than once, choices will be put in front of me of us. “What will it be, trust or doubt?” Because the doubt, mistrust and insecurity have still been there once in awhile. Right there waiting patiently to creep in during a tired, unprotected moment. Waiting to be fed a tiny crumb so they can muster strength to gather another and yet another morsel, until they’ve gained enough momentum over the confident, trusting ones and so leave me choosing the lesser, weaker, unenlightened path.
How wonderful today to realize that instead of fighting against these thoughts, they can be invited in, bravely and without judgment and not only looked at, but felt. What a gift to stand still with the doubt or fear as those who inspire me do and then to embrace that “aha” moment, that realization that I no longer have to set myself up for disappointment by believing that with all the “processing” I’ve done I should never again feel doubt or less than or threatened.
“Was I A-spiritual or a fraud?” This had always been a worry, because when fear came I could not always walk away from it towards that place of OM and stay there. And, because in the day to day I had absolutely no reason to ever doubt, but sometimes still do, I thought I was doing something wrong. I believed that once you found that sacred relationship that Marianne Williamson writes about, the one that I have found and am standing still in today,you should never again feel frightened. I believed that I was somehow flawed in this work because even though I am standing open emotionally, physically and spiritually with a sacred soul-mate, I sometimes still do get afraid.
And since the fear is still there sometimes I judged myself. Held myself under a disappointment microscope because deep inside, down underneath the bravado, the masks, the smiles, a switch sometimes still lies in wait, ready to turn it all on. A switch down deep, with a grenade like pin. The one that can’t be seen or felt, that is hidden, there in the offing, still and quiet and ready. Always ready, somewhere within, buried way, down deep, but not so deep that it can’t rise up in a flash. Cunning, stealthy, steady. The one I never knew was there, not in my loving moments of clarity, that fooled me into believing it had gone away for good…but really is there dozing, always half present.
A reminder. A constant. A nagging thought that I was never going to be able to stay at that place of OK-ness and Enough-ness, and that I may have to settle for visits, lived underneath the quiet calm. Buried deep beneath the prayer, the affirmations, the work. And no matter how determinedly, in the moments of doubt, I told myself Pandora’s spell is gone and the box is empty, that I am enough and that I am not dirty or ugly, that I have not failed and I am worthy, it, the fear, laughed and rose up ready to take over.
And when it did, there seemed no prayer, no affirmation, no reminder of grace that could ever win over it. At those instants I understood soldiers and what they must go through in battle. The enemy is there but can’t be seen. A force waiting to take them out. To knock them down. To take their breath, their lives. They creep and camouflage and advance, tiptoeing to victory time after time, but then, in the middle of all the right – left – rights, there it is, one mis-step and all their training and planning, their drills, have been for naught. The enemy wins and they are gone, their spirits broken and shattered on the battlefields. An instant, a split second from alive and whole to blown and broken. And no-one saw it coming.
This is what it was like sometimes. One allowed thought. One mis-step, then ambush. But I am not in battle today. I am here, wherever here is, at this place of my life. My sacred life. It is a place of post processing all the moments along the way where the little girl asked for someone to protect her from the battle. It is not the one of worry over how to sort out what was right and what was wrong, of how to use her voice and how to ever measure up after feeling so confused, so dirty. There are no weapons needed today, the ones that seemed to blow from my hands without my permission.
Ammunition against jealousy and self doubt are not needed. He reminds me often that our connection lives on a different planet than he has been capable of loving before. I do not need to measure up against others that my love may have had before me. Ones who may not have been broken. Who may have learned to speak up against the unspeakable, or perhaps were not subjected to it. Who were always comfortable in their bodies because they had lovely peach like breasts that proved their womanhood. Who got to be little girls first.
Those wires, so intricately wound with my self esteem, no longer have to lead to something explosive. There is no need to be on guard because there is no more fighting back against the feelings. It used to be that in a flash, a fear based flash, just like the soldiers who came upon the enemy trap, all the hard work, discipline, decisions, choices of confidence over lack and trust versus doubt, all the moments of opting for faith could fly out the window. Blow away, swirling up and through the air like leaves in a fall wind flying just above my reach teasing, always teasing. I’d raise my arms, flailing really, to grab these validations back, to hold on just so I could remember my tools, but they’d rise just as I was about to take hold and fly high and far away.
Leaving behind fragments of doubts, the less than, the what happened and how did I get there and who am I and where do I belong and how will I ever trust and most of all “how do I protect myself right here right now?!?” They came out of nowhere these fragments, not often but when they did they brought the “less than” thoughts I had let go of a day at a time to replace the positive ones that had blown away. All this in an instant.
Like tiny drops of rain falling, they’d tease my skin at first, luring me into believing “I’ve got this” and could easily run for cover if I opted to, that I didn’t have to get “soaked” with the negatives if I chose not to, but then before any protection could be found, the torrent took over and I was drenched, too late to seek shelter. Foiled again. Fooled into being unable to protect myself against an unleashing of darkness, of mistrust with no reason that seemed to fall from the heavens, but was actually from hell and I was caught. Flooded with emotions so powerful that there was no escape. No way out of the downpour of ugly, of used, of fear, of shame of abandonment, of dismissal and then of rage.
Today, I have learned that I can stand in the middle of the good the bad the beautiful and the ugly thoughts all at once and honor them. I don’t have to fight them off or be frustrated that they come, but can stop in the midst of them and breathe. I have become absolutely willing to stand in the midst of any and all of it with shoulders back and head held high, with no shame or disappointment and let it happen. Let the anger wash over me or the jealousy or the fear. And then, only then, I am learning, has the compassion been able to enter the space between. And I own that I must practice and practice still.
And it’s all so OK because “they” have to practice too. Those that have arrived at the temporary helm before, many, many more times than me. Who know how to get there sooner, to equanimity. But it is truly a process that must continue. There is no finish line. No place of arrival. No great helm of control on a big sea of life. I relax in the knowledge that I may still flip flop briefly between my cave of survival around the past and those moments where I stand raw and bare and tall and graceful in my breast-less body and make love with all the lights on. Where I am utterly vulnerable even when it never seemed possible for someone like me.
And I can feel blessed, proud even, that I have willingly looked at all of it. The “stuff” that got in the way of a young girl believing in herself. The stuff of “survival” that has you questioning over and over where you belong and when you will ever fit in and why you feel so confused. And who you can trust. Who you can ever, ever trust. When you will finally and sincerely arrive at a place of Safe, Valued, Nurtured, Believed.
Today, I no longer have to worry about trying to stay at those moments of enough I sometimes feel as a woman or why this stuff seems to still get in the way sometimes. I don’t have to worry about heading towards fear simply because for an instant I forget what I have learned. I can remember that the place of bodhichitta arises out of the place of wound. The place of tender, raw, willing, open love that I do and can arrive at has only become available to me because of the scars and the scabs. I can remember that anything or anyone that may have come before me with this man mean nothing here in today. They served their purpose. They will not one day beckon and push me to the curb. The curb of not enoughness.
And if I do start to get hooked down the road, next time in the midst of the torrent trying to cover me, to drown me in the sorrow of confusion, I can remember a passage from Pema’s writings. “Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we’re feeling most confused and hopeless Bodhichitta, like the open sky is always there undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.” When he tells me “I am the one that he has been looking for all his life,” the “one who has so utterly rocked his world,” I can believe him. And when the dark clouds threaten, I can look at and through them to the open sky and smile.
Yes, the clouds will come again, no doubt, and bring along the desire to put those protective walls back up. After all they were held in place so well for so long. But I can and will invite their shadow for a moment because I now realize what an integral part of the process they actually are. I am brave. A spiritual warrior who longs for bodichitta and has seen glimpses of it, who realizes she could never, ever have gotten here, to this blessed moment without the fears and doubts and battle scars. And right now, here, the sun is so bright and so warm. I grab his hand and go to bask in it.