Failing?

First of all, I want to thank each of the folks who have offered comments on my recent NaBloPoMo posts. I wish that I were responding personally each time, but the state of my life these past two weeks has made it a huge challenge to get a post written each day. So please know that I really appreciate the fact that you read my words and take the time to comment.

Last year, Pema Chodron published a small book that contains the text of a commencement speech she gave at Naropa University in 2014. This volume was not onewave_304x400 of the ones that I pulled off of the shelf yesterday and I think I know the reason why. The title, perhaps, cut too close to the bone, that is, it seemed to name the emotion I was channeling, for myself, for women, for the progressive movement in this country.

The title is fail, fail again, fail better: wise advice for leaning into the unknown. Failing. Such an icky, defeating and defeated word. In my heart of hearts, beneath the all the heartsick feelings, I know that we did not fail. Still, I could not face that book title yesterday. After a little more sleep, some work in the garden, a visit from the little ones in my life (one and two-years-old) and a previously scheduled visit with my doctor of 35 years, I’m less dazed and more present today.

So, here is the wisdom that I found when I took fail, fail again, fail better from the shelf and opened it. The lesson really resonates for me, because the metaphor is something I have experienced physically, more than once. Maybe you have also.

This advice came to Pema from her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. This story was his response when she said: “I have hit the bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”

It seems to me that many of us felt like we had ‘hit the bottom’ this past week. He shared this story with Pema, she shared the story with the graduating students that day and now I am passing it on to you.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there and you have a choice. You can either lie there or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea.”

‘So, basically, you stand up, because the “lying there” choice equals dying. Metaphorically, lying there is what a lot of us choose to do at that point. But you can choose to stand up and start walking, and after a while another big wave comes and knocks you down. You find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with sand in your nose and sand in your mouth, and again you have the choice to lie there or to stand up and start walking forward.’

“So the waves keep coming,” he said. And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward.”

‘This was his advice to me. Trungpa then said, “After a while, it will begin to seem to you that the waves are getting smaller and smaller. And they won’t knock you over anymore.” That is good life advice.’

I hope to carry this advice with me going forward, as we must.

Inshallah. Ojalá. Blessed be.

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The image of the Hokusai’s Great Wave has always been one of my favorites.

Pema Chodron

Grappling with so many difficult emotions at once.  Stunned, hopeless, vulnerable, disbelieving and so, so discouraged.

Easy to be angry, to blame others…

And to scold myself for being so foolish, for believing that the time had come.  That the moment had finally arrived and I was here to experience it.

After 48 hours in this negative place, some tiny spark of survival, the survival of my spirit, the survival of faith, sent me to the bookshelf.  There I found the wisest of the wise women of our times – and there are many, many wise women and men – and I turn to her for sustenance.

In her book The Places That Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Pema Chodron shares this chant:

Hatred never ceases by hatred

But by love alone is healed

This is an ancient and eternal law.

Thousands of people risked their lives to embrace this Buddhist chant, while being held in a Cambodian refugee camp, during the time of the Khmer Rouge.  Unquestionably a situation far more dire than our disheartening November experience.

In her 2006 book Practicing Peace in Times of War Pema speaks of rereading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr and about trying “to bring about change by nonviolence and nonaggression.”  [I think we can all agree that there was more than enough aggression during the campaign.]

In other words, [we] have a chance to soften what is rigid in [our] hearts and still hold the view that injustice is being done and work toward unwinding that injustice or that cruelty.

All of this is just words, I know; it is my attempt to regain my footing, after being so suddenly and shockingly thrown off balance.  All I can do is try.

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I wrote, trying to find words.

NaBloPoMo seems frivolous in the face of events in Paris yesterday; in light of the thousands of people who are victims of violence every day in every part of the world. Dis-spirited, I wrote, asking pointless questions about what motivates humans to violence; listing some of the weapons and ways that have become commonplace; trying to find some solid ground, emotionally.

Then the cat came and sat behind my laptop, watching the neighbors raking leaves. He turned, gave one chomp to the power cord of my laptop, and the screen went black. Whatever I wrote, if it was meaningful or not, its gone. Power cord is kaput – $80 to replace it, so my experienced daughter tells me – and I am more dazed and confused than before. And now my Internet connection is not working either, so I will bow to the effects of Mercury retrograde and quit.

Managed to get back online, although the power is slowly draining from the computer. Still fairly speechless, but at least I am able to appreciate the windy day and realize that my questions are unanswerable; I cannot be wholly absorbed in sadness, anger and fear, nor can I erase them from my consciousness and live as if I do not know or care.

A few lines from Pema Chodron:

Life is short.

Every act counts.

Every thought and emotion counts too.

This is all the path we have.

These ideas do not promise comfort, understanding or a resolution. They simply are true.

This is all the path we have.

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