"if you tarnish your perceptions by holding onto suffering that isn't really there, you create even greater misunderstanding. one-sided perceptions like these create our world of suffering. we are like an artist who is frightened of his or her own drawing of a ghost. our creations become real to us and even haunt us."
two of my most beloved teachers are thich nhat hanh and pema chodron. one a vietnamese (zen) buddhist monk, the other an american (tibetan) buddhist nun. the wisdom above comes from thich nhat hanh. they are words he recorded in his diary in the 1960's, which have since been published as part of a collection of his entries entitled "fragrant palm leaves."thanks to a good friend back in berkeley, i received a link to a bill moyers interview with pema chodron. i had just gotten home from a day of long busrides, during which i'd listened to about two hours of pema chodron's teachings on my ipod. so, when i opened my friend's email about the interview, i decided to sit right down and continue my pema marathon! why not?! it doesn't get much better than that, anyway!i sat there for the hour feeling filled to the brim with gratitude that in my lifetime i have been blessed with the dharma (buddhist teachings). coming from a childhood and young adulthood steeped in fundamentalist christianity, the odds of escape were slim for awhile there, but being the little contemplative that i was, questioning and pondering since day one....well, it made for a deep dis-ease with the religious beliefs that i was instructed to hold as my own and the spiritual path i was taught to follow. for twenty years the road i traveled was an ungodly narrow....it barely had enough room for me to walk, let alone experience any kundalini rising!!!!
it's a funny thing, i can't remember the exact moment i first stumbled upon buddhism. it's hazy. i find that strange because i can remember every other pivotal moment of my life (and i would consider encountering buddhism one of those). i think my discovery of buddhism wasn't so much something new but rather, a mirroring of ideas and experience that i'd been carrying inside and feeling all along, having no language to articulate and no community with whom to share it.
all i had in regards to fundamentalism were questions fraught with anxiety.....pushed up against the rule: don't doubt, don't ask, don't think! i pretty much felt a whole lot of distress, a whole lot of the time....for many years! so, when i began to study and practice buddhism, i found the once so narrow road, widening...and my body began to relax....my breath began to deepen.....a space inside started to grow....and within that openess seeds of lovingkindness, understanding, and compassion began to root.....and over time the anxious questions melted into peace and irrelevance.......
i am still very much a beginner, learning how to relax and how to breathe.....how to not react when i get triggered.....how to soften my rigidity and open my heart.....especially when i come into contact with fundamentalism and right wing politics.....and insecurity and fear.....
in pema's interview, she spoke of groundlessness. groundlessness being the truth of the way things are, whether or not we are aware of it from moment to moment. it's what we are most often reminded of when the bubble of security pops.....when a relationship ends unexpectedly....when a loved one dies.....when we become very ill.....when the towers fall to the ground. it's the impermanence of everything. pema spoke of how most often we think of groundlessness as being unpleasant....when we feel insecure, fearful, and lost.....a feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath us. but, groundlessness is also awe, wonder, great beauty that stops the thinking mind and suddenly there is all this space....emptiness....possibility......freedom.....falling to our knees in wonder at the beauty of the night sky and the rug being pulled out from under us - it's all the same.....we separate by labeling certain experiences of that groundlessness as pleasant or unpleasant. the possibility for true freedom and peace lies in learning to rest in that groundless state of being. this may take many, many lifetimes for me to fully grasp.
some people might consider that groundless state as god....matrix of creative potential.....if i had been given this definition of god back on the ever-so-narrow road to the pearly gates, i might have felt a bit more at ease....a bit more capable of breathing deeply and finding space inside. however, the god i knew, you know, the one who goes by "he," who lives up in the sky and makes judgments about who goes up or down when they die....well, that god scared the sheist out of me and to my good fortune fell into the ditch when the road widened up.
a clip from the interview:
"how do you experience god?"
"in buddhism they say, we do not believe or disbelieve in god. we keep it as an open question. i personally don't use the word "god" much - i'm not at all or in any way even slightly offended by the word "god" and i know it means alot of things to different people. if i had to have a definition of god i would say it is that open space of mind that allows for ultimate possibilities and doesn't narrow down into a security or fear-based view where my way has to have precedence."