In her book, "The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times", Pema teaches this core principle of Buddhist mindfulness practices: that we can use difficult times and situations in our life as an opportunity to cultivate "boddhichitta" - an open and compassionate heart towards ourselves and others. Those who cultivate boddichitta, she says, are "warrior-boddhisattvas", people who are able to train in the middle of "fire" in order to help alleviate the suffering of others. Sounds noble enough, right? But when you understand what this means...a bare bones honesty with oneself that cuts through self-deception and personal reactivity, a letting go of the story we've bought into about our situation and leaning into just the bodily sensations, emotions and fear, and a non-judgmental witnessing of our ego's clever attempts at escape from the discomfort....then we may wonder if such a noble path is indeed for us.
Actually, I think it is for all of us, at one point or another, in one lifetime or another, to begin a serious line of inquiry into the workings of our ego. So, as Pema says, "We ask ourselves: What do I do when I feel I can't handle what's going on? Where do I look for strength and in what do I place my trust?". One way that we can begin to know the answers to such questions is through meditation, the foundation of warrior-boddhisattva training.
Learning to "hold our seat" in the midst of feeling vulnerable, groundless, insecure, betrayed, angry, jealous, fearful, resentful, sad, etc., essentially means to acknowledge the impermanence of all things and to stay with the emotional energy that is arising in you rather than act it out. It doesn't mean repression, but rather a fully aware and alive witnessing stance of the mind that allows us to recognise our habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour, and to choose to do something different. We learn, for instance, of our tendencies to self-medicate (e.g., alcohol, tv, food, shopping, addictions...). We learn how we seek to blame others, or denigrate ourselves. We see how we've been conditioned our whole lives to avoid being still.
It takes courage to remain steady, open and flexible when there are no footholds, when our world seems to get a little too out of control. The practice that she prescribes is "compassionate inquiry" as fundamental to the process of becoming a truly loving person and of real awakening. Pema writes: "We are encouraged to be curious about the neurosis that's bound to kick in when our coping mechanisms start falling apart. This is how we get to the place where we stop believing in our personal myths, the place where we are not always divided against ourselves, always resisting our own energy."
Basic Steps to Compassionate Inquiry:
- Learn to catch hold of your emotional reactions
- Drop the story lines
- Feel the bodily sensations and emotions
- Breathe into your heart
- Cultivate compassion for yourself
- Extend that compassion to others who are suffering
"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Yoda
Love & Sweet Blessings,