In the reading this morning of “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodron’s introduction to the book includes some quotes from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, her Buddhist teacher:

“Making friends with our own demons, and their accompanying insecurity leads to a very simple, understated relaxation and joy.”

I really hope that someday, I can honestly say I’ve found this to work in my life.  Right now, I am pretty far from the experience of “a very simple, understated relaxation and joy.”  

Rinpoche also gave her the instruction to relax and write. At the time, she never imagined that she would be able to.  She has spent many years now doing just that – so I think that there is hope.  

Her year of “doing nothing” in 1995, as she explains in the introduction, led her to one of her most important books, “When Things Fall Apart.”  

“If your life is chaotic and stressful, there’s plenty of advice here for you.  If you’re in transition, suffering from loss, or just fundamentally restless, these teachings are tailor made.  The main point is that we all need to be reminded and encouraged to relax with whatever arises and bring whatever we encounter to the path.”

The first time I read the book, I was in transition. The second time I was suffering from loss.  Now, I am just fundamentally restless.  My life has moved forward in a very challenging way, but I am still feeling fear and discomfort sometimes.  I think that this is life – and I am learning how to sit with it and not try to escape it. 

The final quote:

“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.” 

A few years ago I read Pema Chodron’s book “When Things Fall Apart” when I was going through the most difficult time of my life and it helped me enormously.  I underlined it and re-read it and it was one of the ways I survived the break-up of my marriage, my mother’s death and my daughter moving away from home.

I decided now is a good time to re-read it and so every day I’m going to read just one page and some days I will write about it.  Today I read the first page of the introduction and Pema mentions that in 1995 she took a sabbatical and “essentially did nothing.”  She read and hiked and slept.  She meditated and wrote.  She said she had no agenda, and no shoulds.  That alone sounds like a great accomplishment in a society that values achievement, to step back and take time off.  I wonder if that was also the year she spent in silence.  I wish I could do something like that and maybe someday I will. 

She also spent the year reading the writing she had done over the years from her teachings and she discovered that she talked a great deal about maitri (loving kindness towards oneself) and from that practice, a fearless compassionate attitude towards others’ pain.  

Last night I went to Friends In Deed’s Tuesday night group and it was a very large meeting (they are about to go on vacation, so I guess many people felt the need to be there.)  I noticed how much compassion I felt towards most people, but there was one person whose pain was so intense, it made me uncomfortable.  I have to work on that, because sometimes pain is extremely intense and unbearable.  I did feel compassion, but I also had a difficult time allowing myself to connect with this particular woman.  She is definitely in a period of “groundlessness” – uncharted territory. 

In Pema’s words, “dissolving the dualistic tension between us and them, this and that, good and bad, by inviting in what we usually avoid” – made me think about how I reacted to this woman. And I hope that during these next few weeks, she will be able to cope with all the fear and find her way through a maze of doctors and treatments and decisions.  

I was feeling the need to include Pema Chodron’s writings again on the blog.  

This comes from “When Things Fall Apart” – one of my favorite books:
“We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect.  But from the point of view of someone who’s awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death.  It doesn’t have any fresh air.  There’s nothing to come in and interrupt all that.  We are killing the moment by controlling our experience.  Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have cancer, or somebody’s going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit.

The essence of life is that it’s challenging.  Sometimes it is sweet and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes and opens.  Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100% healthy.  From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and trying to get it all together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience.  There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and all the imperfections into a nice smooth ride.  To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.  To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely fresh and new.”

This is definitely how I am living now, in a no-man’s land…not because I’m a Buddhist who’s chosen to be fully awake and alive, but because of the situations in my life.  So when I read that again, it reminded me that not only is it okay to be living in a state of flux, or not quite knowing where life is taking me, it’s actually a good thing.  

Truthfully, it doesn’t always feel so good, but I’m working on that. 

Monday morning, for the past three years I’ve been dreading Mondays. I’ve also been fearing depression, especially as we come close to winter.

I guess you would call that not being in the moment. This morning I re-read another chapter in “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron and read this paragraph: “The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s sweet, and sometimes it’s bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about this approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride…. To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. …. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”

I was walking the dogs in the park this morning and now all the leaves are off the trees. It felt like a kind of death, when I looked around. I generally hate this time of year, but for some reason I am enjoying it, even though last night it was windy and cold and I didn’t have enough layers on. Listening to my ipod while I race home from the subway at night helps me to move quickly and not mind the cold so much. What did we do before such inventions?

Anyway, I wish for you a day with a few bumps.

Oh – one more thing. I’m rehearsing for a song we are singing at our final Mama Gena weekend, which is this coming weekend. My group (eight of us) are singing “Mamma Mia” but with new lyrics “Mama Gena.” It should be really fun. We’re all wearing blond wigs and I’ll try to post a photo of our group in our costumes. (Although we’re not exactly sure what they will be – lots of sequins I think.) Learning the lyrics has been challenging. I’m generally either walking with the ipod, singing to myself (or out loud if I’m in a park) or on the subway singing softly. Zoe’s tired of hearing me, so I try to limit how often I sing at home. Singing and dancing are two activities that bring me great pleasure. I recommend them. Take a dance break today!

That’s the title of the first chapter of “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron and I am re-reading it. “Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands.” I get fearful when I think about the future and I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’m in a place like that right now and I have to say, it’s both terrifying and exciting.

I loved seeing Barack and Michelle Obama on 60 Minutes last night. How refreshing was that? Two really intelligent, articulate people who will be living in the White House and I just like them so much! It feels like we’re moving from the darkness into the light and it is truly exciting, even with all the problems that plague us, to know that we’ll have the best minds in this country focused on solving them. And talk about facing his fears, Barack has that down. He seems to be preternaturally calm. I love that we won’t have to worry about the future of the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade and a million other issues that would have been a complete nightmare if the Republicans continued in office for another four years.

So – all of that is great and mostly I’m focused on trying not to let the winter, and my loss of work, and fears about money and the future keep me from moving forward.

I do know that humor helps me. I saw my director Matt this weekend, along with a few other friends, and he always makes me laugh. That changed my mood dramatically. And then I went to a screening of “Frost/Nixon” with Ron Howard, the screenwriter Peter Morgan and Brian Grazer speaking afterward and that was fantastic! And on Sunday, I went to Unity, my “church” (it’s filled with lots of people of all faiths, including Jews) and went out to brunch with a woman I met at Mama Gena’s. So I had spiritual, intellectual and emotional sustenance this weekend. And now I’m going to get my butt to the gym, or go for a long walk. Somehow I’m going to get through this winter and enjoy it, even though I only love the first snow and then I am so ready for April.

I guess in spiritual terms though, I should say I will feel whatever I feel and try to live in the moment, even if it sucks.

Heaviosity: taking life way too seriously and feeling like you are carrying a two hundred pound weight on your back and generally feeling shitty (despite the gorgeous weather) because you’ve also cut way back on caffeine. (White tea just doesn’t cut it.)

I woke up this morning from another night of rather vivid dreams (I’ll spare you the details.) And I was feeling quite depressed after glancing at a text message from a friend who says she is seriously considering voting for McCain because she can’t move on from Hillary. And that made me so furious, which then led me to depression, which led to thinking about everything else in my life that I feel frustrated about (a daughter who unlike everyone else’s kid is not going back to college this September, a mother who keeps asking me, “When are you coming to visit?” And four more years of Republicans? I would jump out the window if I didn’t live on the second floor.)

And then I just happened to pick up my dear Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” to see where I left off before I cheated on her with Jon Kabat-Zinn (and now Ekhardt Tolle’s “A New Earth”) and sure enough Pema, as always, came to my rescue.

I swear to God, I opened the book to see where I left off and this is the paragraph I read: “Finally, couldn’t we just relax and lighten up? When we wake up in the morning, we can dedicate our day to learning how to do this. We can cultivate a sense of humor and practice giving ourselves a break. Every time we sit down to meditate, we can think of it as training to lighten up, to have a sense of humor, to relax. As one student said, “Lower your standards and relax as it is.”

So that is my practice for today. And I might even treat myself to an espresso.

And I am very excited about Obama’s speech tonight. I know he will “rock the stadium” and I hope that people in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the entire south will be moved enough to vote for him in November.

This happens to me quite often: I wake up in the morning and I’m feeling blue about something, or some problem is weighing on me, either an issue I’m having or it could be one that a friend is dealing with. So I do my meditation for a little while and maybe nothing insightful comes out of it. Then I pick up some kind of book for inspiration. For the last year or so I’ve been reading quite a bit of Pema Chodron’s work, as I’ve mentioned before.

So yesterday, I woke up after having been at the beach for the past three days and I thought, “Damn, I can’t walk on the beach this morning. Or swim. Or relax.” And I was feeling a little bit sad about being back in the city, in the heat, back to dealing with life, and stress, and anxiety about money, and work, and everything else. I picked up “When Things Fall Apart” (Pema Chodron, 1997) and this is some of what I read in a chapter titled: “The Love That Will Not Die.”

“In difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals. Healing can be found in the tenderness of the pain itself.”

“Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit word that means “noble and awakened heart.”

“…Steven Levine writes of a woman who was dying in terrible pain and feeling overwhelming bitterness. At the point at which she felt she could not bear the suffering and resentment any longer, she unexpectedly began to experience the pain of others in agony: a starving mother in Eithiopia, a runaway teenager dying of an overdose in a dirty flat, a man crushed by a landslide and dying alone by the banks of a river. She said she understood that it wasn’t her pain, it was the pain of all beings. It wasn’t just her life, it was life itself.”

“It is said that in difficult times, it is only bodhichitta that heals. When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of the pain itself.”

“Tonglen – sending and receiving – awakens bodhichitta by putting us in touch with the genuine noble heart. It’s a practice of taking in pain and sending out pleasure and therefore completely turns around our well-established habit of doing just the opposite.”

So then I thought, what percentage of people in the world are getting up and walking on a beautiful beach today? What percentage of people don’t have shit to deal with, don’t have money issues, or health issues, or parents who are sick, or whatever. Get over yourself!

The other day a friend of mine was dealing with a situation that involves her brother. They’re not speaking and she’s mad because this happens continuously and she’s fed up. So I picked up my book the morning after we had this discussion and the chapter was titled “Widening the Circle of Compassion.” This has to do “right and wrong” and how everyone always feels that their position is right and other person’s is wrong. And what is needed is open and honest communication about what people are feeling and accepting that perhaps there is no right or wrong, just feelings. I relate a lot to my friend’s problems with her brother, because my sister and I have had a similar relationship. And perhaps this right and wrong dilemma is the reason we continue to have wars.

Anyway, I don’t know the answers to all of this, I just know I’m going to keep on reading and meditating. And maybe re-reading. Until maybe someday I actually get it.