I had a different piece of writing picked for today but then I got a piece of news yesterday that sent me to Pema Chödrön’s writing in When Things Fall Apart. Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun that writes so intimately about groundlessness, that moment when we can’t find anything solid to stand on to pretend we have it all together. Oh, how I love my life when I’m not experiencing groundlessness – but wow, how much I’ve learned when I have.
And here’s what sent me to this place. First, before Christmas my son caught the bug going around daycare so he had to be out sick a couple of days. Next I got sick. Then we were all well and the scheduled holidays with no school and daycare happened. Fine – I’ve now missed about 6 days of work in December but some of those were expected and I’m rolling with it.
Then it snows in Seattle. And Seattle is ridiculous when it snows so 2 more days of daycare for my son this last week were canceled. Then, and this was the latest, Seattle Public Schools just announced they are canceling school for my 1st grader on Monday, January 3rd so they can hand out COVID tests. <scream>
How the heck am I supposed to be responsible, professional and earn a living when the ground beneath my feet is always shifting? The fact that I know I’ve typed that question in practical terms in order to gain the most sympathy tells me that I’ve at least gained some consciousness about my situation. Groundlessness is like a patch of ice on a mountain – the trick is not to dig in and try to plant your feet but instead walk lightly across letting your momentum work for you.
For me, this COVID era has been one big patch of ice. I’ve always figured out a way through before and I know that I will again. Re-reading Pema’s words reminds me that in moments like these that I get to learn so much as I do so.
Basically, disappointment, embarrassment, and all these places where we just cannot feel good are a sort of death. We’ve just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we’re on top of things. Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.
Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment. It’s actually a sign of health that, when we meet the place where we are about to die, we feel fear and trembling. A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. Things like disappointment and anxiety are messengers telling us that we’re about to go into unknown territory.
…How do we work with our minds when we meet our match? Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart. This is easier said than done, but it’s a noble way to live. It’s definitely the path of compassion – the path of cultivating human bravery and kindheartedness.
In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That’s something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It’s when all of our schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or punishment.
…If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
(featured photo from Pexels)