By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette –
“There comes a time when the bubble of ego is popped and you can’t get the ground back for an extended period of time. Those times, when you absolutely cannot get it back together, are the most rich and powerful times in our lives.”
~ Pema Chodron, Buddhist and spiritual teacher
Love is everywhere and in so many forms—we love with abandon in romance and in friendship, with our children and parents, when considering our life’s passions and dreams. Love envelopes us and gives us wings, heals illness and creates new life. It inspires us to reach further and work harder than we ever thought we could, and it affects our brains and bodies with the most powerful natural chemicals that exist. Love inspires us to cross miles, overcome the impossible, and fight to the death. And when we lose it, love tears us down, takes us apart, and puts us together as someone new. It leaves us empty and hollow, open and vulnerable, completely lost. We think we will never recover.
Except, we do recover. We may not be the same or feel the same or look the same, but that is because we no longer are the same. We can’t erase or shed experiences or their effects, but we can decide to revel in who we become after we have loved and lost.
The Elephant Journal featured an excerpt from Buddhist and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron’s book, When Things Fall Apart. In it, Pema Chodron says, “In the midst of loneliness, in the midst of fear. In the middle of feeling misunderstood and rejected is the heartbeat of all things…the genuine heart of sadness.”
She compares our genuine heart to a jewel, buried in the Earth for a million years where it will lie in perfect form, not discoloured or harmed, waiting to be brought back to light and glow brilliantly, unaffected by the various ways we express our fear and sadness.
“No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness, or greed, the genuine heart of bodhicitta, or wakeful human nature, cannot be lost,” she says. “It is here in all that lives, never marred, and completely whole.”
Her words encourage us to embrace suffering as part of our whole experience and to reject the misinformed notion that hiding from the pain constitutes kindness or self-care.
“The truth is we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated,” she says. “We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us—a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears, and to caring only for the people nearest to us.”
She encourages us instead to relate to and stay close with the entire experience of loneliness and a broken heart: “When we don’t close off, when we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings,” she says.
Pema Chodron relays the wisdom of the His Holiness The Dalai Lama who differentiates between unwise selfish people who only think of themselves, causing confusion and pain, and wise selfish people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others.
Rather than turn away from pain and suffering – our own or that of others – we must face it, hold close the feelings we experience, and feel pride, not shame, in our grief and in the love it inspires in us.
“Someone needs to encourage us: that this soft spot in us could be awakened, and that to do this would change our lives,” she says.
The practice of tonglen is a journey towards taking in pain and putting out love and pleasure, effectively reversing our detrimental habit of doing the opposite.
“Tonglen is a practice of creating space,” says Pema Chodron. “Ventilating the atmosphere of our lives, so that people can breathe freely and relax. Whenever we encounter suffering in any form, the tonglen instruction is to breathe it in with the wish that everyone could be free of pain. Whenever we encounter happiness in any form, the instruction is to breathe it out, send it out with the wish that everyone could feel joy.”
Above all else, tonglen allows people to feel less burdened and less cramped, and to love without conditions—no matter the kind of love we experience.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, a day that began to honour the purest and most passionate of loves, make a commitment to embrace the tonglen principles, and to take inventory of just how may loves there are to enjoy, embrace, and mourn freely when the time is right.
Further Resources and Reading
Video:Pema Chödrön – When Things Fall Apart www.zenmoments.org/pema-chodron-when-things-fall-apart/
Pema Chödrön: Tonglen Meditation – YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: How to Love Genuinely – YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZDZoesL6as
The Dalai Lama: An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life – Goodreads – www.goodreads.com/book/show/261069.An_Open_Heart
Jessica is a freelance writer and editor based on beautiful Vancouver Island. She oversees the editorial direction of several small press run magazines in Western Canada and writes when and wherever she can about the environment, travel, construction, and design. She holds a BA in writing and anthropology from Vancouver Island University and has been working in publishing for 16 years. When she’s not hidden among piles of paper in her home office, Jessica can be found paying homage to Mother Earth on a cross-country bike ride, trail run, or camping trip with her family.