Today I had a fight with God when I was driving in my car. Well, I don't really call God God anymore, now that I no longer follow a traditional religious path, so in reality, I yelled at God-Universe-Higher-Power-Guardian-Angel (and yes, I'm still trying out different names).
But that's not really important to this story. What's important is the fact that I yelled and I yelled (and thank god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel for Bluetooth, so other people on the road would just think I was yelling at someone on the phone).
You see, I'm on a journey in search of my heart-career. It's an exciting experience, filled with joy, wonder and meaning. But I've also experienced some suffering lately, because I'm in a holding pattern, waiting for god-universe-higher-power-guardian-angel only knows what.
I hate limbo and I get really impatient when I have to wait too long. Normally I do a great job of holding it all inside. In fact, typically I appear quite stoic in the face of suffering. But every so often, I get overwhelmed with negative thinking, and I begin to feel impatient because I'm really putting myself out there in a number of ways, and not much is happening, and I'm 54, and time is ticking, and that makes me angry. It also makes me afraid.
The hard thing about taking risks in order to follow our dreams is that we can't do it alone--we need the world to cooperate, which means we have to wait. Whatever the nature of our journey, eventually we need some kind of acknowledgment that we are on the right track in the form of getting answers, or having some successes, or actually achieving our dreams. Having to wait for what seems like forever can make us feel impatient and angry, because at some point, it can all start to feel rather unfair.
The truth is, I think it's downright ridiculous that we have to endure so much uncertainty in this life, and all this waiting--for the partner of our dreams to come along, for the child we so desperately want, for the financial deal to pay off, for our talents to finally be discovered.
So I yelled at the universe, my higher power, my guardian angel, because I was feeling impatient. And I yelled because I was feeling angry. And I yelled because today, I just didn't have it in me to see the glass as half full. In fact, today I wanted to take that glass and smash it against the wall (I was actually more practical though, and instead filled it full with some good red wine). But mostly, I yelled because I was feeling afraid.
And then this happened. I came across a book entitled When Things Fall Apart written by Pema Chödrön, an American who became a Buddhist nun after her husband left her for another woman, and her life fell apart.
From the moment I began reading I knew this was an answer to my prayer (and by "prayer," of course I'm mean the screaming tantrum inside of my car). Chapter after chapter I felt as though Chödrön was speaking directly to me, answering my questions, challenging my assumptions, and speaking to my soul.
I imagined myself in a conversation with Chödrön, and this is how it went:
Chödrön: "Embarking on the spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on the ocean to search for unknown lands. . . . For all we know, when we get to the horizon, we are going to drop off the edge of the world. Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what's waiting out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it."
Me: That's exactly how I feel! I'm charging ahead, putting everything on the line, and yet I'm not quite sure where I'm going, or what I'm looking for. And I'm afraid that I will have rowed across an entire ocean for nothing. I don't know how to keep going forward with all of this fear.
Chödrön: "Fear is a universal experience. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth."
Me: I've been on a truth journey for some time now--it's the foundation of my life, or at least that's my goal. But when I'm encouraged to shut out my fear and become more optimistic instead, no matter how hard I try to remain positive, I still feel fear. How can I make my fear go away so that I can be more courageous?
Chödrön: "We don't need that kind of encouragement, because dissociating from fear is what we do naturally. We habitually spin off and freak out when there's even the merest hint of fear. . . . So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear."
Me: Is there anything I can do other than just sit with my feelings of fear, impatience and anger? I want all these feelings to go away right now, so I can move ahead in my journey.
Chödrön: "The opposite of patience is aggression--the desire to jump and move, to push against our lives, to try to fill up space. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what's happening, experiencing a sense of wonder."
Me: That's what I want. I want to feel relaxed and open to whatever is happening. I want to feel wonder! But I worry that when an opportunity presents itself, and I do make a choice, it won't be what I thought it would be, and I'll be disappointed. How can anyone know they're on the right path with all the uncertainty in this world?
Chödrön: "The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. . . . That's what we're going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought.
Me: I love the Buddhist philosophy, but I'm not an ardent follower, although I try to meditate and practice yoga on a regular basis. Do you have any suggestions for me?
Chödrön: "The practice of tonglen . . . is a practice of taking in pain and sending out pleasure and therefore completely turns around our well-established habit of doing just the opposite. . . . 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, . . . with the wish that everyone could feel joy. It's a practice that allows people to feel less burdened and less cramped, a practice that shows us how to love without conditions."
Me: I am an explorer, heading for unknown lands. I breathe in my anger and fear when I feel impatient, with the hope that others can be free of pain. I breathe out my happiness, wonder and courage with the hope that others can experience joy.