Conventional wisdom says that when life gives you lemons you make lemonade – seek the bright side. But what do we do when the lemons are a bit more like being hurled from a great height onto a bed of spikes, tearing your skin on every spike as you are drug to a pit of salt, rolled in the salt, and then doused in someone else’s idea of lemonade?
We all go through times that feel torturous and overwhelming at least once. We are not as alone as we may feel. There are industries and institutions dedicated to this very human experience, and built around the ways in which we distract ourselves from our feelings. One book that feels like a blessed relief in the morass of people telling me to smile is a thin volume of teachings from a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, is a wonderful set of teachings with an emphasis on kindness, and understanding yourself more fully.
Chödrön suggests an avenue that is revolutionary (to a western audience) – stop avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, stop distracting yourself with busyness and entertainment, befriend your emotions, be kind to yourself, sit with your pain and treat it gently.
The emotions from which we run can be our greatest teachers. The lessons our emotions teach bring us closer to loving ourselves, closer to loving others.
Learning to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important. The reason it’s important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering. We’re discovering the universe…We discover that everything is awake, and everyone is awake. Everything is equally precious and whole and good, and everyone is equally precious and whole and good.
It can be hard to break the habit of seeking pleasure and distraction, or avoiding pain. Opening the heart and really taking a look is an act of bravery. Being honest with ourselves can be as hard as the initial heartache.
The more we relate with others, the more quickly we discover where we are blocked, where we are unkind, afraid, shut down. Seeing this is helpful, but it is also painful. Often the only way we know how to react is to use it as ammunition against ourselves…when we apply the instruction to be soft and nonjudgemental to whatever we see right at that moment, then this embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend.
We are such beautiful creatures, with such an ocean of gifts for healing or not…
I came to this book and it’s teachings late. It has been sitting on my shelf, teasing my eyes in bookstores, chatted about in coffee shops by friends, for years. But the truth is, whatever my recriminations, regrets, and rejections of sense, it is never too late! (I know this because it is a teaching in this fine book.)