“Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished, including any benefit that may come from this book, I dedicate to the welfare of all beings.
May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference, and addictions also decrease.
May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.
May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.
May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.
May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.
May we go to the places that scare us.
May we lead the life of a warrior.”
~Pema Chödrön, Concluding Aspiration, The Places That Scare You (Shambhala Publications Inc.: Boston, Massachusetts, 2001)
It has been a few weeks since my last post. It has been a very busy start to the fall session at the Court of Appeal where I work during the day (and lately into the night!). I’ve been able to attend yoga only sporadically the last few weeks with my work schedule, and also now that summer is almost over I find myself asking the question: “Where did all my free time go?”
Now that I’m more or less settled into the new session at the Court, I have been able to attend yoga more regularly. I’ve also found more time to continue my mindfulness meditation practice.
Tonight, at yin practice with my instructor Tania, an expression she offered resonated deeply with me. It was this:
“Whatever the reason that prompted you to come to your mat tonight, seek out the possibility of the courage of your breath. To help soften you, to help change you.”
The possibility of the courage of my breath. Courage. This singular word drew me in that moment to the writings of Pema Chödrön, the widely regarded and beloved Buddhist American nun whose writings on Buddhism I have only just begun to unpack thanks to the thoughtful recommendation of a very good friend and colleague of mine.
Tania’s offering tonight turned my mind to the quotation that you see at the beginning of this post. This is the concluding aspiration that is found in Chödrön’s work The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.
I must tell you that like Dr. Arnie Kozak’s work The Awakened Introvert (which work has formed the topic of a previous post that you can read here), Chödrön’s book struck many, many emotional and spiritual chords with me.
In one of her chapters (I promise I won’t give away the entire book in this post!), Chödrön begins with this quote from her Tibetan spiritual master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche:
Meditation practice is regarded as a good and in fact excellent way to overcome warfare in the word; our own warfare as well as greater warfare.
Before I came upon Chödrön’s writings, I never equated meditation with overcoming our own internal “warfare”. I viewed it as a technique in mindfulness that could help deliver an abundant peace to one’s life (which it has, speaking only for myself). But, I never would have considered it in terms of warfare. And yet, Chödrön teaches us to “train” in our thoughts as mindful “warriors”. What does that mean, exactly? It means we train in cultivating “bodhichitta” – that is, an “awakened heart” or “compassionate heart” or “enlightened mind” – and we do this by dropping the “story line” that we tell ourselves almost constantly in our daily lives. Chödrön writes at p.33:
In essence the practice is always the same: instead of falling prey to a chain reaction of revenge or self-hatred, we gradually learn to catch the emotional reaction and drop the story lines. Then we feel the bodily sensation completely. One way of doing this is to breath it into our heart. By acknowledging the emotion, dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves about it, and feeling the energy of the moment, we cultivate compassion for ourselves. Then we could take this a step further. We could recognize that there are millions who are feeling the way we are and breath in the emotion for all of us with the wish that we could all be free of confusion and limiting habitual reactions. When we can recognize our own confusion with compassion, we can extend that compassion to others who are equally confused. This step of widening the circle of compassion is where the magic of bodhichitta training lies.
Notice how Chodron suggests that by breathing the emotional reaction (whatever it might be – and it might well be an entire story line!) into our heart, we may cultivate compassion for ourselves, and eventually, others. This is how we may train to become warriors in bodhichitta, in an awakened heart, mind, and compassion for ourselves and those around us.
There is an untarnished wisdom and an irrefutable simplicity to this teaching. It has, as I have come to learn in my journey of mindfulness, direct application not only to the practice of mindful meditation, but just as equally to the practice of yoga (which itself is a meditation on yoga as “union”).
We must be prepared, as Chödrön warns, to cultivate the warrior in bodhichitta at all times, particularly in those dark places that we fear residing in the most:
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
In just over a month’s time, I will be embarking upon the next chapter of my journey in mindfulness. I will be travelling to Majorca, Spain, to attend my first yoga retreat being co-hosted by my learned yoga instructor, Lindsey Park, and the Satya Seva School of Yoga. I cannot express to you how nervous, excited, and genuinely grateful I am to be able to partake in this retreat in November. Lindsey has helped me tap into a quality and depth of self-awareness and engagement I have never known before. It is truly humbling. I don’t think there are words that could express my gratitude to her for helping me grow in strength and confidence, but also to soften the anxious and angry person I used to be. To me, Lindsey is an exemplar of the warrior in bodhichitta.
I am looking forward to escaping the city for the Spanish sun and waters of the Mediterranean; to deepening my meditation and yoga practice with like-minded yogis and yoginis; to devoting myself to the yogic life as a warrior in bodhichitta so that I might continue to train in cultivating compassion first for myself, then for my family and friends, and finally for all who suffer in the world.
When I recall that I’ve only just embarked upon my journey in mindfulness in the last year, it always brings a smile to my face to think of how my life has changed in so many material and fundamental ways. Perhaps what makes me smile the most, though, is when I think how much more I’ve come to love myself through the simple act of being and breathing with intention and awareness in this moment.
I hope to post an update before I head off to Europe in November; but, if that does not come to pass, rest assured I will report regularly during my journey in Spain.
As a concluding thought, I would invoke the words of Buddha:
Hatred never ceased by hatred
But by love alone is healed
This is an ancient and eternal law.
Let us all unlock the potential of bodhichitta within all of us, wherever we find ourselves, whenever and however we find ourselves. Moment by moment. May we lead the life of a warrior. The light in me honours the light in each of you, always.
p.s. In writing this post, I was drawn to a recent song I heard entitled “Revel” by Bootstraps, which you can listen to by clicking below: