In her popular book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Classics, 2000), renowned American Buddhist nun and spiritual teacher Pema Chödrön (born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) offers words of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties.
The following paragraphs paraphrase a few of her ideas about relaxing into the “groundlessness” we experience during certain painful, awkward, uncomfortable moments.
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We continually find ourselves in the “squeeze.” Feeling miserable, victimized, pathetic or hopeless, we feel squeezed, caught between a rock and a hard place, caught between the upliftedness of the way we perceive ourselves or our ideas and the rawness or inadequacy of what’s happening in front of our eyes. We look for alternatives to being in a particular place or situation.
It is difficult during these moments of discomfort to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty; in reaction, we tend to make our minds small and petty. Wanting to feel secure and comfortable when we feel squeezed, we turn to absolute “rights” and “wrongs”; we adopt rigid stances and insist on having everything on our own terms. Sometimes we turn that energy inward, interpreting the incident as a statement of personal weakness, a sign that we are stupid and inadequate. At other times we project our discomfort outward, interpreting the situation as the result of someone else’s folly, power or lack of kindness.
At these moments of “squeeze” we lose all sense of compassion toward ourselves and others.
According to Buddhist teaching, it is precisely at these moments of hassle, bewilderment or embarrassment that we have the capacity to make our minds bigger. We can be right there, present in the “nowness” of the moment, feeling off guard, without grounding… just hanging out with the raw and tender energy of the moment.
At this moment of groundlessness, rather than striking out at someone or beating up on ourselves, we can choose instead to abandon the pursuit of security and certainty. We can use the awareness that we are without solid ground to soften us and inspire us. We can be inquisitive about this unknown and ambiguous territory, and face with curiosity the unanswerable question of what is about to happen next.