The wonderful irony about this spiritual journey is that we find that it only leads us to become just as we are. The exalted state of enlightenment is nothing more than fully knowing ourselves and our world, just as we are.Pema Chodron, Welcoming the Unwelcome
…the whole modern world has been laboring under this one colossal superstition – that we are not what we are, and are what we really are not… It is no exaggeration to say that if civilization is to survive, this false idea of personality has to be abandoned…we have to disidentify ourselves with this shadow image and learn to identify ourselves completely with the Self.Eknath Easwaran, The Essence of the Upanishads
My first response to Pema Chodron’s quote was laughter. Yes, the irony of it all and how hard I worked for more than half my life trying to figure out the big mystery of “how”. How to be all that is good. How to be all that is perfect. How to be all that is someone, wife, mother, friend, daughter. As everyone born into this world, I learned about living from family and society, how to get along, how to cover up my faults, how to fill the many roles we take on, and in the end, believing that this me just needed to be better. I learned to see others through this distorted window as well, seeing them in my version of them while they were seeing me in their version of me.
A memory is triggered in the quote of Pema Chodron from the year 2001 while visiting my daughter in Boulder, Colorado. This was a period in my life with a good amount of change, empty nest, career moves, trying to know the me outside the roles I had taken on— all the versions of me. I made an appointment with a gifted astrologer, a teacher of my daughter, a young man from Israel who continues to be a friend and a wisdom figure. As we talked through what I was struggling with in feeling not enough, disconnected, the heartaches formed over the years, he simply said to me in his kind and caring manner, “Simply be you. Let the light and beauty within you shine.” My response to this man who in those two sentences seemed to be speaking in a foreign language was, “But how do I do that? I don’t know how!”
I see that younger me now and in my best Scottish accent (I have been watching way too many British shows) I say to that me, “Are ye daft, child?” At that time, in his kindness, after a pause of reflection, he offered, “There is no ‘how’, there is only, ‘be’.” I went away befuddled.
When it no longer works to live in roles and expectations, the beliefs that have not been fully questioned or opened to explore all come pouring out leaving us feeling empty, stripped of all the containers that we operate out of in our navigation of this world. There is no clear road map on how to unwind from all this learning and be, be me, whoever this me is beneath the one who knows the role and how to fill it. Just tell me what to do, A, B, or C. What is BE? To be or not to be, that is the question. To be or to how—that was my question! What I have come to know is that there is no blueprint, no how; I am the only me there is, and you are the only you.
I wonder now what it would be like to be raised believing that it is not perfection we seek but rather our wholeness as spirits embodied in human flesh that we wish to unite with and open to. Our birthright. Our reason for being. Oneness with the Divine which is ultimately one with all life. So much energy is wasted with the feelings of blaming, judging, and lack, in self and other. For years, I created suffering around feeling not seen. In truth, I was not seeing me either, merely me in the roles I played.
While there is no blueprint or rules to follow and there is no right way or wrong or good or bad in this journey of BE, there are, surely enough, guideposts. Information in our spiritual traditions that help train us to enter quiet, to open our hearts, to center in our bodies, to be of service, to forgive, to feel compassion, and to build the metaphorical muscles needed to focus and to truly see and open full hearted to ourselves, our neighbor, the trees, the moon, the stars, those we disagree with, those who hurt or wound, and all that is within us that we have held in shame, hate, or dislike.
At one time we were taught that what we think of as me, the personality, is constant. As with everything in life, rather than being constant we are in process as we learn, open, become consciously aware, and attain more freedom to choose. While we may tend to be abrupt, we learn to breathe first before responding. While we may appear intense, we learn to be calm as well. While we may be quiet by nature, we learn to speak up. While living a busy life we learn to sit in prayer or meditation. We can learn to see, face our fears, live with peace of mind, and be in compassion. Baby step by baby step we make our way beyond the learned behavior, roles, and attitudes to that place of goodness within each of us, learning to be and operate out of that, the core of our existence, one with all life, exactly as we are.
On a given day in our sitting practice, there are moments when we breathe in the vast vista before us and then there are moments when all we can see are thoughts running like a train load of boxcars, speeding across our view, laden with all the stuff of life, of the day, of then, when, and how, and we practice letting them all go. We then move into the duties of our day bringing freshness and life to the tasks at hand, not living a role, but creatively living each moment, in our lack of perfection, with purpose, and ease.
It is, it all is. This life. This love. This patience. It is this.
Learning to ‘be’ can seem like an insurmountable task that we take on until the end of this life. It is dedicated hard work in its seemingly absurd simplicity, but we enter, keep going, seeing, learning, opening, and loving, just as we are.
In Memory of Thich Nhat Hanh, a wisdom figure who moved on from this world during this past week, who has brought healing awareness to me and so many, and will continue to live on through his teachings, books, and legacy, and the energy through which he so beautifully graced our world. I bow to you, Thay.
Ongoing Resource List
- The Soul of Rumi, Translations by Coleman Barks
- Keep Going by Joseph M. Marshall III
- Arriving at your own Door by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
- The Hidden Secrets of Water by Paolo Consigli
- Conquest of Mind by Eknath Easwaran
- Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
- Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
- I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown
- Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron
- When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
- On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
- Unattended Sorrow by Stephen Levine
- Joy in Loving, Mother Theresa
- The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
- Let Your LIfe Speak by Parker Palmer
- Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet by Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Essence of the Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran
- Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chodron
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through The Ways Of Animals by Jamie Sams and David Carson