“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news.  But for practitioners or spiritual warriors— people who have a certain hunger to know what is true— feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.  They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.  They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.  This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.  

Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news.  We don’t have to go hunting for anything.  We don’t need to try to create situations in which we reach our limit.  They occur all by themselves, with clockwork regularity.   

Each day, we’re given many opportunities to open up or shut down.  The most precious opportunity presents itself when we come to the place where we think we can’t handle whatever is happening.  It’s too much.  It’s gone too far.  We feel bad about ourselves.  There’s no way we can manipulate the situation to make ourselves come out looking good.  No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work.  Basically, life has just nailed us.  

It’s as if you just looked at yourself in the mirror and you saw a gorilla.  The mirror’s there; it’s showing you, and what you see looks bad.  You try to angle the mirror so you will look a little better, but no matter what you do, you still look like a gorilla.  That’s being nailed by life, the place where you have no choice except to embrace what’s happening or push it away.   

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings.  We automatically hate them.  We run like crazy.  We use all kinds of ways to escape— all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.  We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.  In fact, the rampant materialism that we see in the old stems from this moment.  There are so many ways that have been dreamt up to entertain us away from the moment, soften it’s hard edge, deaden it so we don’t have to feel the full impact of the pain that arises when we cannot manipulate the situation to make us come out looking fine.

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear.  Through meditation, we’re able to see clearly what’s going on with our thoughts and emotions, and we can also let them go.  What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance.  WE see very clearly that we’re closing off.  That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.  We’re able to see how we run and hide and keep ourselves busy so that we never have to let our hearts be penetrated.  And we’re also able to see how we could open and relax.”

During one of the many times it felt like my life fell apart, I leaned into this single page in Pema Chodron‘s book, When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times.

Read a thousand times, I can almost quote it by heart.


Because no other awareness has ever cleared my vision like this has.

Three steps, one bow.