Pema Chodron: “A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.”
In 1981, Pema Chodron became the first American woman to become a fully ordained Buddhist nun. This was after being married twice, having two children and suffering a severe depression. Similarly, while I’ve only been married once, I have two daughters and have experienced depression. I also embraced Buddhism (a different form) to seek enlightenment and happiness. Ever since reading her wonderful book, When Things Fall Apart, I have felt a kinship with the life lessons she shares.
Chodron: “It isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.”
Chodron writes a lot about finding peace regardless of the circumstances. Through my own spiritual practice and therapy, I’ve successfully dealt with my difficult past. I feel like the progress I’ve made has better equipped me to deal with the tremendous crisis we’re all facing.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. I have to remember that it is my reaction to the challenges in my life that causes me to be happy or sad, not the difficulties themselves. I have very little control over the pandemic. I can only use common sense to do my best to protect myself and Most Beautiful One, who, because of her MS, is immunocompromised.
I also have to choose whether I succumb to my anger at our dysfunctional national leadership or my grief at all the suffering going on in the world. I know that I can accomplish nothing of value if I allow myself to remain in this lower life condition. So, I do whatever I can to keep a compassionate and positive perspective on life, taking one day at a time reading, writing, taking walks, playing music and reaching out to anyone I know who might be struggling.
Chodron: “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not squeamish about taking a good look.”
One of my most difficult growth challenges has been to allow myself to be “down” without having a panic attack about the fact that I’m down! After all, I’m just a human being with a full range of emotions. I’ve found that the less energy I expend worrying about the past or the future, the better off I am – the more I’m able to live in the moment. This is particularly relevant in our current circumstances and why it is important for me to avoid continuously watching the news.
Chodron: “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.”
Having experienced some dark and painful places, I am filled with empathy for everyone who is suffering during this pandemic – those who are ill, their families and friends, and those on the front lines sacrificing themselves to care for others.
Daisaku Ikeda, the president of our lay Buddhist organization, has said, “What our society today needs more than anything is the spirit of empathy – the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are facing hardship and suffering, to understand and share what they are going through. When the spirit of compassion becomes the bedrock of society, and is embodied by society’s leaders, the future will be bright with hope.” The quarantined Berklee College of Music students beautifully captured this sentiment in this video.
I believe each of us have the responsibility to help make this a reality.
Stay home and stay safe!
ABOUT MIKE LISAGOR – Mike Lisagor plays harmonica and sings in Good Karma Blues. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and blogs on a variety of business and Buddhist related topics. He is the author of “Romancing the Buddha,” which he adapted into a successful one-man show that he performed at Bainbridge Performing Arts and in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. His nature photographs have appeared in the Boston Globe, Bainbridge Island Magazine, Living Buddhism as well as in several local galleries. His latest graphic art project, “Reimagined Nature”, is in the lobby of New Motion Physical Therapy.