And as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.
Pema Chodron often concludes her talks with this beautiful excerpt from Shantideva, the 8th century Buddhist monk. Pema Chodron also speaks frequently about seeing one’s pain as both the doorway to our own greater spiritual understanding and how this pain can open us up to the pain and suffering of others.
I’ve been aware of this approach for many years, but it always seemed inaccesible to me—a practice for more “spiritual” or “loving” or “patient” people. Or, I’d have the intention of wanting to see my pain this way, but the minute I was feeling my pariticular brand of pain, all those intentions would go out the window, and I’d be writhing in emotional or physical turmoil.
But recently something changed. I got fed up with being triggered by the same old things. And reacting in the same old ways. I got tired of seeing her or him as the cause of my predicament. I got tired of holding out hope that I could control the situation by changing others or myself or by creating some sort of unchangeable permanent situation where there would be unending peace, harmony, health and joy.
Because the only thing certain is change—constant change. And I had cut myself off from the immediacy of the moment and my experiences because I didn’t want to face this impermanence. I guess I realized that all my efforts to avoid pain, displeasure, impermanence had failed. And I decided to embrace it.
What did that mean?
On a purely practical level, it means that when my teenage children scream at me, I don’t do the habitual thing and yell back. I still feel sad, angry, frustrated. But rather than running away from my feeling, I actually turn and face the feeling. I feel the feeling. I feel the constriction in my throat, the burning in my stomach, the spinning of my head. I don’t run away to do this; my kids are right there with me. Sometimes, in their frustration or even confusion, they tell me I am being passive aggressive. But I just calmly say, “This has nothing to with you, I am reflecting.” Because it’s true; my reaction has nothing to do with them. It’s all my stuff—my very old stuff, that they are just triggering. So, I can either get furious with them OR I can thank them for giving me the opportunity to deal with my stuff—to ride my feelings like a wave—feel them, embrace them, and then let them go.
And how this relates to the Shantideva excerpt is that—as I am embracing my feeling and sending loving and nurturing energy to myself, I also open up the experience to anyone feeling a similar pain, and then to anyone feeling any pain, and I send them loving and nurturing energy as well. It doesn’t mean that the pain goes away any sooner, but it gives context and meaning to my experience.
And it fills me with peace. And it opens my heart.