Dear Still Water Friends,
One day when I was in my early 20’s, all the buried emotional difficulties of my life seemed to crash over me like a wave. I was at a movie with a close friend from high school. The hopeless plight of the main character triggered an emotional reaction in me. I began to cry— not weeping a few quiet tears but loud sobs that shook my slight frame like tremors. My friend was at first concerned. Then, when I couldn’t seem to stop crying, we both felt scared. We left the movie theater halfway through the show. I sat hunched in the front seat of her car and wept in the parking lot. She waited with me until the intense sobbing calmed, and then drove me home. This challenging experience of falling apart in front of a friend woke me from a state of self-denial about my underlying depression. I had to make a choice between staying stuck where I was or finding a way forward.
In an article for Lion’s Roar from October 16th, 2017, Pema Chodron tells a story of her teacher’s advice when she hit rock bottom.
I thought I would tell you this little story about Naropa University’s founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and my very first one-on-one interview with him. This interview occurred during the time when my life was completely falling apart, and I went there because I wanted to talk about the fact that I was feeling like such a failure and so raw.
But when I sat down in front of him, he said, “How is your meditation?”
I said, “Fine.”
And then we just started talking, superficial chatter, until he stood up and said, “It was very nice to meet you,” and started walking me to the door. In other words, the interview was over.
And so at that point, realizing the interview was over, I just blurted out my whole story:
My life is over.
I have hit the bottom.
I don’t know what to do.
Please help me.
And here is the advice Trungpa Rinpoche gave me. He said, “Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea.”
So, basically, you stand up, because the “lying there” choice equals dying.
Metaphorically lying there is what a lot of us choose to do at that point. But you can choose to stand up and start walking, and after a while another big wave comes and knocks you down.
You find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with sand in your nose and sand in your mouth, and again you have the choice to lie there or to stand up and start walking forward.
“So the waves keep coming,” he said. “And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward.”
This was his advice to me.
Trungpa then said, “After a while, it will begin to seem to you that the waves are getting smaller and smaller. And they won’t knock you over anymore.
That is good life advice.
It isn’t that the waves stop coming; it’s that because you train in holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart, the waves just appear to be getting smaller and smaller, and they don’t knock you over anymore.
For me, acknowledging that I needed help and making an appointment with a therapist were my first steps forward in a long process of emotional self-discovery. As Thich Nhat Hanh advises, I also relied on the support of my friends and family, my small community, to keep me moving forward.
This Thursday, after our regular sitting, we will explore how our practice reinforces our resilience and ability to hold our raw vulnerability in the face of difficulty. How has your practice and the support of a community or Sangha helped you to swim with or even ride the waves of life? We hope you can join us!
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Importance of Sangha
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities
The presence of a sangha is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness. We profit a lot from that collective energy. We can entrust ourselves to the sangha because the sangha is practicing, and the collective energy of mindfulness is strong. Although we can rely on the energy of mindfulness that is generated by our personal practice, sometimes it is not enough. But if you know how to use that energy of mindfulness in order to receive the collective energy of the sangha, you will have a powerful source of energy for your transformation and healing.
Your body, your consciousness, and your environment are like a garden. There may be a few trees and bushes that are dying, and you may feel overwhelmed by anguish and suffering at the sight of that. You may be unaware that there are still many trees in your garden that are solid, vigorous and beautiful. When members of your sangha come into your garden, they can help you see that you still have a lot of beautiful trees and that you can enjoy the things that have not gone wrong within your landscape. That is the role that the sangha can play. Many people in the sangha are capable of enjoying a beautiful sunset or a cup of tea. They dwell firmly in the present moment, not allowing worries or regrets to spoil the present moment. Sitting close to these people, walking close to these people, you can profit from their energy and restore your balance. When their energy of mindfulness is combined with yours, you will be able to touch beauty and happiness.
Nothing is more important than your peace and happiness in the here and now. One day you will lie like a dead body and no longer be able to touch the beauty of a flower. Make good use of your time; practice touching the positive aspects of life in you and around you.
Don’t lock yourself behind your door and fight alone. If you think that by yourself you cannot go back to embrace strong feelings, you can ask one, two or three friends to sit next to you and to help you with their support. They can give you mindfulness energy so that you can go back home with strength. They can say, “My brother, I know that the pain in you is very deep, and I am here for you.”
Taking refuge in the sangha is a very important practice. Abandoned, alone, you get lost, you get carried away. So taking refuge in the sangha is a very deep practice, especially for those of us who feel vulnerable, shaky, agitated and unstable. That is why you come to a practice center, to take refuge in the sangha. You allow the sangha to transport you like a boat so that you can cross the ocean of sorrow.