Showing Up for Your Life
You’re jealous or angry or lonely. Don’t run from the feeling, says PEMA CHÖDRÖN. Stay present.
we all like to plan our life. And of course we have to. It would become
very chaotic if we just showed up for a plane or train without a
ticket. But when we’re dealing with emotions and fear, deciding ahead of
time how it’s all going to be doesn’t work. Our motto needs to be:
“Learn as you go.”
the path of meditation, you are training your mind and body to end up
in the same place. To do that, you need the discipline of openness,
which quite simply means showing up for your life. Showing up turns out
to be very fertile, tender ground. You find that there is an increase in
your curiosity, inquisitiveness, and interest in what’s actually going
on. You discover a shaky, tender quality of vulnerability that threatens
to overtake you. But if you take it in small bites, if you don’t have a
plan of getting the shakiness over with once and for all, you may find
time you stay present with fear and uncertainty, you’re letting go of a
habitual way of finding security and comfort. All those brain studies
about meditation—where they place people in MRI machines or put
electrodes on their heads—show us that each time you dare to remain
where you are and do something completely fresh, unconventional, and
nonhabitual, you open up new pathways in the brain. You experience that
as strength and it builds your capacity to be open the next time around.
By contrast, each time you follow your habitual approach, you reinforce
the old pathway and make it more likely that you’ll go that way once
again next time around.
don’t worry, there will always be a next time around. We get many
reruns in life, big reruns and small reruns. If your heart is gripped by
jealousy or rage or loneliness or any other manifestation of fear, you
don’t have to learn from it all at once. It’s not like if you get it
right once, if you overcome your jealousy or anger once, then it’s
smooth sailing with that emotional pattern for the rest of your life.
There will be reruns. It will keep coming back, following the old
grooves in the brain. That means you have lots and lots of chances to
rouse yourself and let go. No need to exaggerate an emotional pattern,
fixate on it, fuel it with more thoughts, or go into a tailspin. When
you feel the shakiness, when the thoughts start to arise, when the
tailspin is beginning, another rerun is in progress. You simply rouse
yourself and let yourself be there.
Adapted from Pema Chödrön’s Fall 2010 teachings at the Smile at Fear retreat in the Bay Area.