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If we look deeper into our discursive mind we see how we create memory, sentiment, and meaning. Suddenly nothing means what we once thought it did. Ordinary things take on the weight of our rage and the freight of our pain, and a toothbrush is no longer just a toothbrush. Indeed, your home may be your new hell; your bed, a torture chamber; a sleepless night, an eternity.

Perhaps nothing is what we conceive or perceive it to be. When this thought occurs to you, take heart. Doubt is the dawn of faith, and faith will see you through darkness.

The Stride of No-Stride

This is the greatest illusion of all. — MARPA, weeping over the death of his child
It would be nice if we could keep from falling apart when our lives collapse around us. It would be handy if by our spiritual learning alone we could pull ourselves together, keep up appearances, and maintain our stride. We might be saved embarrassment and shame. We might look like we’re coping. We might even stay positive. But that is not the way reality works. We can’t outsmart it. Impermanence always knocks us off our stride. It is a pothole, a landmine, and a head-on collision. We tumble and fall, and that can be useful. Falling is the fastest way to drop our arrogance, cynicism, pretense, and indifference. Pain brings us fully to life.

Such is the lesson in the story of Marpa, the eleventh-century Tibetan teacher, who wept copiously over the dead body of his young son. Finding him in the throes of inconsolable grief, Marpa’s disciples were taken aback. Hadn’t the master taught them repeatedly that life was an illusion? Why was he carrying on like this? Was he a liar or fake? Marpa responded, “Yes, everything is an illusion, but the death of a child is the greatest illusion of all.”

Your pain is the most piercing illusion of all. Facing it, feeling it, you will awaken your sympathy and kindness. You will feel compassion for yourself, and soon, for all. You will find your footing by losing it.

Your Angry Child

You are the mother for your anger, your baby. —THICH NHAT HANH
Face it, you’re angry.

Anger is so unpleasant, so altogether ugly, that we usually attribute it to someone else. Someone else made you angry, that certain someone who tore out your heart and ruined your life. It’s easy to blame others for our injuries, but if we persist in seeing our own anger as the unavoidable outcome of someone else’s actions, we are going to be angry for a very long time. Anger is power, and blame is powerlessness. When we take responsibility for our anger, we take back our power to change. That power has never belonged to anyone else.

This is what Thich Nhat Hahn teaches when he suggests we view our anger as a howling baby. No one wants to be around it, but it cannot be ignored. Someone needs to do something about that baby! The baby is yours, and the only one who can do anything is you. However disagreeable the infant is, you pick the baby up and place it in your lap. Then you rock and comfort her, and wait. You attend to yourself without judgment or blame. In this way, anger wears itself out. The baby goes to sleep.

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