A common practice among Buddhist teachers is to send students off to face what they have the most difficulty with, their fears, their dislikes, their egos, their complacencies.
A student who craves company and dislikes being alone might be sent to live in an isolated hut on a mountaintop. A student who craves being alone and dislikes noisy interruptions might be sent to work in a busy kitchen for a few years.
Jack Kornfield, in A Path with Heart, describes how his teacher found the perfect solution to his tendency to fall asleep during meditation. He sent him to sit on the edge of a deep dark well. Fear of falling into the well kept him quite alert!
Those examples might sound strict, but such practices are meant to break the habits, desires, and tendencies of a myriad of conscious and unconscious attributes that we humans must contend with. In my experience, life itself finds plenty of ways to break us of our habits, fears, and desires—no other master teacher necessary!
It’s almost impossible to avoid having to confront that which we try to hide from. Trying to manipulate our lives so that we don’t have to face what we fear the most usually doesn’t work. In the end, if there is something we are trying to avoid, it finds its way to our door.
Recent events in my own life have put me to the test, tossing me out of my quiet life and into the maelstrom of navigating through the complicated world of bureaucratic reality. I have had to become an advocate for another person and, truthfully, I have always been good about jumping in and handling things succinctly when called upon. I like to get things done right the first time, quickly and efficiently, only too happy to jump right back into my nice little life once the mission is accomplished. In this case, however, in spite of my best efforts, my tendency for efficiency was not well met.
It soon became clear that I had no control. I had to acquiesce to the unfolding of life, sit back and patiently wait for a long series of events to unfold before resolution. It has been a lesson in patient detachment, learning to be available and open to the sometimes strange and unwieldy manner in which life unfolds. Giving up control does not mean not acting. It means always acting appropriately, in alignment with what is right, but knowing when to stand back, point made, and wait. In truly giving up control in this manner, it’s amazing to stand back and watch how things go down!
During the past few weeks, I have truly gone through my own strict Buddhist training, with Life as my master teacher. For instance, I give myself labels; we all do. I’m shy and quiet, I don’t like confrontation—I’m a peacemaker not an anarchist after all—and yet in spite of those labels I have had to rip them off and become their opposites.
I have had to break out of all the compartments I put myself into, the ideas of myself as this or that, and become whatever was needed. My personal journey over the past few weeks has been quite an interesting one. The other person, I realize, is secondary to the process, for I have taken quite a journey, with myself as the primary subject.
Life just won’t let us sit and be complacent. It constantly asks us to face our fears, to flow with what comes, to change, and it sure finds some interesting ways of doing just that! In my experience, the energy of the past few weeks—and perhaps even further back—has been unrelenting, and I have personally gone through quite a whirlwind, both within and without. But as I’ve learned, in acquiescing, in patient waiting while simultaneously making sure that what is right occurs as it should, positive outcome prevails. And in the process, I’ve learned a whole lot about myself—some very valuable lessons.
Perhaps there are some quieter and more gentle times ahead, as times of great force and change are often naturally followed by times of calm and rejuvenation.
Looking forward to enjoying some calmness, and wishing you all the same,