Sunday, January 11, 2009

I drove down to Oceanside today to have dinner with my parents and go to my mom's latest art opening (yay mom!) At some point along that route, I always lose the signal for NPR--a frustrating experience, since it usually seems to happen right in the middle of This American Life or Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me--but today I remembered I had a book on CD in the stereo (thanks to a wonderful student/friend who gave me a huge stack of them): From Fear to Fearlessness by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. The audio book explores how using the Buddhist teachings and practice of lovingkindness can open our hearts and help us face the painful parts of our lives, parts of our lives that make us contract with fear.

Pema Chodron's voice washed over me as I drove past casino billboards and mountain-goat-like orange groves planted on the sides of terraced hills. I hadn't realized how much I needed to hear her words. Life has been good, more than good, but lately I've found myself grappling with a lot of sadness in the wake of my divorce being finalized. Mainly sadness about feeling estranged from the larger circle that had encompassed my marriage, the circle that tightened around Matt after I left (and that I know is still open to me, but in a changed and complicated way.) As Pema Chodron led her audience through the practice of maitri, extending lovingkindness (or, as she sometimes sweetly called it, "friendliness") first to oneself, then to those one is grateful for, then to those one is neutral to, then to those one has issues with, then to all beings, I felt myself melt. I hadn't realized that I had been feeling sorry for myself, and I could feel myself let that go as I wished happiness to all the people in that circle that has sustained me and is now sustaining Matt. And of course I wished happiness to Matt in the process, too. I hadn't been wishing anyone ill before, but to actively wish happiness felt incredibly healing.

Just as Pema Chodron said something about opening the heart, I looked up and saw a heart forming in the sky; the plane creating it was too far away to see--it looked as if the white heart was writing itself onto the blue. I felt my breath catch in my chest, then deepen, at its beauty, its perfect timing. As I continued to drive, I watched the heart change, dissipate, eventually dissolve--it, along with Pema Chodron, reminded me that change is the only constant in life, that we need to continually let go of how we think things should be in order to embrace the shifting reality of what truly is. Our own human hearts beat for such a short time before they dissolve into nothingness--it makes no sense to waste time contracting them in fear or resentment or bitterness. Open them, open them, even when (especially when) it hurts.

May all beings enjoy happiness.

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