The shelf life of an open door is unknown to even the wisest of beings. It may be instantaneous, fleeting like your next breath or lasting more like a handful of days. The dilemma is that no one really ever knows. When there is a calling from the heart, from its deepest chambers, there is a reason, and when on the path these heart callings are the stepping-stones that pave its way.
When one hesitates, idle thoughts move in, obscuring clear vision and obstructing the reality of what is. These thoughts are founded mostly in “what ifs” and tainted by the emotion of fear, bahya in Sanskrit, the sheer discomfort of the unknown. Moving into unchartered waters can be frightening like stepping out on a huge limb or slipping through an open door into very new and possibly unstable grounds. But this is what the heart asks of us, to stay put and remain completely open to what is even when life squeezes us to close down and run for our lives.
An encounter in a far away land was the beginning of two profound relationships that were forged through loving kindness and pure joy. Through one simple email, one precise sentence on a very given day, a life changing door cracked opened for only a brief moment on a sunny afternoon and began a chain of events never to be forgotten. The call of my heart manifested louder than any obstacle and naturally things fell wonderfully into place. With the blessings of my family and friends and a round trip ticket to Laos in hand, I was more than ready to embark on what was to come.
Waiting is never easy for the human mind. It is always easier to be the first to jump into the icy cold spring waters or be the first to present one’s oral presentation at school. Waiting induces paralysis and this I know only too well. At the young age of 5, I remember our son would gently tap the crown of his head when we asked him where his patience had gone. He would intuitively reply with a small tap on his crown “it is in my head.’’ And thus my head became the center of my attention during the next four days in an attempt to “patiently’’ wait.
The wheels of my mind went round and round like a broken record playing again and again. With an average of 60,000 thoughts per day that occupy the mind of most, and knowing that 90% of those thoughts are repetitive it is no wonder why we get stuck. FEAR in big capital letters was everywhere. The word would jump out at me from between the lines of my books on compassion, it would reveal itself as the theme of a song and even show its face in insurance advertisements. The interesting thing was this thing called FEAR was my own. Even the most conservative of my friends and acquaintances blessed and encouraged me to make this pilgrimage. I quickly realized that there was no one to blame and nowhere to hide. Fear had taken me into her grip and squeezed me so tightly that at moments I lost my breath and considered forgoing my ticket.
In my waking hours my mind resembled a ping-pong match batting back and forth with question and response. Had I gone mad? Was it really necessary to travel close to 30 hours across the big blue to some foreign land for an experience, an unknown one at that? Would these sacred relationships change, possibly even end? Of course they would change, but doesn’t everything? No one needs to meditate on the other side of the world. Meditation is “here and now” and not “there and then.” I know that! Do I really want to disrupt generations of gender tradition? Isn’t change inevitable?
Pema Chödrön says that strong emotions are like flags going up to say ‘’you’re stuck!’’ She continues by explaining that we have the choice and the opportunity to stay with the painful emotion and observe it with compassion and curiosity or shut down and run. It is naturally human to want to know what will happen next, to feel secure and to avoid uncertainty at all costs, but it is also the root cause of our suffering according to the teachings of Buddha. We trade precious moments and empowering opportunities of love and growth for our so-called security, which is constantly collapsing because there is no such thing. So, I ask myself as Pema asks us to do, ‘’ do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly or do I choose to live and die in fear?’’
Those next couple of days were spent on my cushion watching the wax and wane of my thoughts and this big thing called Fear. Watching with curiosity and compassion gave way to greater insight. I breathed her into my heart with a huge welcome and exhaled space and softness around her again and again. Soon the thoughts of FEAR became just that, the thoughts of fear, until they became like occasional clouds passing through a sublime turquoise sky.
“The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that courageous people have no fear but the truth is that they are intimate with it.’’ (Pema Chödrön) Becoming intimate with our emotions, with life and with whatever keeps us from being free is liberating. It might be said that this humbling path is counterintuitive but it is the golden gateway to surrendering to life and its fragility as well as its awesomeness. It is the work of the peaceful warrior, the one who remains courageously open no matter what. Bravery doesn’t necessarily mean that we are fearless. Being brave is rather not letting her stop you in your tracks. It is actually “a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”(Pema Chödrön)
Doors open and close and so do opportunities, encounters and even life itself but if we are so busy counting our thoughts like sheep jumping over the moon on sleepless nights, we miss the moon all together. There is a solution and resolution to whatever crosses your path. Allowing yourself to become familiar with whatever life generously offers you is the path. “Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”(Pema Chödrön) So soften and know that you are in good hands, the hands of whatever you are experiencing. Let her be your friend as she has many things to show you and many places to take you.