Bridge of Life

Recently, Pema Chödrön posted an excerpt to her Facebook page from Three Methods for Working with Uncertainty, in Shambhala Sun, March 1997.

Although the article itself is nearly two decades old, it’s advice that is remarkably relevant for the digital age. Today, in a world so full of ever-present distractions, we lose some of our ability to be critical thinkers. Our brains aren’t conditioned to work through problems as they once were— our smartphones and gadgets tell us “Why think when there’s ‘An app for that’?”

Awakened to that idea, it takes a reality check; a look back into insight from the not-so-distant, but much-more-digitally-disconnected past, to pique our interest into tuning into ourselves and tuning out some of the noise and distraction in our everyday experience.

In the excerpt, Pema highlights three key ideas— her methods for working with uncertainty:

  • No More Struggle: “Whatever happens, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude.”
  • Using Poison as Medicine: “When suffering arises, we breathe it in for everybody.”
  • Regarding Whatever Arises as Awakened Energy: “This reverses our habitual pattern of trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things.”

From those ideas what lessons can we pull from the principles she addressed and put into practice in our own lives? Here are some thoughts on how to incorporate the core concepts into some mindful meditations:

1. See things as they really are; not how you perceive them to be.

This is the ‘no more struggle’ part. It’s important to note, that the ‘heart of our minds’ are non-biased— in addition, life ebbs and flows, independently and continuously. Pema explains this as, “things dissolving forever and ever.” When we learn to live in the present moment, we experience everything as it truly is. When we’re being judgmental towards ourselves, we’re not allowing ourselves the opportunity to learn from mistakes. To experience how challenges help us grow. Find the ‘silver lining’ in each obstacle, and focus on creating the best moment you can. Be present and peaceful.

2. Use your pain to build compassion for others.

Pema address this as ‘using poison as medicine’. Each one of us has the opportunity to turn our own suffering into empathy— for both those who understand our struggle personally and those who have a different affliction. The post notes, “This poison is not just our personal misfortune. It’s our kinship with all living things, the seed of compassion and openness.” To find this true compassion, we must, first, not be fearful of it. We’re conditioned to push pain away instead of walking through it; the more we embrace each other and learn to accept our lives, flaws and all, the better we feel about ourselves and our relationships within the world around us.

3. Allow the Universe to awaken your soul.

This is explained as the reverse of our “habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to smooth things out, trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things.” This, too, is about walking through pain. Pema notes that we can’t reach enlightenment until we’ve “walked through our charnel ground.” Meaning, we’ve got to let it all burn down around us into nothing, sometimes, to see that ‘nothing’ may very well be everything. We know that whatever brings us the most suffering always feels insurmountable. However, when we learn that life is not about ‘doing the right things,’ or ‘staying away from conflict’ to avoid this, but instead, learning to accept our journey as our own, unique, individualized path— that, like any road, has beauty, bumps, surprises, scares and tight turns along the way— is a gift. And the bright side? What an incredible adventure!  

Now, take these meditations and find a quiet moment. Indulge the silence of your inner mind and experience that space where you feel less judgmental towards yourself and others. Allow peace, perspective and compassion to fill you— then go out and spread your light and love!

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