We live on tenterhooks: a vague, uneasy feeling that things could go wrong at any moment, that life is freakin' precarious. The Trump era exacerbates this worry in me. I don't think about worst-case scenarios every day, but they lurk most days. Is North Korea actually going to blow us up? Will some terrorist organization take down our grid plunging us into darkness and chaos? I find myself generating dis-topian crises in my mind, ruminating about them, imagining their complexity, their horror, and then pushing them down again until they erupt at some later date - like, when I read the next headline.
And things don't get better when my attention comes closer to home. The question bubbles inside me: what would I do if any of these horrors actually happened? Honestly, how will I deal with great adversity if (and likely when) it comes? Can I handle a scary medical diagnosis? A car crash? Financial ruin? The death of someone very close to me? How can I be ready? Is it even possible to be "ready" for calamity?
Here is a very cool way I've been practicing lately. I've been doing what the renowned Tibetan Buddhist Teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Ripoche, calls "training with bourgeois suffering." He gets this idea from the 8th century Indian Buddhist Monk, Shantideva, who says:
“There is nothing that does not grow light through habit and familiarity.
Putting up with little cares, I’ll train myself to bear with great adversity.”
And so I begin my training. I start now. And I've got good material to work with because it turns out there's a lot of bourgeois suffering in my life:
So, what do I do? I notice it. Instantly (more often now than when I started) I catch it! And... I TRAIN. I go inside. Breathe. Trust. Notice the way reactivity grips. Don't judge it, just notice. Attend to the frustrated or anxious feelings. Soothe them. Calm them. Stay with the disappointment or anger until it slowly dials back. Love myself right through it. Love my bank, my son, my husband. Let go of the itch to have things Just So. Submit. And what happens? Clean, calm air just whooshes in. A crisp gentle breeze that soothes and releases the hold.
And suddenly, I'm a little more trained in bearing with adversity.
I have always been a Big Project person. I want to accomplish stuff. I want to get the next advanced degree or write the next book or create a new website and start a new career. My friend Libby feels a similar pull. She calls that Project Driver who lives inside, her "Inner Accomplisher. " My Inner Accomplisher is very active. It nags. It cajoles. And, when it can't get me to work on the next Big Project, it calls in support from the Self-Critic and Self-Slammer. Often, the three of them can get me going again. But my work suffers. It doesn't come from an authentic, spiritually grounded and open place. It comes from having turned things upside down...
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
In fact, I don't have to make or do anything. I can't write a book (or make a blog post) anymore than a pile of clay can make a mug. My job is to be the clay. That simple. Be molded. Be patient, obedient and willing to be directed. I don't even have to prime the clay, take the rocks and bumps out. The potter does all the work. The degree of humble, open, flexible readiness I express determines how the project proceeds. Will the potter have to fight with me to get the mug made or will I stop turning things upside down and let the potter do its thing?