Lojong Practice Journal: Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
I love this slogan. This slogan is like a summation of all of Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings. Simply put, it is a reminder that everything is good for practice, even the unexpected. But simple to explain does not make it simple to apply.
We must remember that meditation is about sitting with our experience, becoming familiar with it. It’s a process of making friends with ourselves, in all situations and with any number of emotions. The unexpected can be joyous, and potentially more fun to sit with, but the unexpected can also be painful.
We each have our habitual patterns when it comes to responding to things we don’t want. We might numb out with videogames, streaming television shows, or binging on an entire series of films. We might avoid or ignore it, pretending it isn’t an issue or cramming it down and hoping it goes away. We might turn to drugs or alcohol, food or sex. It doesn’t really matter what it is we go to, if the ‘going to’ is about ‘getting away from’. We cannot escape the inescapable, which is that life is unpredictable and pain can and will be a result of that unpredictability.
To join this with meditation is to break the habits we have of aversion, addiction, and ignorance. It’s about being willing to be present for even that which is painful. But we can only be willing to do this if we understand why it is better to meditate on the unexpected, than not.
The first step in this is to examine whether or not our usual habits of turning away from, ignoring or denying our pain have ever worked out for us.
Do we actually feel better when we deny the wrong-doing of someone we once held in high esteem?
Do we heal when we use different substances to alter our state of mind?
Do we grow and move on when we minimize the pain of heartbreak and grief?
I have yet to have any lasting, sustained relief from pain through avoidance. I have, however, had lasting, sustained relief through learning to sit with things like anxiety, depression, heartbreak, grief, frustration and so on.
We could ignore a broken bone all we want, but it won’t heal through that. Finding out how it got broken also won’t heal it, and although that can help prevent another breakage, that really shouldn’t be the most urgent thing when the bone is sticking up under the skin. The very first and best thing to do is have it examined, even x-rayed. When we see and understand the nature of a wound, then we can make progress towards healing it.
To join the unexpected with meditation is to cultivate curiousity for the fullness of our experience, including the bits that take us by surprise. And it’s as applicable today as it was when Atisha first taught it. Every day there is an onslaught of the unexpected on news feeds and social media. We could numb ourselves out or become paralyzed with overwhelm, or we could begin to train ourselves to be able to show up for and roll with the unexpected.
When we meditate on anything, we become familiar with that thing. As Shantideva said: There is nothing that does not grow light through habit and familiarity. When we change our habits from rejection to curiosity and reflection, we can become familiar with the unexpected. With familiarity comes insight and with insight we can make effective choices and take actions that are meaningful.
Originally published on Medium
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