On Communication: Affirmation and Clarity

Two very different conversations recently have made me ponder the importance of being clear with your expression about your intentions, beliefs, feelings, or values. There are many reasons for this, so let’s build up some clarity around this issue.

First of all, from the aspect of discussing complicated political issues, I’ve seen some convoluted rhetorical stances that ultimately can only be called disingenuous. If you rely on questioning other people’s positions as being too partisan while hiding the fact that you have no problem with a highly controversial position, do not be surprised that your subterfuge will only result in complete disavowal. Any good points you may have had were used merely as a rhetorical ploy, so the discussion is moot. If you’re going to be provocative, be forthright about it — affirm it. Then, you can create real dialogue. That dialogue must be based on the truth of admission of what your beliefs are and what your intentions are: i.e. it must be based on a hermeneutics of trust to be productive, otherwise it always risks doubt and dispersal. In fact, that’s the problem with a large swath of our news narratives today regarding politics; they’re based on a hermeneutics of suspicion, looking for hidden agendas, secret agents, and conspiracies. There may be truth to such critical analyses, but the problem happens when this style of meaning-finding reaches successively meta-levels of suspicion: the people behind the people behind the people are the real instigators of some ultimate evil plot! Unfortunately, this is necessary to a certain extent (political scientists and myself do find plenty of evidence for seeing oligarchy at play behind many machinations in current events), but it can get to conspiracy theory levels sometimes — thinking of some of the crazy stories of the “deep state” I’ve heard in the last year or so.

TLDR: if you want to have a meaningful discussion with others about a political issue, make clear your values, beliefs, and intentions. If you try to hide them while you merely attack and mock, you will be ridiculed all the more when your ulterior motives shine through, and even if you had some critically amazing points, they will mean nothing. Affirmation and clarity are needed in a conversation among equals.


Secondly, I heard a podcast recently that told the story of an odd relationship between a distant, disciplinarian mother and a stranger to the family in a traditional culture (seen as odd by her sons). The story ended with sadness amongst surviving family members of two generations regarding the reticence of expression — the mother never told her son she loved him, and the son only told his daughter once or twice. Having recently undergone the loss of my father, it made me stop and ponder the things I wish I asked him or told him. There are simply things I will never know but meant to ask for a long time, now mysteries washed away by the tides of time.

This has made me realize that mindful, clear expression needs to affirm the fact that we all die and could at any time. This authenticity, resoluteness in the face of death, if you want to be Heideggerean, should animate our language and interaction with those for whom we care. You never know if you will have another chance to say, “I love you!”, to tell someone to take care of themselves, to ask questions you may have held for years, or to resolve any nagging doubts from childhood. The chance to express, to question, to profess, to pacify, to let out, to let go in all the verbal ways possible, could disappear in a breath now, in the next moment. You never know. So please, make sure to reach out with your thoughts and feelings. Timing may be important, but life shouldn’t be lived as “Some day,” or “Maybe next time,” if you can say it now. Affirmation of ourselves, our values, and our purpose as well as expressive clarity are key to fulfilling intimacy in our connections with others.

With that, I’m adding three songs which have been pulling at many of the various feelings I have about my dad in the gamut of emotions that play through. Post-rock will always be the most expressive music to me for feelings, especially with no words to conceptually narrow the rawness. May it touch others’ hearts out there as some sort of clear expression of the depth of human experience.


Rebirth

From dead earth
Life springs anew
Green stalks grow
Bright flowers bloom

Nature’s cycles
Birth, growth, death
Unfolding
In every breath

Before & after
We conceptualize
But Now is
Presence of our lives

Be with this
Each moment – rebirth
This emptiness –
Celestial mirth…

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May this inspire you to presence in the rebirth of every moment. May spring’s blooms help with this inspiration.

Gassho!

1 Year–100

A turn…

I started this blog a year ago, and so much has been unfolding throughout the 12 months since. Also, I just posted the blog’s 100th post in the last few days, a good place to mark the end of this year’s journey.

I’m grateful for all of your comments and likes. I am thankful for your companionship on the Way–searching for wisdom and a way of expressing it to all sentient beings out there. May we continue to dance along the Way together, and may these writings be to the benefit of all who read them.

Deep Gassho!

Z

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Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 11: Just Live

The following is a long quote from Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight. When I read this for the first time a couple of months ago, it took my breath away. It’s been a guiding principle for practice and daily life, by that I mean practicing through the moments of daily life, ever since. If there’s something that has gotten me through the difficulties apparent in my last two Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries, it’s wise teachings like this. If you don’t find a way to handle each day well and with equanimity, you’ll yearn for escape, and when going through negative emotional terrain, this yearning for escape can be most dire and dark. I hope that you too will be inspired by this and use it as a compass in your daily life as well.


As I mentioned, it is easy to become fed up with daily routine. You do the same thing, day after day, until finally you don’t know what the purpose of human life is. Human life just based on daily routine seems like a huge trap. We don’t want to look at this, so we don’t pay attention to daily routine. We get up in the morning and have breakfast, but we don’t pay attention to breakfast. Quickly and carelessly, we drink coffee and go to work.

But if you don’t pay attention, you will eat breakfast recklessly, you will go to work recklessly, you will drive recklessly, and you will go to sleep recklessly. Finally, you will be fed up with your daily routine. This is human suffering, and it fills everyday life.

The important point is that we can neither escape everyday life nor ignore it. We have to live by means of realizing the original nature of the self right in the middle of daily routine, without destroying daily routine, and without attaching to it. When it is time to get up, just get up. Even though you don’t like it, just get up. Getting up will free you from the fact that you have to get up.

Even though you don’t like your life, just live. Even though death will come sooner or later, just live. The truth of life is just to live. This is no attachment. Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment. Only by this living activity can you take care of your everyday life.

-Dainin Katagiri, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight, pp. xv-xvi.

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Being fully alive in every moment–even in that of washing the dishes


“Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment.” This does not mean indulgence, chasing your desires, or trying to set up a string of moments you want. On the contrary, this means to fully be with whatever is at hand: for instance, fully present to washing the dishes, even if you don’t like it. Instead of an endless array of likes and wants–Katagiri says in this book that desires are endless: not the goal of a practice of nonattachment–just live in this moment, whatever arises. Being fully alive in this moment doesn’t mean yearning for something else and attaching to that yearning. Not that yearning is bad; if it comes up, let it be, but don’t invest in it. Don’t spin it. Don’t attach to it. That’s wishing for this moment to end, to be dead. That’s being dead in this moment.

May this inspire you to find the strength to just be in your life, to just live. May your practice allow you to live fully in each moment, without attachment, without mistaking presence in every moment with only showing up to the moments you want to have happen/trying to acquire as many of those moments as possible. May this help you smile at every moment, liked or disliked, without escapism.

Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 10: Echoes/Grief
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry–  Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

“Whatever arises”

This is another passage taken from a recent morning pages session. Again, I’ve skipped past some initial words to get to the insightful part.


So, I feel a bit tired this morning–also due to a couple extra hours at work last night. However, I’m glad to show up again today, no matter what arises. “Whatever arises” is a mantra I’ve had in mind a lot recently. Ultimately, I feel that it captures the liberation from samsara of the Buddha way. The Buddha resides in the burning house. The Buddha’s path doesn’t lead to some special place beyond the world we live in or transcend it through some sort of sleight of hand: appearing here but residing elsewhere. No, the Buddha experiences nirvana in samsara. He merely presides with joy, with loving-kindness, calm-abiding, no matter what arises. In explaining equanimity like this to friends, they misunderstood it as complacency. I understand why one might think that, but that’s not it. The Buddha is not telling us to not walk a path, to not cultivate certain ways or positions. Reading The Dhammapada quickly makes it clear that the Buddha way requires an ongoing engagement that prefers the greater joy over the lesser. However, a great part of this joy is in meeting the challenges of change and the snares of Mara with a peaceful smile–nonattachment to conditions being any particular way. Come what may; whatever arises.

It may be easy to rail against this again, but a look at the Tao Te Ching or even the Stoic works of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius would bring us to similar, if not the same, conclusions. Equanimity does not mean non-action or passivity: complacency. Imagine Buddha walking across India again and again for 45 years after his enlightenment, teaching everywhere he went. Imagine Marcus Aurelius writing his “Meditations” at night on the battlefront. Wu wei, the right action of skillful means, requires seeing reality as it is–the unfolding flux of Tao, emptiness’ dance–and flowing with that change without attachment. This is doing without doing: not forcing the world, rather acting along with whatever arises. It’s not inaction or reactivity; rather, it’s working in accordance with nature, a properly attuned action with Tao. This is a key to the Way of the Sage, the Way of the Buddha, and the Way of the Lover of Wisdom (a philosopher).

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For comparisons with the comments on wu wei at the end, look at my posts on the Tao Te Ching, particularly: Tao a Day–Verse 8: In Accordance with Nature, Tao a Day–Verse 26: Inner Virtues, and Tao a Day–Verse 63: Doing without Doing.

May this inspire you to be at peace, whatever arises.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 1)

Clarification: I’m splitting this piece into two parts. The first is my own personal experience of late, and the second is a related long quote that goes well with this, but I feel it best to let them both stand on their own, yet connected and in a harmonic resonance with each other.


Last weekend, I went down to the city I used to live in with my ex. I stayed with mutual friends–the first time seeing them in months. It was eye-opening. After all this time and change, I’ve still been carrying some ideas that this home has some elements that are the same, but like me, really, so much has shifted. I went, in part, to feel this connection again and to weigh the opportunity of returning there. It was odd, unhemlich really: some things still felt like the home I miss and love–homey=heimlich, but there was an overarching foreignness alongside this familiarity–unhomey=unheimlich: that bizarre feeling when the familiar is unfamiliar. The saddest part was how distant others were when I saw those other connections beyond the friends I stayed with. All of this made me realize that if I go back, it will have to be completely on my own steam and without expecting the familiar to be there. As sad as that may be, seeing things clearly, especially even the most subtle layers of desire and hope–unconscious ones, can be liberating. Seeing clearly what you are holding onto can gently open the hand, letting those things fall away.

The hardest thing was that I almost saw her. Even just hearing her voice from a distance brought up all the little idiosyncrasies about her that I still miss. I lost a partner and a best friend so many months ago with this breakup, and it is very often, still, that I hear her voice in my head, saying certain things just that particular way that only she would say them, or I can almost hear and see her responding to the goofiness that I regularly bring into the world.

Yet, the gusto of her voice, also recalled all those bizarre relationship-ending conversations, galvanized with that sentiment of self-righteousness, as though the point of this life-changing decision were distinguishing right and wrong. That voice, those eyes, that cold feeling of being disconnected from reality with overlays of denial… I’m glad that I chose not to go say hello. I don’t see any benefit in facing that now, if any of it remains at all. If that is the case, certainly she wouldn’t be interested either. She wanted my presence cut from her life, wanted me dead in a certain sense, and she’s never reached out again afterward. She could just as readily have walked down to say hello to me as well; the decision did not have to be made by me, and clearly, she didn’t want to. That’s fine. Ultimately, one of the largest parts of moving on in the kind of situation I’m in is accepting the choice of a person you love to not love you anymore. In a certain sense, it’s dying with grace. It’s letting go of the person you used to be.

I came back home to my life in the Seattle area, after this whirlwind trip, and I began the work week again. It was a bit jarring making this transition… For the week previous to the trip, I had been doing a Healing Bootcamp of sorts, described in The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, but I didn’t finish the closing of the last day due to leaving on my trip to see my friends and my old home. The middle of the relief program requires a journalling of the beginning, middle, and end of the relationship–piece by piece, and then, you write down points of gratitude for each of these stages and offer them upon your altar. At the end of the program, you perform loving-kindness meditation for your ex and burn the offered gratitude while stating that for now this relationship is over, and you are a better person for having experienced it.

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A simple altar that I set up for this recovery program — sans the written offerings described in this post

After returning from a trip of letting go, I belatedly did this final ritual–opening my heart with loving-kindness and burning the past with a cleansing fire. I stood on the bricks in the backyard, lighting each piece and feeling the warmth of the fire sharing my joy at the gifts I’ve been given (and was offering as gift over to the flames) but also burning them away–past and gone. Unlike a rebound or more aggressively “moving on”, this whole process was so kind, loving, gentle, yet affirming. It has been a completely mindful way of growing through heartbreak with acceptance, even gratitude, for pain and change. It’s not a denial of the past or the present in the slightest. On the contrary, it’s showing up for it: taking the path of the spiritual warrior–knowing that even this, maybe even especially this, is an opportunity for practice.

I still have a lot of healing to go, so there may still be several other entries in the Heartbreak Wisdom Journal, but this experience was definitely a turning point, and I feel some liberation from showing up to the person I used to be and tenderly, yet bravely, letting go of him.


Here is what I had to say about the ritual in my Morning Pages earlier this week:

I spoke to each note, reading them all aloud and emphasizing how wonderful each point of gratitude was but emphasizing also, like everything, these pass too. These moments were gone. The points of gratitude–the experiences–have shaped me. Their karmic consequences have begun blooming, yet, their cause, and the connection associated with them, has been severed and crushed. Now, it has also been burned. The fire was beautiful–flickering flames lapped at my words of gratitude, embracing them and celebrating them with the burning joy they deserved. Now, those words are dissipated, spread on the wind. Who knows what comes next? Not I.
This has given me some small amount of emotional clearance, yet there is much more healing to come.

May this help you find your own ability to let go of the person you used to be.
Gassho!


Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 6: Forgiveness
Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry– Entry 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 2nd Precept: Faith

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

Now:
Peace
Faith
Gratitude
Actualization
Compassion
– My shortened mantra of the precepts


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At the end of my last post, I spoke of hope and fear as opposites rather than love and fear. This will open the door for the discussion of this precept and my interpretation of it as faith.

The more traditional translations of this precept are “Don’t focus on worry”, or more simply: “Don’t worry.” Worry and fear are closely related–anxiety and terror. Let’s use a couple sentences to see just how close these are in our conceptual/semantic/experiential space:

  1. I’m worried that I may have left the burner on at home.
  2. I’m afraid that I may have left the burner on at home.
  3. I worry that I might never find the love of my life.
  4. I fear that I might never find the love of my life.
  5. I’m worried about the spider across the room.
  6. I’m afraid of the spider across the room.
  7. I worry about my sister.
  8. I fear my sister.

The last few sentences were chosen to show where the similarities in our usage/semantics/experience diverge. #5 is ambiguous: am I afraid that the spider will come to get me, or am I concerned about its well-being (perhaps my roommate will notice it and smash it to bits, and I won’t be able to save it from such a squishy demise)? The last pair take this further to show that “worry about” can have the connotation of “concern” and “fear” does not make sense as a replacement. What do we see here? Being afraid of something is fear of it– an object is seen as a threat as in #6 (and #8???) or there is fear that the threat of an unwanted situation will arise: a “could” or “what if” type of hypothetical extension. In a sense, they are the same thing: an object as a threat is the potential “could” of that object harming us. That spider might come over and bite me! Being worried is similar in terms of the hypothetical extension. We worry about things that could go wrong (or could be going wrong/have gone wrong, depending on the situation). Again, there is an aversion to an unwanted situation. Even worry as concern holds this: we are worried about somebody because we think something bad may happen to them, may currently be happening to them, or may have happened to them. To summarize: this is all about aversion. Worry and fear are about experiencing things that we want to avoid. On a simple level, there is an aversion to being harmed or dying, and such fear can be helpful or good in the right circumstances, but there is a lot of aversion that pulls our monkey minds hither and thither, drawing us to continually react to the world as we think it is.

Now, let us compare hope. Again, let’s take up a few example sentences:

  1. I hope that he’ll show up on time!
  2. She held the hope of seeing her son again until the end of her days.
  3. He hopes that with practice he will improve.
  4. We’re hopeful that she’ll pull through.

I won’t compare these with the much more complicated and nebulous/term/concept/experience “love”, but both have to do with desire (as I mentioned at the end of my last post). Notice how clearly hope stands in contrast to fear/worry: I hope for a desired situation to come to be. Again, in a “could”/”what if” hypothetical extension, I look toward what could be this time with desire instead of aversion. These are things that I want to happen rather than don’t want to happen.

Pointing out these general motivations of desire and aversion is intentional. From the Buddhist analysis (remember here that Usui-sama was a Tendai Buddhist priest), the three roots of suffering (“dukkha“: suffering is the standard translation, but it does not capture the full range of meaning in the original word) are desire, aversion, and ignorance. You could say that desire and aversion spring from ignorance. This ignorance is not ignorance in the sense of being unaware of another’s virtues, equalities, etc. or being unaware of an idea, i.e. uneducated or closed-minded. This ignorance, in contrast, is a basic confusion about existence. It is the groundwork of delusion–the opposite of enlightenment. The push and pull of our desire and aversion, two mundane aspects of our existence that send our monkey mind running back and forth are rooted in an underlying misunderstanding of the way things are. For further description, see Chögyam Trungpa’s The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

With these considerations of Buddhist analysis in mind, we return to the precept; “Don’t worry” gets us beyond the ego-laden motivations of desire and aversion. “Don’t worry” also implies “Don’t hope”. In hoping for an outcome, there is always the attached possibility that it won’t turn out to be. Worry carries the same hope that the bad thing won’t happen, albeit a small shadow under the impending doom. “Don’t worry” tells us not to reach out with energy about how things could happen, one way or the other. Rather, we should be right here in now: seeing and accepting all just as it is and trusting the process of unfolding.

Thus, I changed the precept into “faith” as a shortened version. Having faith in this sense is not about believing in salvation through a higher power. Rather, faith is a fundamental trust in and acceptance of the world just as it is. Here, faith is an affirmation of the world in its glory and mystery, its agony and ecstasy, its banality and wonder. Faith is both the way of the bodhisattva who seeks enlightenment for all and the stillness of the Sage who cultivates Te in accordance with Tao.

The simple injunction of “Don’t Worry,” calls us to be present to the world and to pursue it as practitioners with acceptance of our place in it, with faith; getting past hope and fear–the ego’s pulls of desire and aversion. Let your desire be to practice well–cultivating true happiness and spiritual health–and to help all sentient beings achieve peace and enlightenment. Let your aversion be the various traps and pitfalls of ego’s constant attempts to turn even the noblest of intentions into self-aggrandizement and the stagnant cocoon of I, me, and mine.

May this inspire your own faith.
Gassho!

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 1st Precept: Peace
Next Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 3rd Precept: Gratitude

The Practice

We go through
Day by day
Expecting…
More of the same
Routines, comfort
–Both good and bad,
“The same” returns

Yet, Life is full
Of happenings
–Unforeseen,
Unwanted
Chaotic
In a word:
Change

In a moment,
All can turn
That is the Truth
Such is All
The Universe:
Impermanent
Flowing–in flux

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All changes. Practice embraces this.

The Practice:
To accept this
As Truth and Path
Without attachment
To the way things were
Or the way things could be
Find comfort in the
Emptiness
And show up
With Compassion
For it All
Impartial:
Bearer of
Awakened Heart
Fearless and open

Suffering & Sweetness

Life–
Full of suffering:
A lingering dissatisfaction
And an ongoing attempt
To stack the cards,
To win the game,
To get “my way
Yet
You’ll never get it.
The last perfect scoop of sand
–A beautiful sandcastle
My perfect creation!!!
10 seconds later
The wave washes it away
–A heap of sand


The Buddha taught for over 4 decades. He traveled all around India, spreading the Dharma. He went on foot, had few possessions, and was homeless. Despite years of teaching, traveling, poverty, and old age, he said late in his life that there was great sweetness in the world and he could understand wanting to live for another century. Where do you find such sweetness and warm affirmation? In your things? In your perfectly collected set of entertainment and schemed circumstances–the perfect friends, job, life??? Is it external? Do you have it at all?


One who knows others is intelligent
One who knows himself is enlightened

One who conquers others is strong
One who conquers himself is all-powerful

One who approaches life with force
     surely gets something
One who remains content where he is
     surely gets everything

One who gives himself to his position
     surely lives long
One who gives himself to Tao
     surely lives forever
— Tao Te Ching verse 33, trans. Jonathan Star

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 5: Depression – Experience & Practice

My last entry was meant to focus on and express my experiences of depression in heartbreak, a particularly vexing set of painful emotions that keeps coming to visit, even after all this time. However, instead, I got into a philosophical examination of how depression alters our experience. This time, I’m going to focus on my experience and offer some tips/support for those readers out there who suffer from the same problems of the heart.

The world is barren. Nearly every day, I feel utterly lonely. It seems like there is no one who can hear me, no matter how hard I try to be heard. There’s no one who really cares–not really. People might show up on their own terms, but can any of them truly bear witness to me in my entirety? No. At least, I don’t know who that person is. Some days, I wonder who would care if I died tomorrow. My family, surely, but anyone else? Let’s stop here. Let me emphasize that these are feelings. Like I wrote about last time, I know that they are a particular alteration of perspective–a very pained one, curled up in a ball and wishing that the pain would end. Let’s not take these feelings to be truths, and let’s definitely not take them as blame on anyone who may be reading this. They’re my feelings, my reactions, and you hold no blame or responsibility for them. That being said, it has been particularly hard for me to move forward in recent weeks. I’m stuck at a job that irks me with false promises, poor pay for my responsibilities, and NO benefits–not even sick days, forcing me to expose my co-workers to illness out of my inability to afford missing a day. Furthermore, I struggle to find meaningful connectivity–something I’ve lacked throughout most of my adult life, despite my best efforts. Honestly, at this point, I’ve virtually given up. Who else reads philosophy for fun and yearns to learn as much as possible in this life? Who else is working hard at being an intensive practitioner of the Dharma? I don’t know such people, and they’re hard to find…

I’ve had an idea in my head for some time of returning to my ex’s city to live with some friends who stepped forward in my heartbreak and appeared as family to me. I’d love to show up and support them. However, each job I apply for comes to naught, and the other people I know there seem to be slowly denying or forgetting my existence. If I reach out and write something kind on one of their blogs or social media profiles, I get no response, but at the same time, I can see when they mention my ex and how great she is in whatever way. I guess she succeeded: in a certain way, I’m dead.

All of these difficulties have exacerbated those intense feelings I’ve expressed, and now, I’ve expressed them, both to let these feelings out and to let others know that they are not alone, not in the slightest. However, despite these feelings, I’m OK, and to explain that, let’s shift to how to deal with such feelings and such times in life. We all go through hard times, so let’s face these together with bravery, tenderness, and equanimity. The following are what I use to get through these feelings that could easily turn me into a blubbering mess; through these methods, I manage to have some grace, dignity, and joy in the wounds of heartbreak.

  1. Take care of yourself. You can’t continue with your life and show up for it if you fall into the abyss now (although there is no judgment if you crash at this point–no shame. Hang in there and recover). Taking care of yourself can make the unbearable a lot more manageable–not nice, not easy, but survivable. Not taking care of yourself will let it crush you. Also, taking care of yourself will give you the base of strength you need to excel with the other tips to follow. So–shower, exercise, continue to do things you like, reach out to friends and family to talk–don’t be afraid: others understand your pain and heartbreak, and the best way to feel loved is to reach out and find that others care, even if they can’t necessarily help beyond just listening. Personally, I had many of these self-care tools well-established this time from other bouts with depression, but this time, I learned that dressing well–that simple move of treating yourself with respect, with dignity–helped keep me positive and empowered day to day. This is not about being ostentatious or dazzling others–it’s about finding and holding your dignity. If you can find a way to do the same, do it. You could be wearing anything–your favorite band shirts and shorts. Just wear something that makes you feel that you matter and that you are embracing that.
  2. Be authentic. I’m not a big fan of the term as it is thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness. Here, I mean: show up for what’s happening. It’s easy to run away from such feelings or fall really deeply into them. Instead, try authentically showing up. These feelings show the depths of your heart. Let these feelings come up. Don’t fight against yourself or your emotion. Instead–gently be present. You’ll find that these feelings come and go, if you don’t grasp at them or fight against them. They’re just another part of your myriad possibilities of human experience. The brave, compassionate practice is to gently lean into them and surrender the fight against your emotional demons, finding that they, like a monster in your dreams, are part of you. It hurts, but it’s not good or bad: that’s just a reaction to that emotional experience. Don’t be afraid. Be brave, tender, and gentle towards yourself.

    Bringing awareness to depression works the same way. People often feel very bad about being depressed. When we don’t understand what depression is, it bears down on us. But when we get the hang of it, so to speak, we can allow more space around our depression and just let it be. Depression often comes when the hidden, dark corners we’ve tried to avoid actually surface. It may feel like a tight knot in our chest or an incredible sense of anxiety. It may feel like the earth has cracked open in front of us and we’re falling into some miserable lower realm. Or we may just feel blue. Depression is often accompanied by strong physical sensations. In the Tibetan tradition, this physical imbalance is called sok lung, or “wind disturbance.” But no matter what it feels like, remember that depression is just “experience.” And the experience of depression can be very valuable in coming to know aspects of our mind. When we come to know our mind, we feel much freer and less fearful. Whether depression is physical or conceptual, the important thing is to try and relax with it. Just relax with depression without feeding it by reacting–physically, mentally, or emotionally–with fear. There is no need to fight or identify with these habitual responses. This only makes them seem more solid and difficult to deal with. Initially the experience of depression is not such a big deal; it is more like a headache. If we bring awareness to depression. it won’t dominate our life. It is important to always return to the understanding that suffering is not personal. It’s an integral part of being alive and something that we all share. A great deal of understanding can come from bringing awareness to suffering, rather than thinking about or judging it. A quality of wakefulness comes with any sensation, which enables us to appreciate any experience. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, pp. 57-58

  3. Move beyond “me”. You might notice that my expression in my story was all about I, me, and mine as well as how the world/others were not going in line with my expectations/desires. The suffering of samsara comes primarily from the grasping of self, and this is strongest with my attachments, especially in the stories of how I wish the world were. We fight very hard for these things, but in the end, they are impermanent–we lose them, and it hurts. OR we never get them at all, and it hurts because we want them so! We could discuss elaborate counter-plans of changing goals and such, but really, that just is a continuation of the same dynamic. It’s the same game with a different strategy to win. The real step forward as a brave spiritual warrior is to let go of the “me” game altogether. This sounds dramatic and incites immediate aversion, but it’s not the end of existence to stop staring at your belly button and look at the world instead. In this case, start small–engage in things that are about supporting others, even if that’s just doing things for a single friend. It can be as small as getting a plant or a goldfish to take care of and as major as volunteering to feed the homeless every week. Look your cashier in the eye–really see them, and thank them for helping you. There are truly opportunities everywhere. Small things spread positivity in the world and end up not only making you feel more positive but also getting you outside the miasma of your feelings.
  4. Engage, connect, process, and learn. There are so many resources beyond friends and family to help you feel witnessed, learn how to grow/heal, and take up your path as a brave warrior. Check out the book by Susan Piver that inspires these Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries: “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. There are many blogs here in WordPress to read with others’ expressions of their experiences, tips, and tricks. I follow one called: “How to successfully get out of depression… and never go back!” The author adds lots of new ideas regularly, and they are well-informed and practical. Check that one out for a start! Find a therapist or a spiritual community. Know that you are not alone in this experience and that there are many avenues to find help and others who know your pain.
  5. Finally–Try meditating. You might scoff at this, but there is no better way to find peace. We externalize so many of our reactions, and our minds often run willy-nilly without much ability on our part to find mental calm. We think that happiness will come from realizing all the desires of “me”. Meditation sees through this and finds the basic goodness of who we are. It offers the true path to a happiness beyond the constant games of grasping and attachment. Just a few minutes a day can change your life and pull all these other suggestions together into an empowered, present, tender, brave, and beautiful embrace of your life.

May this post help others find companionship in their experience of depression as well as give them some help finding peace through it. As in the quote below, may your heart be big enough to hold all of these experiences with courage and tenderness. Gassho


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In both Western and Tibetan cultures, having a big heart is associated with generosity, kindness, warmth, and compassion. In Tibetan culture, a person with a big heart is also someone with the ability and courage to hold even the most painful truths in his or her heart without becoming despondent. During difficult times my mother used to say, “You need to make your heart big enough to hold a horse race inside.” Working with difficulties in a compassionate way doesn’t necessarily mean we can resolve them. Samsara, by its nature, can’t be fixed. It can only be worked with and transcended–which means seen through. A traditional Buddhist image of compassion is that of an armless woman watching her only child being swept away by the raging torrent of a river. Imagine the unbearable anguish at not being able to save your child–and not being able to turn away! In the practice of bodhichitta, this is the unconditional compassion we try to cultivate toward all sentient beings, even if we’re unable to truly help them until we ourselves become free. The willingness to not turn away from our anguish as we reflect on the suffering of samsara is the bodhisattva path. This path is possible only because we have seen that the true nature of suffering is egoless, or empty. Not turning away from suffering doesn’t mean “toughing it out.” It means that, having seen the true nature of suffering, we have the courage to encounter suffering joyfully. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, p. 89

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 4: Depression’s World Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 6: Forgiveness

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