Whenever I read Pema Chödrön, there are about 14,000 quotes that jump out at me.
They find their way right into the cracked places of my heart and live there for a while, budding and bursting and guiding me, like a flowering vine climbing and expanding toward the sun.
Right now, these words have taken root:
“Instead of spending our lives tensing up, as if we were in the dentist’s chair, we learn that we can connect with the freshness of the moment and relax.”
At first, it made me laugh out loud, as I spent quite a lot of time at the dentist this summer, so her words conjured images of how my muscles went rigid and wooden, and my face pale with fear.
But that’s how I’ve spent so much of my life—tense and contracted, pale with fear.
Afraid to try something new, to take a risk, to go outside my well-curated comfort zone. I often settle for the paralysis of my routines.
Like many of us, I have experienced trauma, loss, betrayal, embarrassment, shame, grief, and pain—so it makes sense that I’d be scared. Scared of life. Scared of death. Scared to be myself.
But that is not our destiny—to be afraid. Like Pema says, there is another way—a way to relax into the sweet unfolding palms of each new moment. And as impossible as that sometimes seems, I am quite curious about it.
This week has been a tender one. I am struggling with the decision to leave a relationship that’s been wonderful and healing in so many ways, but also doesn’t feel quite right. It’s terrifying.
Some days, I think I am insane. Why would I leave a good man? What kind of idiot have I become? Other days, I feel stronger, wilder, more confident in knowing what I need.
I have watched the days go by as emotions ebb and flow like a tumultuous sea.
There are moments of relief, waves of grief, and so many thoughts cycling around in my busy brain.
I fear the pangs of loneliness most of all.
This is a long way of saying that my relationship struggles are why I have started reading Pema Chödrön again. She’s such a wise companion for those delicate, achy times we wish we could just fast-forward through. She encourages us to be with not just our light—but our darkness, too.
That’s not a message we hear very much.
We are told to focus on happiness and how our thoughts create our reality, so we try to have only have good thoughts.
I have always felt this is bullsh*t.
Our minds are dark and beautiful places. But we must taste their many flavors and understand them. We must know our pain before we can transform it.
So I sat in meditation today.
I am not a “good” meditator by any means. I am a squirmy one, a distracted one, a disillusioned one. But I show up nonetheless to try, to explore, to have fun in a strange and mysterious way.
As I stumbled awkwardly through the walls and valleys of my heart, something happened that feels hard to name.
A breeze tickled my cheek, and I felt it with my whole body.
A tear rolled down my eye, and I felt its voyage slowly and softly down to my chin. I felt it with every cell of my being.
This incredible sense of tenderness pulsed through me. It tasted not only like hurt or sadness—but like incredible softness. Like the joy that comes from facing our pain.
Yes, this is what I imagine God feels like…so incomprehensibly tender.
So I sat and cried and felt and listened.
I was so there—with each tiny movement of tears, of my body, of the wind, of my heart.
It felt like relaxing into the moment, which is rare for me. It felt like remembering that no matter what happens in life—in all the beginnings, endings, transforming, expanding, contracting, winning, losing—we can handle it.
Every experience—no matter how awful, wonderful, or ordinary—can burst our hearts right open.
Turning away from pain is not the path for the wild adventurer.
So in the tough times and sh*tty, confusing days, we turn inward. We go deeper.
We dare to feel and experience in real-time. We don’t run away from ourselves or our lives, no matter how messy or pitiful they may seem.
And in that, the slow bubbles of awakening build.
A stirring from deep within.
Painting us in a new sort of awareness—one that is not absent of humanity, of body, of struggle, of mistakes and pain.
One that is decidedly imperfect.
One that lives and roars in our hearts.
My gosh, that tenderness! It took my breath away and breathed into my entire body, pierced through my skin and bone and made a straight shot to my soul.
I am not special for having this experience—anyone could have it. Sadly, I know I probably won’t have a beautiful, sweeping experience every time I meditate. That’s okay.
It reminds me of Pema’s quote from the teacher Milarepa about his students’ beautiful meditation experiences: “They are neither good nor bad. Keep meditating.”
I love this. Doesn’t it just shatter the compulsivity of our expectations? Doesn’t it just leave nothing behind so that all we’re left with is to return to is ourselves and this very moment?
And why not be dangerously curious about whatever presents itself now? Well, yes, it can be purely terrifying, but it can be glorious and fascinating, too.
It also makes me think that we don’t really need all these spiritual accoutrements—crystals, colored candles, a special time of day, a scrap of pricey silk to sit on.
Yes, that is all lovely.
But it is also meaningless if we don’t bring the focus back to ourselves and the raw nakedness of the moment.
That’s the real, juicy wildness.
Everything else is a tool. But it can just become another distraction, another way to feel “cool” and “spiritual” and “better than.”
I wish to come back to the simple place where we don’t need to buy a thousand things to wake up to our lives.
We just need ourselves, a bit of bravery, and the raw, pulsing nakedness of now.
We can taste the flowing rivers of our own gentle knowing that begs us to sit down with ourselves and finally—oh, sweet finally—take a look.
And not look away.
And maybe even relax a bit.
And learn to stay with ourselves, not just in good times or bad times—but all the time.
In this, our hearts grow a thousand-fold.
From this place, I wonder just how magnificently we can love.
“We’re unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread.” ~ Pema Chödrön