I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. This short little book has really opened my eyes to so much, and I am very grateful that someone decided to turn Pema’s lectures into this wonderful and amazing book.
It’s not an easy read, nor it is full of rainbows and happy clouds. Life isn’t always full of rainbows and happy clouds; sometimes it really sucks. But, how we handle that “sucky-ness” — how we react “when things fall apart” is what this book is all about.
So, how can one use pain and sadness to cultivate a better life? It’s something of a mystery, but Pema writes about ‘grasping for the ground beneath you’. I remember learning about ‘grasping’ at the Buddhist Geek conference and from my favorite speaker, Martine Batchelor, who spoke of grasping too, and while reading this book, that word appeared again and again. Grasping.
Sitting with grasping I often see the ego — the ego is what helps us to grasp. Whether we’re grasping at a material object, a vision of the future, our relationships, or whatever, we grasp because we want circumstances to be in our favor. We want our lives to be a perfect present with a bow on top. But, hello — reality! — life isn’t that easy.
I do want to share a story from it; a story about Pema’s teacher and a course he created. I am not going to get into all the details, but the story reminded me of the hardware and software “cloud” we’re now living in and the resulting world of impermanence. Things are changing so quickly we barely catch our breath before something new is on the horizon. (I think that grasping plays a huge role in our stress levels related to the impermanent world we live in today.)
But, back to the story. So, Pema’s teacher had students learn and memorize a chant. After the students had learned it, he’d change it. He’d do the same things with rituals, which were very specific. Some students would learn quickly and help those students who didn’t learn as fast. Then when all had it memorized, the teacher would change it once again. He did this for YEARS. Not a few weeks or a few months, but for YEARS. And, what Pema wrote struck me: “After years of this sort of training, one begins to relax one’s grip. The idea of one right way sort of dissolves into the mist.” Wow, that’s very profound and powerful. The ideas of one right way… goes away. As, there is no right way. There is just a way.
As a Sherpa, I try to instill in my clients this sense of change and impermanence. That while this database is what you need today, tomorrow it might need to change. Heck, even during our treks you might need to change. And, that’s okay… there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the way of the world and as a Sherpa, it’s my job and responsibility to take that journey with you. On a groundless road to an unknown place. One that will be defined and redefined over time. With a road that is constantly changing.
I’m not saying this impermanence is easy or always fun. We won’t be hugging each other every day, but we will greet each other with respect, compassion and kindness. We will work together on the path we lay out together. We may yell, get frustrated and throw things at the computer, but, in the end, we will be better for this journey we have taken.