Meditation teaches us how to let go. It’s actually a very important aspect of friendliness, which is that you train again and again in not making things such a big deal.
When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal.
Generally speaking, the human species does make things a very big deal. Our problems are a big deal for us. So we need to make space for an attitude of honoring things completely and at the same time not making them a big deal.
It’s a paradoxical idea, but holding these two attitudes simultaneously is the source of enormous joy: we hold a sense of respect toward all things, along with the ability to let go. So it’s about not belittling things, but on the other hand not fanning the fire until you have your own private World War III.
Keeping these ideas in balance allows us to feel less crowded and claustrophobic. In Buddhist terms, the space that opens here is referred to as shunyata, or “emptiness.”
But there’s nothing nihilistic about this emptiness. It’s basically just a feeling of lightness. There is movie entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I prefer to see life from the view of the Bearable Lightness of Being.
When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.
Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind up so it walks across the floor, can just relax. So shunyata refers to the fact that we actually have a seed of spaciousness, of freshness, openness, relaxation, in us.
Sometimes the word shunyata has been translated as the “open dimension of our being.” The most popular definition is “emptiness,” which sounds like a big hole that somebody pushes you into, kicking and screaming: “No, no! Not emptiness!”
Sometimes people experience this openness as boredom. Sometimes it’s experienced as stillness. Sometimes it’s experienced as a gap in your thinking and your worrying and your all-caught-up-ness.
I experiment with shunyata a lot. When I’m by myself and no one’s talking to me, when I’m simply going for a walk or looking out the window or meditating, I experiment with letting the thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they go.
This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice. You keep coming back to the immediacy of your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up, thoughts like, bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk, you let those thoughts go, and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience.
This is how we can experiment with shunyata, how we can experiment with the open, boundless dimension of being.
This is an idea that seems difficult for Westerners to accept: when someone harms us, they create the cause of their own suffering. They do this by strengthening habits that imprison them in a cycle of pain and confusion. It’s not that we are responsible for what someone else does, and certainly not that we should feel guilty. But when they harm us, we unintentionally become the means of their undoing. Had they looked on us with loving-kindness, however, we’d be the cause of their gathering virtue.
What I find helpful in this teaching is that what’s true for them is also true for me. The way I regard those who hurt me today will affect how I experience the world in the future. In any encounter, we have a choice: we can strengthen our resentment or our understanding and empathy. We can widen the gap between ourselves and others or lessen it.
~ No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva by Pema Chödrön, page 185
Meditation begins to open up your life, so that you’re not caught in
self-concern, just wanting life to go your way. In that case you no
longer realize that you’re standing at the center of the world, that
you’re in the middle of a sacred circle, because you’re so concerned
with your worries, pains, limitations, desires, and fears that you are
blind to the beauty of existence. All you feel by being caught up like
this is misery, as well as enormous resentment about life in general.
How strange! Life is such a miracle, and a lot of the time we feel only
resentment about how it’s all working out for us.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it’s also what makes us afraid.
“Fruition” implies that at some future time you will feel good. One of the most powerful Buddhist teachings is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you are oriented toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.
When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it's bottomless, that it doesn't have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.