The Blessing of Trouble

When everyone you love is gone, when everything you have has been taken away, you’ll find the Path waiting underneath every rock on the road. These are the words of Kisagotami.

--from The First Free Women, [a book of poetry by the first Buddhist nuns, written in the time of the Buddha]. Shambhala. Matty Weingast.

If you are born a human being, life will have ups and downs. We commonly think of the ups as good times and the downs as bad. But, look: You never know. Never.

Not to make light of any suffering, but when we are too comfortable in our lives, we rarely look for a spiritual path. I am a lama—a Tibetan Buddhist priest—and I can tell you, when some people die, they wish they had a path. While it’s never too late, it’s also generally not optimal to look for a spiritual path with your last breath. People do; and if you do, I’ll do my best to help.

But a better scenario, one with a more likely positive outcome, is to use your next nose-dive to examine a potential spiritual path and see what it does or doesn’t do for you. One of the common occurrences in a long stint of difficulty in life is that sooner or later [if you’re lucky] you will have tried every trick you know and... and then what?

When every trick you know to get out from under suffering fails, you have to do something new. Something unfamiliar. You have to stop knowing and start not-knowing. As frightening as that might be, if you have the courage to do it, you might find a way forward that doesn’t just lead you back to the place from which you started. You could make actual progress.

The darkest times, the prolonged Dark Night of the Soul, is time of the possibility of renewal and awakening. But usually we have to get to the place where we feel that we have absolutely no other option. Then we reach for something new. Something radical. As the meditation master, Kalu Rinpoche used to say, “It’s a gift. It’s a gift you wouldn’t give yourself, but it’s a gift.”

Kisagotami, a nun whose name means “skinny buddha”, said in her poem that in such times, you will find the Path waiting underneath every rock. It’s not that the Path appears like that when we have problems, it’s always ‘under every rock.’ It’s on every leaf, and in every experience. But when things are too rosy, we don’t look for it.

When the going is good, we use the good circumstances to reinforce ego and our sense of self-importance. Without that support for self-aggrandizement and safety-in-ego, we are vulnerable. That very vulnerability can be the seed for opening to awakening.

Keep this in mind. Easy does it.

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