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Barbara O'Brien

Changes of Plans

By February 25, 2013

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Dosho Port has written a lovely post about what it's like when your life is Disrupted, with a capital "D." This is the kind of disruption that throws your universe out of order, such as an unexpected death or job loss. Dosho writes,

"Waking in the wee hours, the swirl of confusion, sadness, blame or self-justification - and all the other 52 flavors - gains momentum, and the inner voice cries out, 'I am not that story! I am this other one!'"

Some disruptions not only rip apart the present; they also rip apart our expectations for the future. Where there was once a clear and inviting road ahead of us, now there is wilderness. The life we had planned in our heads, the life we expected, is lost.

My first Zen teacher used to say that we all live in a box, and the box is made up of who we think we are and how we think our lives should be. There's nothing like a sudden disruption to show us what a delusion that is.

I can look back at past disruptions and see that, in many ways, I'm in a better place now than I would have been without them. There's nothing like getting all of your props kicked out from under you at once to force you out of your comfort zone -- since it's not there any more -- and into something new. Like (in my case) a Zen center.

That doesn't mean I handle the next disruption without breaking a sweat. Sometimes I want to yell at the cosmos, Hey, I'm an old lady now. Enough, already! Give me a break! But that's not how it works.

In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron said,

"Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."

She also said, "The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn't mean that something is wrong." I would add, not every disruption is a problem that needs to be "fixed."

Possibly some of you reading this have been hit with a recent disruption. My heart goes out to you. Know that hidden within your bleakest moments is the hand of the Bodhisattva, reaching to help you. You may not recognize it, right away, but it's there.

Comments
February 26, 2013 at 9:23 am
(1) Mumon says:

While I sympathize with anyone going through disruptions, the idea that these things are a “test” or that it is the mysterious workings of some being is very close to condescending.

I had to expand on that point more over at my blog.

February 26, 2013 at 9:45 am
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

While I sympathize with anyone going through disruptions, the idea that these things are a “test” or that it is the mysterious workings of some being is very close to condescending.

If you read more carefully, you might notice that nobody is saying any such thing. I’m astonished you would interpret it that way. Chodron’s “kind of testing” is not saying it’s “a test.” Things can be trying, testing, challenging, without being the work of supernatural forces. Challenges don’t always have challengers; tests don’t always have testers. And then she says the point is not to pass a test, because nothing ever gets “solved.” So I don’t see where you are getting what you’re getting.

February 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm
(3) Mila says:

“Challenges dont always have challengers; tests dont always have testers.”

Totally agree …. & reminds me of Jean Klein saying:

“The mind is a cage, but if you look inside, you will find no prisoner.”

February 27, 2013 at 9:26 pm
(4) Riverflow says:

Barbara, thank you for posting this. Last January my life (or rather, the idea I had of my life) was disrupted in a big way when I lost my cat, Issa rather suddenly. He was such a loving cat, more than any cat I had had before. Losing him shook me up tremendously and I mourned his loss the whole year–not wallowing in sorrow, but it got me to asking myself questions that weren’t merely verbal. I honoured the anniversary of his death and have since returned to practising Buddhism (it was weird–I stopped right after he died but for no actual reason–I don’t understand why, really).

Anyway, Barbara your thoughts shared here on this topic are good. Thank you.

February 28, 2013 at 1:18 am
(5) Hein says:

Know that hidden within your bleakest moments is the hand of the Bodhisattva, reaching to help you. You may not recognize it, right away, but it’s there.
This is not the first time I hear something similar to that. I am not disputing the veracity of that statement, but rather how to put it into practice. Last year with the silly Mayan prediction thing (I know it is crap, but try to tell that to my mind; conditioned/brainwashed on years of world-end-stories etc) I experienced a stressful state even though I was at silent seven day Chan retreat. What sustained me and is the simple practice of observing the breath and to calm the mind (as well as the utter calmness of all the Chiense monks). In the mornings (when we had a break) I went and do prostrations, but with no sense of believe in any of the Buddhas or BodhisattvasI simply did the prostrations. Perhaps (I use this word as I really do not know) I did have faith unconsciously in the Bodhisattvas. At the end I endured, but I cannot with any strong conviction attribute that to the help of the Bodhisattvas. Even now when contemplating the words You may not recognise it, right away, but its there I still am not sure whether the Bodhisattvas helped me, although would be a great relief if they did. It is disruptive times and in times of testing that I think my Buddhist practice is of little help and when I feel most dejected to the extent that I feel that I might have wasted my time and effort with all the Buddhist stuff.
But as they say; once you have started with Buddhism dont stop

March 8, 2013 at 7:40 am
(6) Anuj Sharma says:

Thanks for the wonderful knowledge granted in the article

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