In the Wednesday evening sitting group, dharma teacher Pamela Weiss has been teaching bits and pieces about the archetypal hero’s journey. A few weeks ago, she talked about how the journey requires three things from the head, heart, and guts: curiosity, courage, and commitment.
I keep seeing signs of this everywhere, and I’m especially contemplating the meaning of the need for commitment.
My latest train of thought on this is that the commitment required is not to something or someone, not even to a particular practice, but actually dedication to the journey itself. In all its uncertainty, darkness, temptations, and at times despair. Oh, and it’s long. You remember the Scylla and Charybdis?
Staying the course is what takes dedication. Each step placed with awareness, as in a walking meditation.
This morning, I came across these reality-checking words about fear of death and escapism, from Pema Chödrön, in her book When Things Fall Apart:
Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring security or confirmation. Turning your mind toward the dharma does not bring any ground to stand on. In fact, when your mind turns toward the dharma, you fearlessly acknowledge impermanence and change and begin to get the knack of hopelessness.
And these, from Saki Santorelli, in his book Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, which we’re reading in the MBSR course. He’s talking about the descent into what he calls “hospital mindfulness”:
This is the practice: To experience the creeping numbness, the momentary refusals, the sense of helplessness, the feeling of remaining open.
Get the knack of hopelessness? Helplessness and remaining open? It’s a lot to accept. Kind of makes you want to skip reading this blog post entirely, not to mention your sitting practice. For me, many if not most days it’s really hard. Not only to hold these seeming oppositions but to remember why I’d want to release security and face fear, in the first place!
The only way I can explain this is from the peek at a broader vista that I get, when it’s clear that the letting go brings its own relief. That the free-fall feeling is a form of freedom. That the end point isn’t numbness, it’s a greater aliveness, flexibility, equanimity, and connection to everyone else who’s free-falling with us.