SOM- February 2017 “When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times”

How do we stay open-hearted and effective in an increasingly confrontational world? In discussions with people from many points of view these days, it is apparent that pretty much everyone has a heightened level of uncertainty about the future. “Feeling what we feel” has long been taught as a valued practice in yoga, but what do we do when those feelings begin to overwhelm us? We want to stay present, yet get lost in the emotional smokescreen produced by the escalated tension, callousness, and rhetoric that is the new norm. Pema Chodron, in this month’s focus, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times cuts through the smoke to the clarity and reason needed to stay strong and united right now.
Methods for working with tough emotions have been taught in the Buddhist tradition for thousands of years, and are expounded upon in this text. We train, sometimes for years, in developing the skills to access courage, compassion, and clarity through our yoga practice. Now, on the playing field of life, we are called to embody these skills, not as concepts but as our tools as conscious individuals, and communities.


Boddhicitta, the space of the awakened and courageous heart, acknowledges the pain and fear, and yet holds the transformative space that allows us to move through fear to the presence. We uncover the strength of boddhicitta by holding a mirror to our fear and seeing what in us is afraid, and starting there. We are given instructions on where to look for our fear by examining the eight dharmas which show us how we get constantly caught in a never-ending ping pong game between our likes and dislikes. We learn how to feel and sit in our fear with more steadiness through tonglen, a meditation practice in which we connect directly with suffering that all beings have. And we develop strength and resilience of mind by practicing the six paramitas which allow us a non-moralistic way to courageously act with an open-heart and unrelenting focus.
As a lived process, our exploration will allow us to feel our fear, while bringing a new perspective on how our opinions, language, and reactions can contribute to more aggression if we are not careful. It will show how we can spiral when “how we want it to be” or “how we thought it was” smacks up against the cold-edged reality of “what it is”. It will reveal the places where we want to be heard and respected, but find it difficult to fully listen and remain skillful in communication with different viewpoints. Ultimately, it will demand that the smokescreen of fear be dispersed in us to find what is relevant, practical, and efficient in bringing the strength we need to light.
The teachings and practices we will explore this month are not easy, yet either are these times. They ask us to dive into the undercurrents of emotions we may have spent many years avoiding. As bodhisattvas, warriors of light, it is necessary to exchange our crutches for the finely- honed tools of courage, integrity, clarity and steadiness. Feeling fear in difficult times is natural; the space of boddhicitta is vast enough to hold the fear, understand it, and use it to guide us to where our presence is needed the most.

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