Saturday night after Buddhist teacher, Will Duncan’s, talk, I was awake for hours. I was wracked by the desire to somehow burn through my ego during the time remaining before I die. Burn through until there would be nothing left of it but ashes. How to get rid of the “I” in me?
Good grief! What was I thinking? In the light of day I know that isn’t going to happen. Surrendering the “I” is for the great souls like Jesus, and the Buddha and Muhammad and Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela--just to name a few-- all of whom burned through ordinary life and its dazzling distractions to the place of ultimate service. That they might die for the teaching they offered the world was clear to each one. And some did have to make the final sacrifice; some did not. Nonetheless each one suffered his personal and profound trial in the process of purification.
I’ve had some trials; purified, I am not.
Have you noticed our propensity for killing off those who emerge to give voice to the still revolutionary messages of forgiveness, of our connection to all beings and of our call to love “our crooked neighbors as our crooked selves?” (W.H. Auden)
Unlike the great souls, I am pretty well stuck into this life: this existence of mine, rife with its preferences, prejudices, its possibilities unexplored, jealousies and human frailties. You know what I mean: all the stuff that keeps us grinding away at life. Most of us are unable to sustain a vision that propels us forward into increased open heartedness; greater understanding and generosity and above all, the freedom to just let go.
Because I believe in reincarnation—please do not ask me to explain this-- I want to clear as much of the debris of my ego stuff in this lifetime as I am able to identify. My hope is that in the next life—in which of course I will not be me--I will not have to repeat all the same garbage. There will be new garbage to deal with as my soul evolves; I just don’t want the same old, same old, been there, done that.
You know that feeling? I’ve been through this situation before: the people are different, the stage set is altered, but I am feeling a familiar nasty anxiety here. I thought I had this one figured out!
If we can shine a benevolent light of awareness on such moments as they arise, we can, right then, in that moment, have a chance to make a different choice. We have the capacity to change when we notice our habitual patterns.
God knows I am a million lifetimes away from being able, like Will Duncan, to spend three years gently guiding rattlesnakes out of my solitary hut in the desert. But I can be on the path of liberation. I can keep opening my heart. Every time I want to shut down on someone or some situation I can become aware of that and breathe and soften my heart around it. I can seek a different response to feeling attacked, or ignored or disappointed or angry or . . . anything.
As Will would say, “We can only do the best that we can” in each moment, trying not to concretize our opinions, solidify our prejudices, juice our dramas and stir our anger. When we notice those habitual reactions arising, we can choose to breathe and soften. We can choose freedom; we can choose peace.
Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com