‘The Wisdom of No Escape’
I’m not a religious person, though I used to be. I spent 12 years in Catholic schools, was a regular altar boy at the Immaculate Concepcion Parish School in Cubao (now the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral) and was even a member of the Future Priests Club at our church.
I still celebrate the rituals and traditions. But there was a time when I didn’t feel any connection to the church. Or to spirituality and faith.
Or to God.
Gradually, this changed. As I’ve grown older, reached middle age, I’ve found myself more drawn to questions of spirituality and faith.
Like many Catholics, I’m excited about the arrival of a more enlightened, open-minded Pope
But the search for a spiritual life has taken me beyond the world of Catholicism and Christianity.
This journey began about 15 years ago. Knowing that I had become curious about meditation, a friend gave me a Xeroxed copy of an article “Precision, Gentleness and Letting Go,” by an American Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron.
Before then, I had viewed meditation as a way to use your mind to go to some mysterious, sublime place, transcending earthly concerns.
As those of you who practice know, it’s the opposite. It’s about being present, about embracing every thought and emotion, good or bad, painful or uplifting, experiencing and touching and feeling these emotions and then letting them go.
I ended up wearing out the photocopied article before deciding to buy the book in which it was but one chapter.
The book The Wisdom of No Escape has helped me get through confusing, even rough times. In a way, it’s become my bible.
Now, this must be said: I have absolutely no interest in becoming a Buddhist or embracing any new religion. I still consider myself Catholic, although I must admit, I also relate more to the words and wisdom of Buddhists like Pema Chodron.
Still, I tend to tune out the Buddhist terms in Pema Chodron’s book. Although I’ve been reading and re-reading her book (and other books) for nearly 20 years, I would likely flunk a test asking me to define such concepts as Samsara and Tonglen and Karma.
In fact, the book was not written in a way to recruit anyone to Buddhism. Instead, Pema Chodron’s books offer useful, practical wisdom, a way of viewing the world with hope but without seeking to escape its ugliness and uncertainties, a way of life grounded in the present, while able to embrace and make friends with pains in the past and fears for the future — before letting them go.
To make friends with anger or sadness or despair or insecurity.
That is such a crazy, bizarre concept that I didn’t immediately understand what that meant, and in many ways, I am still struggling to understand it.
Maybe I never will completely understand it or be successful in that goal.
The Wisdom of No Escape begins: “There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. …
“A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.”
“Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion, and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness.”
Then there’s this gem of a quote from Pema Chodron:
“Inspiration and wretchedness are inseparable … Inspiration and wretchedness complement each other. With only inspiration, we become arrogant. With only wretchedness, we lose our vision.
“Feeling inspired cheers us up, makes us realize how vast and wonderful our world is. Feeling wretched humbles us.
“The gloriousness of our inspiration connects us with the sacredness of the world. But when the tables are turned and we feel wretched, that softens us up. It ripens our hearts. It becomes the ground for understanding others. Both the inspiration and the wretchedness can be celebrated. We can be big and small at the same time.”
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