Understanding the power of the path provides the inspiration that keeps us going forward; exploring its pain provides the understanding of what holds us back. It doesn't take long to discover the power, nor to feel the pain. Waking up hurts. And if we don't understand why, we will run from the pain and abandon the path. There are countless people who have become spiritual dropouts, or who are lost in detours because they have not understood hardship.
When your arm falls asleep, it prickles and burns as it returns to life. Frozen fingers sting when they thaw; we jolt awake when the alarm clock rings. But physical instances of anesthesia are mild compared to the anesthesia born of ignorance, and so is the level of discomfort upon awakening. The longer something has been asleep, the more painful it is to wake it up. If your fingers are merely cold, it is easy to warm them up. But if your fingers are frozen solid, it hurts like hell when they thaw. According to the traditions, unless one is already a buddha, an "awakened one," on has been snoring from beginningless time, and it can really hurt before we completely wake up. Mingyur Rinpoche writes,
"I'd like to say that everything got better once I was safely settled among the other participants in the three-year retreat.... On the contrary, however, my first year in retreat was one of the worst in my life. All the symptoms of anxiety I'd ever experienced--physical tension, tightness in the throat, dizziness, and waves of panic--attacked in full force. In Western terms, I was having a nervous breakdown. In hindsight, I can say that what I was actually going through was what I like to call a 'nervous breakthrough'."
--from The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy by Dr. Andrew Holecek
Following the Vajrayana teachings, we do not give up or reject anything; rather we make use of whatever is there. We look at our negative emotions and accept them for what they are. Then we relax in this state of acceptance. Using the emotion itself, it is transformed or transmuted into the positive, into its true face. When, for instance, strong anger or desire arises, a Vajrayana practitioner is not afraid of it. Instead he or she would follow advice along the following lines: Have the courage to expose yourself to your emotions. Do not reject or suppress them, but do not follow them either. Just look your emotion directly in the eye and then try to relax within the very emotion itself. There is no confrontation involved. You don't do anything. Remaining detached, you are neither carried away by emotion nor do you reject it as something negative. Then, you can look at your emotions almost casually and be rather amused.
When our usual habit of magnifying our feelings and our fascination resulting from that are gone, there will be no negativity and no fuel. We can relax within them. What we are trying to do, therefore, is to skillfully and subtly deal with our emotions. This is largely equivalent to the ability of exerting discipline.
--from Daring Steps: Traversing the Path of the Buddha by Ringu Tulku, edited and translated by Rosemarie Fuchs
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