Being in Bardo

One of the things that drew me to studying Buddhism with Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training, was my sense of increased dissatisfaction and discomfort when my life situation changed.

I had always worked around my ill health by working for myself for the past ten years in various ways. At that time I had a flexible part time job working for a friend’s business and my own business organising large local vintage events and a monthly flea and antique market. My overall health was getting declining and at the same time, of both those jobs coming to an abrupt end, naturally but completely out of my control.

So I was both poorly and out of work with no income at all. I qualified for one year’s benefit (due to having paid my National Insurance contributions and then nothing, I had to rely on my husband for financial support. Most of all and most surprisingly, I really felt the loss of defining myself by what I did. I’ve never been a naturally confident person, but what confidence I did have plummeted when I stopped running my own business, and I felt like a burden not being able to work. I looked around for something else to do but having poor health with the likelihood of surgery looming, doesn’t make for a winning CV.

I felt a heavy sense of inertia, and the more frustrated I felt, looking for ways out of the stuckness, the worse I felt.

Luckily for me, instinctively somehow I knew that in order to feel better, the change had to come from me; looking for something external wouldn’t help. That inkling of intuition which I’ll always be grateful to, led me to look for a Tibetan Buddhist group and to Lama Shenpen’s teaching and Discovering the Heart of Buddhism her experiential, home study course.

By starting the course and learning how to do Formless Mediation, I came to some realisations about my situation.

I was in a kind of ‘Bardo’. It’s what Tibetans call the ‘intermediate state’ between life and death. It doesn’t necessarily, literally mean life and death, but when your ‘normal reality’ is suddenly changed or shifts to a place where you feel control-less or as it’s often put in Buddhism: groundless, like having the rug pulled out from under you.

I came to discover that all of Buddhist teaching is really about realising the true nature of mind, and that everything is impermanent, ungraspable and uncertain, and it’s about learning to be okay with that.

I was in Bardo and it was uncomfortable but it was okay. In fact it was the perfect place to be in order to practise. Not only did I have the time to dedicate to Dharma practise, but I had an excellent obstacle to work with and overcome through my practice!

The more I could allow myself to be okay with the unknown, the groundless, to turn towards it with my growing confidence in the meditation practise and a sense of spaciousness; the more I could relax into everything exactly how it was, without trying to change it, without labelling it good or bad.

That didn’t mean sitting there passively giving up on doing things, but recognising my attempts to grasp at doing something just because it was something to do, to relieve the awkward discomfort of not knowing.

Allowing myself that spaciousness to ‘just be’ in this ‘bardo state’ to practice dharma, to observe the attempts of my ego to grasp, to recognise the patterns and then allow myself the space and time for moments of clarity; to see the times and opportunities for real action and to then respond appropriately without grasping.

Through learning Formless Meditation, I can now sit with this discomfort, understand it and recognise its impermanence.

It really has been a focus for my practice as I’ve been working through the DHB course: growing in confidence to open and relax into this bardo state, being at ease with its uncertainty and insecurity.

It takes a lot of practise, I still feel uncomfortable at times, but as these feelings come up, I try to recognise it as the ego grasping and ‘lean in’ with loving kindness towards myself.

My financial discomfort is also all part of learning to relax in this bardo state. Milarepa once said “The precious pot containing my riches becomes my teacher in the very moment it breaks.” In the same way my financial uncertainty is just all part of my learning and practise and all the superficial trappings of modern life become symbols of Mara the tempter.

I found through my Formless Meditation practise, daily life awareness practise and study, that I was able to focus more on the positives of my situation and see things more how they really were, not just the story my ego was telling me. I could now feel positive and grateful that all my basic needs were being met and that I was more comfortably off than a large portion of the world’s population. It became easier to notice the times the dissatisfied, clinging ego still wanted more and to buy ‘stuff’ to feel better.

It’s eye opening and reassuring to begin to notice this and learn from it. Resting in the discomfort of resisting the temptations and the discomfort of my bardo; growing in the confidence that actually this is a far more valuable lesson than having my precious pot of riches intact, and as with all things, is an impermanent state of being.

As with all Buddhist practise it’s about persevering with the ongoing training of the mind and coming back to the present moment in meditation and daily life awareness practise, again and again.

I’m so grateful to the Awakened Heart Sangha and Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart training, it helped me enormously through a difficult time and taught me how to utilise all of my experience, just as it is, as my Dharma practice. 

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