We live on tenterhooks. There's this vague, uneasy feeling that things could go wrong at any time. That life is pretty precarious. I notice this in myself. Typically, I don't think about it a lot or get carried away by it. But it lurks. Unwittingly, and often out of the blue, I have found myself generating fantasy crises in my mind, ruminating about them, imagining their complexity, their horror, and then pushing them down again until they erupt at some later unpleasant date. Probably this has never happened to you. Probably, you don't know what I'm talking about.
Still, the question bubbles inside me: what would I do if any of these horrors actually happened? Honestly, how will I deal with great adversity if (and likely when) it comes? Can I handle a scary medical diagnosis? A car crash? Financial ruin? The death of someone very close to me? How can I be ready? Is it even possible to be "ready" for calamity?
Here is a very cool way I've been practicing lately. I've been doing what the renowned Tibetan Buddhist Teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Ripoche, calls "training with bourgeois suffering." He gets this idea from the 8th century Indian Buddhist Monk, Shantideva, who says:
“There is nothing that does not grow light through habit and familiarity.
Putting up with little cares, I’ll train myself to bear with great adversity.”
And so I begin my training. I start now. And I've got good material to work with because it turns out there's a lot of bourgeois suffering in my life:
~ I rush out of the office and scamper to the bank, but I get there 5 minutes too late. Bourgeois suffering. ~ My son leaves his wet towel in a heap on the bathroom floor for 36 hours. It's gross. It smells. Worse, I've told him a million times to hang it up. Why can't he listen? Bourgeois suffering. ~ I have a fight with my husband. He is late (once again) and I am ticked off. Ah, such bourgeois suffering. Notice it. Instantly catch it! And...
TRAIN. Go inside, breathe. Trust. Notice the way reactivity grips. Don't judge it, just notice. Attend to the frustrated or anxious feelings. Soothe them. Calm them. Reach for something better, higher, holier than what is apparent right in front of me. Stay with the disappointment or anger until it slowly dials back. Love myself right through it. Love my bank, my son, my husband. Let go of the itch to have things Just So. Submit. And what happens? Good just washes in. Clean, crisp air that soothes and releases the hold. And suddenly, I'm a little more trained in bearing with adversity.
I have always been a Big Project person. I want to accomplish stuff. I want to get the next advanced degree or write the next book or create a new website and start a new career. My friend Libby feels a similar pull. She calls that Project Driver who lives inside, her "Inner Accomplisher. " My Inner Accomplisher is very active. It nags. It cajoles. And, when it can't get me to work on the next Big Project, it calls in support from the Self-Critic and Self-Slammer. Often, the three of them can get me going again. But my work suffers. It doesn't come from an authentic, spiritually grounded and open place. It comes from having turned things upside down...
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?
In fact, I don't have to make or do anything. I can't write a book (or make a blog post) anymore than a pile of clay can make a mug. My job is to be the clay. That simple. Be molded. Be patient, obedient and willing to be directed. I don't even have to prime the clay, take the rocks and bumps out. The potter does all the work. The degree of humble, open, flexible readiness I express determines how the project proceeds. Will the potter have to fight with me to get the mug made or will I stop turning things upside down and let the potter do its thing?