If there is any possibility for enlightenment, it's right now, not at some future time. Now is the time.
The following is an excerpt from Pema Chödron's book, “When Things Fall Apart”. This was forwarded to me by my uncle after he discovered our current focus for our 30 Days of Enlightenment Course.
The Path is Not Prefabricated
What does it take to use the life we already have in order to make us wiser rather than more stuck? What is the source of wisdom, at a personal, individual level?
To the degree that I've understood the teachings, the answer to these questions seems to have to do with bringing everything we encounter to the path. Everything naturally has a ground, path, and fruition. This is like saying that everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But it is also said that the path itself is both the ground and the fruition. So one sometimes reads, “The path is the goal.”
This path has one very distinct characteristic: it is not prefabricated. It doesn't already exist. The path that we're talking about is the moment-by-moment evolution of our experience, the moment-by-moment evolution of our experience, the moment-by-moment evolution of the world of phenomena, the moment-by-moment evolution of our thoughts and our emotions.
The path is not Route 66—destination, Los Angeles. It's not as if we can take a map out and figure that this year we might make it to Gallup, New Mexico, and maybe by [next year], we'll be in L.A. the path is uncharted. It comes into existence moment by moment and at the same time drops away behind us. It's like riding on a train sitting backward. We can't see where we're headed, only where we've been.
The Source of Wisdom
This is a very encouraging teaching because it says that the source of wisdom is whatever is going to happen to us today. the source of wisdom is whatever is happening to us right at this very instant.
We're always in some kind of mood. It might be sadness, it might be anger, it might be not much of anything, just a kind of blur. It might be humor or contentment. In any case, whatever it is, that's the path.
When something hurts in life, we don't usually think of it as our path or as the source of wisdom. In fact, we think that the reason we're on the path is to get rid of this painful feeling. (“When I get to L.A., I won't feel this way anymore.”) At that level of wanting to get rid of our feeling, we naively cultivate subtle aggression against ourselves.
However, the fact is that anyone who has used the moments and days and years of his or her life to become wiser, kinder, and more at home in the world has learned from what has happened right now. We can aspire to be kind right in the moment, to relax and open our heart and mind to what is in front of us right in the moment. Now is the time. If there's any possibility for enlightenment, it's right now, not at some future time. Now is the time.
Now is the Only Time
How we relate to it creates the future. In other words, if we're going to be more cheerful in the future, it's because of our aspiration and exertion to be cheerful in the present. What we do accumulates; the future is the result of what we do right now.
When we find ourselves in a mess, we don't have to feel guilty about it. Instead, we could reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess will be sowing the seeds of how we will relate to whate3ver happens next. We can make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same time. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives.
Creating Fundamental Cheerfulness
Sometimes we meet someone who seems to have a great sense of well-being, and we wonder how that person got that way. We would like to be that way. That well-being is often a result of having been brave enough to be fully alive and awake to every moment of life, including the lack of cheer, all the dark times, and the times when the clouds cover the sun. Through our own good spirit, we can be willing to relate directly with what's happening, with precision and gentleness. that's what creates fundamental cheerfulness, fundamental relaxation.
Everything is Workable
When we realize that the path is the goal, there's a sense of workability. Trunga Rinpoche said:
Whatever occurs in the confused mind is regarded as the path. Everything is workable. It is a fearless proclamation, the lion's roar.
Everything that occurs in our confused mind we can regard as the path. Everything is workable.
If we find ourselves in what seems like a rotten or painful situation and we think, “Well, how is this enlightenment?” we can just remember this potion of the path, that what seems undesirable in our lives doesn't have to put us to sleep. What seems undesirable in our lives doesn't have to trigger habitual reactions. We can let it show us where we're at and let it remind us that the teachings encourage precision and gentleness with loving-kindness toward every moment. When we live this way, we feel frequently—maybe continuously—at a crossroads, never knowing what's ahead.
In Every Moment, the Choice is Yours
It's an insecure way to live. We often find ourselves in the middle of a dilemma—what should I do about the fact that somebody is angry with me? What should I do about the fact that I'm angry with somebody? Basically, the instruction is not to try to solve the problem but instead to use it as a question about how to let this very situation wake us up further rather than lull us into ignorance. We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity.
This teaching applies to even the most horrendous situations life can dish out. Jean-Paul Sartre said that there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free. This is our choice in every moment. Do we relate to our circumstances with bitterness or with openness?
That is why it can be said that whatever occurs can be regarded as the path and that all things, not just some things, are workable. This teaching is a fearless proclamation of what's possible for ordinary people like you and me.
What about you?
How do you overcome a difficult situation to inspire growth and a brighter future? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.