Excerpt from “5 Reasons to Meditate” by Pema Chodron
Life is never predictable. You can say, “Oh, I like the unpredictability,” but that’s usually true only up to a certain point, as long as the unpredictability is somewhat fun and adventurous. I have a lot of relatives who are into things like bungee jumping and all kinds of terrifying things—all of my nephews, particularly, and nieces. Sometimes, thinking of their activities, I experience extreme terror. But everybody, even my wild relatives, meets their edge. And sometimes the most adventurous of us meet our edge in the strangest places, like when we can’t get a good cup of coffee. We’re willing to jump off a bridge upside down, but we throw a tantrum when we can’t get a good cup of coffee. Strange that not being able to get a good cup of coffee could be the unknown, but somehow for some, maybe for you, it is that edge of stepping into that uncomfortable, uncertain space.
So this place of meeting our edge, of accepting the present moment and the unknown, is a very powerful place for those who wish to awaken and open their heart and mind. The present moment is the generative fire of our meditation. It is what propels us toward transformation. In other words, the present moment is the fuel for your personal journey. Meditation helps you meet your edge; it’s where you actually come up against it and you start to lose it. Meeting the unknown of the moment allows you to live your life and to enter your relationships and commitments ever more fully. This is living wholeheartedly.
Meditation is revolutionary, because it’s not a final resting place: you can always be more settled. This is why I continue to do this year after year. If I looked back and had no sense that any transformation had happened, if I didn’t recognize that I feel more settled and more flexible, it would be pretty discouraging. But there is that feeling. And there’s always another challenge, and that keeps us humble. Life knocks you off your pedestal. We can always work on meeting the unknown from a more settled and openhearted space. It happens for all of us. I too have moments where I am challenged in meeting the present moment, even after decades of meditation. Years back, I took a trip alone with my granddaughter, who was six years old at the time. It was such an embarrassing experience, because she was being extremely difficult. She was saying “no” about everything, and I kept losing it with this little angel whom I adore. So I said, “Okay, Alexandria, this is between you and Grandma, right? You’re not going to tell anybody about what’s going on? You know, all those pictures you’ve seen of Grandma on the front of books? Anyone you see carrying around one of those books, you do not tell them about this!”
The point is that when your cover is blown, it’s embarrassing. When you practice meditation, getting your cover blown is just as embarrassing as it ever was, but you’re glad to see where you’re still stuck because you would like to die with no more big surprises. On your deathbed, when you thought you were Saint Whoever, you don’t want to find out that the nurse completely pushes you over the wall with frustration and anger. Not only do you die angry at the nurse, but you die disillusioned with your whole being. So if you ask why we meditate, I would say it’s so we can become more flexible and tolerant to the present moment. You could be irritated with the nurse when you’re dying and say, “You know, that’s the way life is.” You let it move through you. You can feel settled with that, and hopefully you even die laughing—it was just your luck to get this nurse! You can say, “This is absurd!” These people who blow our cover like this, we call them “gurus.”