Cultivating Space Amidst Difficulty
Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky.
- Chogyam Trungpa
Gazing inward, I find a constant experience of restlessness. This is specially the case when dealing with difficult interpersonal situations or when going through personal challenges. Yet even when circumstances appear to be OK, there seems to be a universal, underground current of subtle despair that accompanies my experience.
Rather than what may seem logical, the way through this ingrained dimension of uneasiness is not to sweep it under the mind’s rug, but to bring to awareness such difficult psycho-emotional contents. This requires training, wisdom traditions tell us.
Buddhist traditions, for example, inform us that indeed there’s a pervasive sense of restlessness, pain or suffering in the human condition referred to in Sanskrit as duhkha, one of the marks or seals of existence. The wisdom training necessary to lovingly face what we’d otherwise tend to bypass is one of the cornerstones of Buddhist liberation teachings, said to bring forth the end of suffering and an abiding state of peace, clarity, equanimity, and compassion.
For most, this tender, wakeful, and inclusive awareness comes gradually, much like the natural rhythms that lead the seed to its vibrant, mature expression as a tree. However, rather than following a natural progression into wakefulness and vibrancy, we often get entangled in our limited self-image; that’s to say, the self-reinforcing, conditioned stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It seems that the garden of the mind is in need of constant, careful attention.
Why would we need to keep a close eye to our own wholesome development? Is it due to the original tendency toward suffering found at the mind’s depths? How can we have a positive influence in our own self-sabotaging tendencies and connect to a less reactive, easeful state of being?
In what follows, I’ll address these questions by way of the fruitful dialogue between Buddhist contemplative insights and current advances in neuropsychology.
Delusion as normalized stress