While listening to a talk given by Pema Chodron, I was reminded of the perspective provided in the Wisdom of no escape. Pema Chodron has written a book on this very topic, which was also a topic of discussion by her root teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The Wisdom of No Escape has to do with facing life directly. We cannot escape from whatever is happening for us. There are certainly times in everyone’s life when we would rather be somewhere or someplace else. Yet, where we find ourselves is exactly the place we need to be. In this week’s blog, I thought I would briefly explore this topic for your consideration.
Facing life head on is like turning into the wind. We cannot foresee what life will serve up to us just like we can’t see the wind. Sometimes the wind is calm and we don’t even know that it is there. Other times the wind is blowing hard. We can’t see it but we feel it and experiencially know of its existence. There are times when we really need to lean into the wind and feel its force pushing upon us and/or protect ourselves from its harshness. In life, there will be lots to experience as the winds of change blow upon our lives. The wisdom of no escape speaks to the fact that we cannot escape whatever life serves us. In this present moment, our life is the culmination of every moment that has come before. Good and bad moments are the material of what we have to work with. Turning towards these moments as “what we need”, “all we need” or “what is happening” is a very truthful experience. Not all of life’s events are explainable. They are simply the wind blowing in a different direction.
When traumatic events occur, such as the loss of a job, it is difficult to face. No one likes to turn and face the reality of our loss. We would like to escape from these moments or turn back the hands of time but we are simply where we find ourselves. At these times, many of us can turn towards self-pity. Life has dealt us a rotten hand and we have been treated unfairly. We feel sorry for ourselves and often hope others will take pity upon us because of the unfairness of life. Others turn towards anger when these moments surface. We are unable or unwilling to turn and face life, which has treated us harshly and we are angry at the world because of it. The circumstances are not our fault and others should feel our pain and hatred for what has happened. In either situation, self-pity or anger, we are caught up and identified by the situation unable to remain the detached witness to what is. The self-pity or anger does not serve us but rather intensifies the experience. When these moments surface, if we neither wallow in self-indulgence nor react with fury, we are able to learn from the experience of no escape.
I admire those who face life head on and yet remain open and receptive to living. Despite whatever event is unfolding in their life they are still able to approach life and others with loving-kindness and compassion. There is a nugget of wisdom in this demonstration. Remaining soft while facing life head on (the wisdom of no escape) without becoming identified with the events points us to liberation from suffering. In my own experience of life, I have at times resisted embracing the moment for fear of being out of control, which is another way of looking for escaping. Similarly, we often ask for what we want and are then filled with suffering when we get it. Our pain comes from not accepting life as it is but rather wishing it was different and then either looking for false comfort in self-pity or projected anger. Just this past week, I had a situation occur that I was not looking forward to. I was hesitant to embrace whatever was going to occur and I was turning into the wind but not liking it. I even went so far as to say “… be gentle” as I felt overwhelmed with the baggage created by my mental formations about the situation. In the end, the situation was fine. I lived to face another day and the view of no escape was reinforced into my consciousness.
However, I will tell you a secret about the wisdom of no escape. No matter what is happening in our lives, approaching every situation with loving-kindness and compassion is liberating for the soul. Turning into the wind and facing life full-on with kindness and love somehow lessens the intensity of events in our life. This loving-kindness and compassion must first begin with ourselves. No matter the situation, if we are gentle and loving with regard to ourselves we will be facing life directly, without reaction. From being kind and caring towards ourselves a doorway opens to being gentle and loving towards others. In life’s most difficult moments, being kind-hearted and tender helps us to be able to turn into the wind; to live life without escape.
During your week, notice when you are turning towards the wind and when you are looking to escape. What is it that you are afraid to look at as you turn away? What is the underlying feelings that are surfacing that you want to escape from? Does self-pity or anger surface for you and if so how does it serve you? Then with loving-kindness and compassion, notice your fears. Feel the love you have for yourself and for others. Through the wisdom of no escape, you will experience life fully, truthfully and completely without judgement. Meditating regularly is the means to practice no escape. Sitting to face oneself without judgement but rather loving-kindness prepares the ground for life’s moments of upheaval. We become able to turn towards life and not turn away hoping to escape the truth of what is.