Thursday, December 11, 2014


24X36in acrylic on canvas
Exhibiting at the Oolong Teahouse in Calgary December 1 - 31
I've been studying Buddhism for seven years now - ever since I discovered the very eloquent and clear teachings of Pema Chodron. In the last year and a half my practice has become significantly deeper as I've taken my understanding of the various techniques and actually started applying them in my life. 

As my dear spiritual companion described it, "It's like I've been tilling the soil and now things are starting to grow." 

The growing experience is so astounding to me because I'll have heard a teachings dozens of times before it clicks. But when it clicks the experience is transformative. It's the difference between intellectually 'getting it' because it makes sense versus having an actual lived experience of something. A moment when the words I've read or listened to match my personal experience of the world. 

Avalokiteshvara is the bodhisattva of compassion and known by many different names depending on the lineage. But the essence is always the same - to love fully and compassionately. 

I'm a huge advocate of this and can honestly say that my experience has shown again and again that it is much better for everyone involved to show love and kindness than anger or aggression. In fact, I've often felt like I'm just not an aggressive person so all these teachings about working with aggression didn't really apply to me. 

But here's one of those moments when I have listened to a teaching and heard it differently: 

I was listening to a talk by Khandro Rinpoche. She was talking about this sense of compassion and embracing basic goodness and being kind. She began to describe our emotional turmoil as aggression and made a list: "Anger is aggression. Fear is aggression. Sadness is aggression." 

I considered what she was saying and it was like feeling puzzle pieces of so many teachings before sliding into place in my mind. I suddenly realised that when the teachings are talking about working with our aggression they don't mean 'don't be angry' or 'work with your anger' - they mean aggression is a fundamental resistance to our experience. 

In short, resistance to the fundamental ambiguity of being human is aggressive. 

It can manifest as anxiety, fear, sadness, depression - but it's all based on wanting to get away from what is, rather than embracing and working with whatever arises. 

Suddenly I realised I'm incredibly aggressive! My anxiety has always communicated my resistance, my shutting down around an experience. And now I can see it, I can work with it. Having had this realisation the way I'm working with my mind now has shifted significantly. 

Avalokiteshvara reminds us to be gentle with ourselves as well as with others. We can only have compassion for others if we have it for ourselves because it's based on understanding shared human experience. 

My understanding shifted considerably as I realised that I was no less aggressive than anyone else. That the term 'aggression' is not being used in relation to anger or rage but in relation to this resistance we all have to the unpredictability of life. 

How liberating. 

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