Monday, 30 March 2009


The In-Between State
March 25th, 2009

By Ane Pema Chodron

We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not only hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love.

- Pema Chodron, from The Places That Scare You (Shambhala Publications)

I was deleting some emails from my inbox this evening and found a Tricycle newsletter still there. I had a quick look to see why I hadn't deleted it already and came across the link to Pema Chodron's quote above. I realised that I had kept it to read because I was quite curious about the "being in-between" mentioned - the description offered seemed to fit my feeling in life for quite some time now; "no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth."

And I could easily characterise my experience as a mixture of "
Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness" when I stop being busy with work and other distractions. These states lie under the surface, waiting for my guard to drop and to be given their fair share of attention. But how often does my guard drop? Not often it seems, but certainly last week in a big way.

What I realised last week is that my practice has taken me to a certain level where there is a sense of
"equanimity and warmth" but that this is a shallow plateau and it covers a more subtle layer of deep anxiety and fear. Events last week shook this cover and broke through the guard I had in place. Bubbling below and now free to surface are deep anxieties over the choices I make, the things I say and do that cause harm in so many (seemingly small) ways, fear of loss, of death, of meaninglessness.

The teaching to let go of self-importance hits home.

Even under the guise of living the BuddhaDharma, of embodying the teachings, so often I think I am Right in my choices and my actions, that I know best. And I mean this in relation to my own life but of course our lives are not separate and the effects ripple outwards. And when I see that, I see that it is only about guarding, about preserving this identity, staying safe: self-importance, self-cherishing.

But really I don't know what is right or best, I am just stumbling along one mistake after another.

Perhaps I can try open-ended tenderness.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


The Lord [Buddha] asked: What do you think, Subhuti, does it occur to the Stream-winner,* ‘by me has the fruit of a Streamwinner been attained’? Subhuti replied: No indeed, O Lord. And why? Because, O Lord, he has not won any dharma. Therefore is he called a Stream-winner. No sight-object has been won, no sounds, smells, tastes, touchables, or objects of mind. That is why he is called a ‘Stream-winner’. If, O Lord, it would occur to a Stream-winner, ‘by me has a Stream-winner’s fruit been attained’, then that would be in him a seizing on a self, seizing on a being, seizing on a soul, seizing on a person.

- Diamond Sutra

* Stream-entry is the most basic attainment that serious practitioners strive to attain in this lifetime.

I received an email from
The Daily Enlightenment's weekly Buddhist email newsletter today that included a link to an article on Moonpointer called Are You a Very Serious Practitioner, which in turn contained the above quote from the Diamond Sutra.

I was struck by the relevance of this to some recent pondering I had been doing after reading some articles about people making claims to their own enlightenment. People seem to take quite different views and positions on this matter and it can get quite heated and controversial.

While pondering, I also observed my own reaction to such claims and my reaction to other people's views. I had the distinct urge to seize a view and hold onto it as part of my identity, to take sides. And this of course leads straight into judgemental thoughts about myself and about others.

...And yet I just wasn't so sure. Firstly I wasn't sure about the correctness of any of the views and secondly I wasn't sure about the need to actually hold (onto) a view.

So I appreciated the quote from the Diamond Sutra and happily stopped worrying about seizing or holding any view. No need to seize anything, just return to the practice!