I’ve been aware for a while that I am looking for a teacher. Teachers perhaps. Guides. Mentors. People (women, if I’m honest) that can help me navigate my way through this sometimes calm, sometimes stormy ocean of life. The thing is, I’ve never been very good at asking for what I need, nor necessarily always recognising things that are right there in front of me.
A good friend of mine introduced me to Pema Chrodron some time ago. And, over the last couple of weeks I have been reading some of her books, which I am finding gentle, nurturing, enlightening and deeply inspiring.
Pema Chodron, born Deirdre Blomfeld-Brown, is an American Buddhist nun, author and teacher, and a mother. Born in 1936, she married twice and had two children before immersing herself in the study of Tibetan Buddhism in her mid-30s, eventually becoming ordained as a novice nun in 1974.
So, not only is Pema Chodron a woman, but she has lived ‘in the world’, so to speak, and has birthed children. She knows what it means to be married, to commit living her life alongside someone else, to raise young ones, and to live surrounded by concrete, noise, busyness and craziness in the reality of a Western world city. As such, when I read her words, I feel like maybe she’s known some of what I have experienced in life. Perhaps she has walked a little way in my shoes, and I in hers. I can’t say the same about the Dalai Lama or, much as I love him, Eckhart Tolle, or indeed any of the other inspirational male spiritual ‘leaders’ that speak gentle truths of love, life and compassion.
Having been scarred by Catholic schooling for most of my youth, I am very resistant to organised religion. I know there is rebellion in me in embracing one way of seeing the world, one way of understanding how it all works, one way of explaining what happens to us after we die. Also, I’ve never been brilliant with rules. I have a tendency to break them. And, as a feminist, I know I can certainly never follow a faith system that has one male entity at its head. It just does not work for me. Not in this truly unbalanced world we live in, where women can still be stoned to death for having been raped, or shot at for daring to speak out about a girl’s right to education.
When people ask me “What do you believe in?” I find it hard to answer. Quite simply, I believe in what I feel. I believe in the beauty of the natural world and the mirrors that it constantly holds up to our faces. I believe in the power of nature to not only show us what is going on in our lives, but to also hold a space for us to always walk into, to access the power of the land, the wind, the sea, in order that we can learn to heal ourselves. I believe in stillness, in silence, and I believe in listening to the sound of our inner knowing. I have experienced moments of what I can only describe as complete belonging; moments in which I know, with total assuredness, that all of us, all of this, is connected. I believe in the power of the individual, and I believe in the power of community. I believe in the power of sitting in circle, of talking and listening from the heart. I believe in rites of passage to mark, honour and celebrate all the transitions we make throughout our lives. I know I need these things in order that I can make sense of it all, and I know I am not alone in this.
Pema Chodron’s teachings have come to me at a time in my life when I feel ready to open to them. I take great comfort in her words so full of simple wisdom that I find myself nodding, saying thank you, and wanting somehow to eat them up so that they can stay within my very core always.
And then, just a few weeks ago, our Canadian friend (and soon-to-be neighbour) pointed out that the abbey Pema Chodron is the resident teacher at, Gampo Abbey, is “just down the coast” from where we’ll be living in Cape Breton come mid-July. For me, who trusts in the natural ebb and flow of life, who struggles when it feels like things are not moving along easily, that things are being forced into being, this discovery felt like nothing less than serendipity. Her own words about the abbey only serve to strengthen my resolve to spend some time there if I possibly can:
Gampo Abbey is a vast place where the sea and sky melt into each other. The horizon extends infinitely, and in this vast space float seagulls and ravens. The setting is like a huge mirror that exaggerates the sense of there being nowhere to hide.
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
Over the last couple of weeks I have been meditating on the question “What or who are you resisting in your life right now?” I know now that the “who” in this question is myself. And, I feel ready to come out of hiding.
I also believe Pema Chodron may be one of the teachers I have been waiting for to help me do this.