It happens this way …
You’ve heard of that lovely concept of paying it forward? This week I discovered it’s mate: thinking it forward. I’ve been listening to You-Tube clips of one of my favorites: the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. In an interview with Bill Moyer, she explains that after her second husband admitted to an affair and asked for a divorce, she was thrown into a tailspin of anger, and then terror at the depth of violence of her anger. She explains to Bill how she finally dispelled her darkness, but the punch line for me was her embrace of the thought forward of becoming a Buddhist. When nothing else worked — no therapy, no dabbling in other spiritual disciplines, none of the typical escape routes – she was seized by the passion to learn how to use the energy of her life — even the negative energy of her painful experience — to wake up.
Wake up to what? How our minds — often closed and afraid — effect not only ourselves but the world; how, if we could open and soften our hearts, we could move toward de-escalating violence and aggression and escalate loving- kindness. That passionate thought moved her forward into a life-long quest of learning how to open and soften and into sharing what’s she’s learned with millions of people.
Call it what you will – grace, inspiration, the thought forward – but how many times have we heard an urgent voice within nudging us to do something, but we mute it because it would take us out of our comfort zone? Pema talks a lot about living with uncertainty, groundlessness, ambiguity, and insecurity both as individuals and as a society. It’s the fear of these realities of life on this planet that freezes us in our tracks and stops us from doing good things for ourselves and others.
I was talking to a friend at a poetry reading recently who has resolved to invest more time connecting with people she loves and admires. She had a dear friend from her past who lived in North Carolina, and she often thought about contacting her. Before she took action, however, the friend died. Now her thought forward is not to miss other opportunities to spend time with those who can enrich her life as well as those she will enrich.
Personally, I’ve been blissfully living in a cave for the last few years – enjoying my solitude, shaping days to fit my rhythms, dabbling in all kinds of creative activities – by myself. However, a thought forward has been nagging at me lately and I’ve actually begun to take some risks to act on it.
I’ve known for decades that my essence contains being a teacher. For the first time in 35 years, I taught a poetry class in 2017 for the Writers’ Mill, a group of prose writers and poets who meet monthly at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland.
On April 28 I’ll be presenting my fourth program to them and have subsequently risked contacting Happy Valley Library to set up some classes nearer home. In June, I’ll return to Watchung, New Jersey to do a fund-raising poetry workshop for my dear Sisters of Mercy on the 29th. In the audience will be students I taught at Mt. St. Mary Academy back in the ‘70s. Coming full circle seems so right. Listening to that thought forward has become a passion. I am a teacher and it’s time to embrace – and act – on that.
Think about all the thoughts forward that have been nudging you: the book you keep saying you want to publish, the trip you want to take, the people you’ve thought about recently and need to contact, the classes you’d love to sign up for. Whatever. What’s holding you back? If it’s lack of confidence or uncertainty, that’s fine. Acknowledge it and move forward anyway. Learning to break the bonds of fear is part of a life-long process that will wake you up to the essence of who you really are. Undoubtedly, it will pay itself forward in ways you can’t begin to imagine – yet.