Sandra’s story is about taking accountability for all of our life’s circumstances. We can continue to walk the same reactive path we always have, or we can choose today to start anew. In her story, Sandra sheds light on how she has moved away from fear and misery, and into the light of love, kindness and compassion. Through sharing her experience, she paves the way for each of us, to do the same, to attain more love and freedom, and break away from pain and suffering.
My journey of awakening and personal expansion
Anger, frustration, impatience, and blame have been key themes in my life. I’ve found that change begins with an intention, but on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t always feel like a “conscious” decision. It sometimes feels more like circumstances are conspiring to annoy me. For me, this is the clue that there’s a tremendous opportunity for transformation sitting right in front of me.
For example, I went through a challenging period when I encountered the same trigger day in and day out. I reacted with the same age-old response of frustration, impatience, and blame – probably hundreds of times.
One day, I suddenly woke up and realized that these negative emotions were literally eating me up. They were harming me far more than anyone else. As Mark Twain said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” I made a vow then and there to no longer let those negative emotions get the best of me.
Fear has also been a challenge for me due to frightening childhood experiences and trauma as a young adult. While I haven’t overcome all my fears, some major lifelong fears have dropped away. It may seem sudden when it finally happens, but it’s actually the result of regular spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice is about honestly facing yourself and working with your own mind, emotions, habits, and the results of your actions. Once you have a willingness to change and make a commitment to do so, you can’t help but notice how the world conspires to help you along the way.
At first, the patterns may seem even stronger, the weather even stormier. But persistence pays and a sense of humor takes away the sting. Change happens, but not always in the way that you expect or in the timeframe you have set.
Now, why do I say “everything?” In my tradition, it is said that there are four obscurations that hinder us from realizing our true nature. They are karmic obscurations (negative actions), emotional obscurations (negative emotions), cognitive obscurations (dualistic thinking), and habitual obscurations (a very subtle form of cognitive obscuration). That adds up to just about everything – our entire way of seeing and being in the world.
That may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. In the beginning, just focus on one change you would like to see, or adopt one simple spiritual practice. Slowly, slowly we’ll get there fast.
Transforming thoughts and emotions is the heart of the spiritual path. Tertön Sogyal, the Tibetan mystic, once said that he was not really impressed by someone who could turn the floor into the ceiling or fire into water. In his estimation, a real miracle was if someone could liberate just one negative emotion.
My Inspirations and Influences
I’ve been studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism for over twenty years – although I often feel like I’m just a beginner.
I’ve had the good fortune to receive teachings from some of the most extraordinary Tibetan masters of our time like Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. I’ve also been profoundly inspired by the younger generation of masters like Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Khandro Rinpoche. The teachers who have influenced me the most are His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sogyal Rinopche and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
Three extraordinary spiritual classics that I read again and again are The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.
My Positive Life Changes
I used to be like a “fierce creature” and now I am lighter, softer, and happier. I am more joyful, accepting, patient, and heart-felt. There’s less fear and anger in my life.
I still have many patterns to address. I still get swept away by strong emotions from time-to-time. But generally I’m more relaxed and spacious, and I get back on track faster. I’m far happier and more content – that’s for sure.
At the same time, when your heart starts to open, there may also be a little sadness. You see all the unnecessary suffering in the world and can’t help but feel a little heartbroken. This isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a powerful impetus to go beyond your self-pre-occupation and focus on helping others as best you can.
Spiritual teachings and practice have given me an entirely different perspective on life and a new view of reality. I now know that all the thoughts and emotions that we take to be so solid and real – as though they are our very identity – are simply like clouds passing by in the sky. I enjoy sharing about these and many other thought provoking concepts on my blog Always Well Within.
All our suffering comes from clinging to our thoughts and emotions, and not recognizing our true nature. But we’re not stuck with suffering – it can be overcome. The tools and guidance are available to us thanks to the many wisdom traditions existing today.
My Next Steps as an Evolving Being
I need to deepen my faith far more. Faith, trust, and surrender are so important on the spiritual path and especially at the moment of death. I’m not speaking of blind faith, but rather the confidence that comes from studying and contemplating the teachings, realizing their truth, and allowing that truth to transform your being and the way you operate in the world.
Learning to relax and let go has been an aspiration and focus for many years, but I still have so much more to learn in this regard. There’s such a strong tendency to try to freeze life and keep it safely the way it is. Meditation is a powerful way to observe the constantly changing atmosphere of your mind and learn to let go of thoughts and emotions as they arise. We have to give up everything when we die. It’s never to early to get a head-start on the practice so we can meet death with confidence and joy.
My Advice to Others
You are not your thoughts, emotions, or habits.** Your true nature is like the sky and your thoughts and emotions are like the clouds that obscure it – they are not permanent. You have the very same innermost nature as a Buddha, whatever name you might call it by – True Self, Soul, Oneness, God, Buddha Nature.
Meditation is the way to reconnect with your true nature and let go of all the suffering that comes from grasping onto thoughts and emotions. Meditation helps you to calm and settle the mind, so that your true nature naturally shines through.
Love and compassion are also essential qualities on the spiritual path. As best you can, cultivate a heart of kindness towards yourself and others.
In the beginning, it’s good to try out different spiritual approaches and traditions to find one that resonates for you. Later, if you really wish to progress, I personally believe it’s beneficial to follow one path. It’s important to respect all spiritual traditions, but I’m not a fan of mixing them up. If you would like to meet a spiritual teacher, make aspirations and prayers. It will happen in its own time.
Challenges will occur and are, in fact, the spiritual path. Patience, humor, and inspiration are the best companions whether the weather is cloudy or bright. We’ve all been practicing dysfunctional patterns for eons. They won’t all be transformed overnight!
I’ll leave you with this inspiring advice from the eminent master Dudjom Rinpoche, “Always have a sky inside you.”