A Conversation Between Pema Chödrön And bell hooks
I prefer to work with aspiration. The classic bodhisattva aspiration is: “Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them.” That means I aspire to end suffering for all creatures, but at the same time I don’t deny the reality of the present situation. I give up both the hope that something is going to change and the fear that it isn’t. It’s all right to long to end suffering, but somehow it paralyzes us if we’re too goal-oriented about it.
Years ago, I wrote a little essay that appeared in the Readers Write section of The Sun. The theme that month was “Being Wrong.” I wrote about all the mistakes I had made in my life, how tired I was of looking back and feeling embarrassed and angry with myself for having been so wrong in the past.
Gampo Abbey is a vast place where the sea and the 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. Also, since it is a monastery, there are very few means of escape — no lying, no stealing, no alcohol, no sex, no exit.
Sleeping alone in our bed one night when my husband, Stan, was away, I was awakened at 5 A.M. by a big wind. I put on my slippers and a robe and went into the kitchen. It was late November, and still dark at that hour of the morning. When I tried the kitchen light, I discovered the power was off. Looking outside, I saw the street lights were out. The wind was gusting so violently between our house and the apartment building next door, I was afraid the fir trees would blow down. I stood at the window, watching them toss and bend alarmingly.
“Do you mean going out in the car and running errands, getting things done? Do you feel you should be doing that now?” I’m trying to find a brain wave I can ride to shore with her. She was always such a strong swimmer. I remember her arms especially, how they’d slice through the blue water at the pool when I was a kid.
Something at the center of my body wound tighter. Step one, I said to myself: I am helpless in the face of my addiction. At my Narcotics Anonymous meeting the night before, I had set up the folding chairs, brewed an urn of coffee, and dusted the surfaces with my jacket until I felt my desperation subside. Service to my fellow human beings, I knew, was all that could save me.
My parents lay in long, white, woven-plastic chairs while I danced on the diving board. Behind our house was our deep in-ground pool, surrounded by grass, enclosed by a fence: how safe; how Floridian. Open sky, white patio, turquoise water slapping and chopping. And the me-girl: long legs, baby tummy, bangs in her eyes, red two-piece. “Mummy, are you looking?” I couldn’t tell. She wore dark glasses, and the sun was in my eyes. “Are you looking?”