The sentence occurs on page 95, in the chapter on Karma. Here is the sentence that follows it:
"We have the ability to determine who we will be and what happens to us and to ensure happiness for ourselves and others."
I am not writing this post as a debate about karma vs. predestination vs. original sin vs. the resurrection of the body, or any other doctrine that seem close in spirit. I'll simply say that I find it fascinating how many similarities I can find just between Buddhist and Christian beliefs and how, as I read this book, Biblical scriptures often come to mind as apt illustrations of what Thubten Chodron is saying about Buddhism.
But for today: what does it mean that living in the present creates my future when my present seems mainly to be about pain?
First - it means that the choices I make in reaction and relation to a migraine affect my next moment in a way that I experience immediately, and also affect my spirit in ways that may not be apparent now or in the future. Obviously, if I choose to moan and complain, tensing my mind and my body around the pain, the next moments and hours will be a lot less bearable than if I choose to breathe slowly, practice deep muscle relaxation and accept the pain without judgment or analysis. Not so obvious is the potential for this practice to open my spirit and my heart to wisdom and compassion, attributes that are a long time in their development, yet which rely on small moments of wise choices for their blossoming.
Second - it means that, having practised wise choices in a present that includes pain, I am more able to make wise choices in a present that includes other sorts of discomforts. In this way, practicing wisdom and compassion during a migraine helps me to almost automatically practice wisdom and compassion during a difficult conversation with a friend, if I choose to connect to that wisdom in the moment. And what is really noticeable and beneficial is that making these choices in hard times can mean that such quiet and centeredness gradually becomes a part of me without much effort. It's almost as though the practice in pain makes the practice in non-pain a piece of cake. Who wouldn't be able to breathe in and quiet the body and mind during a long walk on a lovely fall day, if the usual practice is to do so during debilitating pain?
Lest I sound like I am approaching Buddha-hood, let me honestly state that these changes are manifest mostly in the realm of inclination. I am not constantly centered and calm and at peace with the moment - just ask my husband. But the change toward greater peace and inner stillness is marked enough that I notice two things about it:
(1) that it becomes gradually easier to choose this inner state at any particular moment, and;
(2) that when I am in a less settled state, I am not only more readily aware of it, but less and less comfortable with remaining there.
That degree of un-comfortability with what used to be my normal, unaware state (a certain level of anxiety accompanied by random, running and constant thinking) has become a strong motivation for change. And that will be the subject of the next post.
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