Roshi Joan Halifax returns to explore the idea of a blessed catastrophe and reflects on the transformative power of suffering.
In this life, there are moments of the blessed catastrophe which challenge our resilience and strength of character. Like a crucible, these moments burn away our faults and impurities. Through her experiences, Roshi Joan gives us insight into working through these trials and how these experiences lead us to the Buddha Nature and the Divine.
Buddha Nature and the Divine (opening) – There is a feeling in our practice of connecting with the Buddha Nature, connecting to what Ram Dass and Maharaji call the Divine. The Buddha Nature is our basic goodness, which is shared by all beings. This quality is that of relaxation, tenderness, openness, and courage.
“Even though there is much suffering in this room, in this world, it is also smiling into the blessings.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
This feeling is being aware of the smiling into the great cosmic laughter that is inside, while also being conscious of the truth of suffering.
Reflection on Service (3:00) – Roshi Joan leads a meditation to bring us into the moment. She asks us to reflect on our intention to be a benefit in this world. What is it to serve?
Blessed Catastrophe (07:45) – A story of blessed catastrophe from Joan’s childhood. She recounts waking up one morning and being unable to see. Instead, of having the reaction of fear, she was instead filled with awe. Joan calmly woke her parents and in a matter of fact way said, “I’m blind.”
Joan remained blind for quite some time. During this period, the experience of being able to go inside herself and see the world was quite important to her. She was able to reconstruct the world with her senses and imagination.
We all experience a blessed catastrophe at some time in our life. Despite the Karmic nature of this, there are also rites of passage that create blessed catastrophes that we might take on. These moments are the charnel ground, where courage and love are awakened.
Modern rites of passage come manifest in many forms. The ritual of leaving home for college into the unknown and the struggles of marriage, for instance. These experiences become trials by fire that test the limitations of our character, rendering away our impurities.
No Mud, No Lotus (16:00) – With the quote, “No mud, no lotus,” Joan reminds us to accept not only the beauty of the divine but also to the power of encountering one’s suffering courageously. This honest encountering with suffering fuels our love. The goal of this practice of accepting the mud and lotus builds resilience instead of becoming diminished by the suffering.
“How can we meet the full catastrophe of this life in all of its beauty, the mud and the lotus, and actually build resilience, build energy in so doing?”
– Roshi Joan Halifax
Those who are caregivers and servants often find themselves diminished, suffering from secondary trauma, engaging in pathological altruism, and finding themselves in a state of exhaustion at a core level.
How do we develop those capacities that let us hold everything in loving awareness?
The Journey (19:40) – In the early 1900’s ethnographer, Arnold van Gennep, observed how various ancient and indigenous cultures fostered character in their members. He cited one of the most important aspects of these cultures were the stressful rituals that people went through to marks periods of growth and maturation. During these rites of passage, they are loosed into conditions of incredible uncertainty.
Who knew that Joan would open her eyes that day, waking to nothing but black? In the moments before his stroke, how could Ram Dass know what crucible into which he was to be thrown into for the rest of his life? These blessed catastrophes are born of uncertainty and remind us of the unpredictable nature of life.
Separation (25:50) – This journey has three primary phases to it. The first step is that of separation. It could be a geographic separation, but it could be a separation from material wealth or possessions. Loss can be found anywhere, like the capacities that Ram Dass lost after his stroke.
How do we welcome loss, while also at the same time be worked by loss? The way to do this is to have the courage to let go. Allowing our heart to break open into a wider world.
“There is a man hanging in a tree. His teeth are wrapped around a branch. His hands cannot touch the tree. His feet cannot touch the tree. Another man walks beneath him, he looks up and asks “Why did Bodhidharma (or the Patriarch) Come from the West.” If the man hanging from the tree by his teeth opens his mouth to help the other man he will fall to his death. If he doesn’t open his mouth, he does not fulfill his responsibility to help the man.”
– Zen Koan
Suspending Identity (34:40) – Zen Koans are about the practice of suspending identity and predisposition. The method of reading Koans is allowing yourself to become part of the Koan, removing yourself from all reference points.
Roshi Joan closes with a meditation focused on being honest about the self. It is not easy to lose be it a loved one, capacity, our youth, or direction. Remembering a moment in time where separation has left you completely without ground.
Explore the Be Here Now Network for more from Roshi Joan, check out her talk on cultivating inner strength and a chat with Raghu over at Mindrolling
Photo via Solving the Enigma