Advice on Handling the Ups and Downs of Life from a Buddhist Meditation Master

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Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

You jump out of the plane. Then, as you plummet downward, you suddenly realize with horror you don’t have a parachute.

Some version of this nightmare has crossed most of our minds. We can all imagine the fear and helplessness of having nothing to stop us, nothing to stabilize us, and nothing to save us.

But, doesn’t life sometimes feel like this, too? Don’t you sometimes feel like you’re falling and tumbling through the air, hurtling toward the ground without a parachute? Your fear and anxiety building toward a breaking point?

The truth is, being human is kind of like being a leaf in the wind — we are buffeted this way and that by the winds of fate. And we are helpless to change or avoid much of it.

And we hate this, right? Don’t we try our best to take control of our lives, to put everything in order so that we can have some semblance of routine and consistency?

The problem is, we’re fighting a losing battle. Our power to control the world is limited and far less than we’d like it to be.

What if there was another perspective to take?

What if, instead of hating the forces that push us every which way, we welcomed them in?

To fall is our fate

Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, once offered this perspective on the lack of control we have over our lives:

“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.”

I think Trungpa is pointing us toward a mistake we make about the nature of our lives.

Our day-to-day experiences can feel very much like helplessly falling through the air. Our fear and anxiety kick in when we have an important presentation to give at work, we want to ask our crush on a date, or we need to have a serious conversation with our partner about the state of our relationship.

Don’t we hate these kinds of problems? Don’t we want to avoid them at all costs? Don’t we wish that something would save us from them or, at least, make them easier to deal with?

Don’t we wish that, instead of tumbling helplessly through the air, we could safely land on the ground below? Wouldn’t it be so much better there? Wouldn’t we finally be free of anxiety and fear, and be more happy, content, and peaceful?

What if, Trungpa asks, there is no ground? What if our desire to reach a place of safety and security is just a wishful thought? What if the idea that this place exists is just a delusion of the mind?

What if we are mistaken about there being a place of safety and security, and what if this error keeps us imprisoned in a way of thinking that makes life more difficult than it needs to be?

We are so often caught up in our lives, in our experiences, in our moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions, that we can easily miss the bigger picture. Our focus on how bad it feels to helplessly tumble through the air distracts us from noticing that there’s no ground below us — that there’s no actual danger nor is there a place of absolute safety.

By taking a step back we see the problem more clearly and finally, recognize that we’re not seeking the right solution. Since there is no ground, the solution can’t be to land on it. And since we’re in no real danger, the solution must be to learn to accept the tumbling, spinning, and chaos of the journey.

By taking on this new perspective, we stop thinking that something in the future is going to save us from the emotions we feel today. Instead, we begin to understand that the thoughts and emotions that have caused us so much grief are normal and that if we ever want them to change we’re going to need to address them ourselves.

Landing is not an option

We all want to land on the mystical “ground”, where we’re safe, secure, and at peace.

Sadly, there is no such thing.

Life will jostle you, push you, and spin you in every direction. And this will continue to be a problem for you until you learn to stop seeing it as a problem.

These are simply obstacles in your life. You can’t ignore them, avoid them, or wish them away. You must confront them, head-on. They are your path.

So, stop pushing and stop resisting. Stop wishing for something to save you and start welcoming whatever comes.

After all, this is the journey. Your journey. And if you’re going to walk it, you might as well welcome everything that life has to throw at you.

Because landing isn’t an option, and that means there’s nothing that can save you.

Nothing except you.

Thanks for reading!

Trungpa was a tortured soul who is infamous for some questionable, if not downright immoral, actions after bringing his meditation teachings to the West. However, despite these obvious failings, he had some clear insights on the nature of being human.

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Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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