Swimming in the Middle of the River | Omega
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In this episode from Omega's 2011 Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change Retreat, beloved American-born Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön shares a 12-minute teaching on patience, coping with daily annoyances, and swimming in the middle of the river.

This episode is part of Season 2 of Omega's award-winning podcast, Dropping In. This season, we're bringing you teachings from our treasure trove of audio archives.

Season 2 is curated by Omega's digital media director Cali Alpert. Join her for new episodes of Dropping In to explore the many ways to awaken the best in the human spirit.

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Cali Alpert:

Welcome to Dropping In from Omega Institute. I'm Cali Alpert. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Rhinebeck, New York campus is temporarily closed, but we're still here for you. Now, instead of dropping in on campus in real time, we're dropping into our treasure trove of audio archives to offer you talks, teachings and practices from some of Omega's most memorable workshops and conferences. In today's episode from Omega's 2011 Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change retreat, Pema Chodron begins by inviting us to settle into the present, then offers a 12 minute talk on patience, coping with daily annoyances and swimming in the metaphorical middle of the river. Put some time aside for yourself, get comfortable, make sure you're not behind the wheel and drop in.

Pema Chodron:
As you come into the present moment, feel your body being right here in whatever condition it's in, then feel the heart. A sense of embracing whatever is happening with you physically, emotionally, just coming into the present, feeling the heart and then we'll open to each other.

Our subject this morning is patience. To recollect, get in touch with the feeling of impatience or irritation. Anything, any feeling of provoked. The point of this recollection is not to re-traumatize yourself, but simply to touch in with a every day kind of hook, every day kind of impatience, irritation, miffed, irked, fed up, disappointed. It's interesting how often the actually very tender feeling of disappointment hardens into anger.

Using the three step practice, which I'm emphasizing as the main practice for staying in the middle of the river, it would be the foundation also for being of help to other people or extending yourself to others or taking care of each other. I like really that phrase of taking care of each other. It's the foundation of your own happiness, this three step practice. And that is the foundation for caring about each other, taking care of each other. As if we were all in a leaking boat on that river. And rather than just become selfish and want to save one's own skin or one has saved just the loved one or loved ones that were with, one looks out at everyone else on the boat and everyone takes care of each other. And in that way, it's a much more chance that everybody continues on the journey down the river even if it's in the water boatless.

Somehow this image of being in the middle of the river, doesn't really have a boat in it, in my visualization. Hey, one way to get down the river safely, one way to stay in the middle is to have a big steam, a luxury liner, cruise ship. You're just doing fine in the middle of the river with all that swimming pools and food. That's a little like the gentleman's question last night about using spirituality. He used the example of underlining and writing down in the notebook every word in one of my books, as a way to avoid having to really be in the present moment and feel something. Like clinging to the words of wisdom to save one, rather than just opening to life. Letting go of all those words or integrating those words so much into one's life that you don't need the books anymore.

In fact, there's a famous story about Marpa the Translator, a Tibetan man. Oh, I don't know what century it was, but the 11th century, 12th century or something in Tibet. I'm actually not remembering clearly exactly what his dates were, but he, in his fifties, he walked from Tibet to India in order to get teachings. And everyone in his family wanted to go along with him or send someone to help him and he refused any help and just set out alone. He's always presented as a really tough guy. Independent. And so what he did in India, meeting his teacher, was that he collected texts, Sanskrit texts with all the words in them. This would be like, collecting all the dharma of all the spiritual books and just, you have them all. And he was going to bring them back to Tibet with him and translate them all into Tibetan. He could read them, he read Sanskrit, but was going to translate them into Tibetan so all the Tibetan people could also read them.

He was really protecting these books. It took a lot of work to gather them. And bringing them back was very long arduous journey. He met up with a fellow traveler who had traveled with him, who was also there to collect texts. But he hadn't collected any or he'd only collected a few and he was quite jealous of what Marpa had done. The two of them were going across a river in a boat on their way back to India and the other fellow somehow managed to tip the boat just enough that all of Marpa's texts went overboard and were lost. And later he said that was the most fortuitous thing that could've happened to him because all he was left with was what he had actually integrated into himself and really understood. Rather than clinging to the texts, he had already understood quite a lot and that's what he ended up taking back and communicating to others. Even though I'm sure he was very disappointed, not to mention angry when it happened, there's nothing in the about him killing the other guy or even throwing him overboard or anything.

It's interesting image, what is clinging to the shore? And what is being in the middle? And I think at a personal level, that's what the question that I want to leave you all with and we will explore it. We're exploring it during this short retreat. But if you took this question home with you and actually asked yourself at any given time, whether you were clinging to the shore or in the middle, staying in the middle of the river, you won't always know, but I think you get more and more. And my experience is that it becomes more and more inescapable to yourself when you're hooked, when you're clinging, when you're acting out of fear and survival instincts and when you're letting go and opening to the situation just as it is.

In terms of the three step process, three step practice, I recommend really that how beneficial it is to do this practice throughout your life. For instance, just before you go into a meeting, particularly if you're nervous about the meeting, everyone, we like to go in clutching to our notes and all our little diagrams and often we're not really there for the other people's presentations or looking at them. We're just preoccupied with what we're going to say and wanting to make sure that it gets approved. And not picking up the clues from what other people may be going through or feeling or no sense of timing or anything. Instead, before entering in, one could just bring body and mind together, be fully present physically. Be aware of your body. And then the mind being right present there with the body. Trem Primishay called it synchronizing body and mind. And it's a feeling of going into that meeting and claiming your warriorship as you go in, which is the process of being fully present and then feeling your heart.

And a number of people have told me recently, who I've introduced this practice to, I think really it's been maybe three in the last couple of weeks have reported to me that they actually really touched their heart. When they feel themselves being fearful, groundless, provoked anything like that, they come into the present, they are fully aware and mindful of their body and their state of mind. The energetic quality, their emotions and thoughts, where they are, and then actually touching their heart enables them to step into the next moment with a clean slate, without an agenda, not knowing what's going to happen. They've prepared well, perhaps for this meeting they're very prepared and then they just step into the next moment. And I know people who, this is how they start their day. They actually lie in bed when they wake up and even if they have very little time, they check in with the body and mind and then they touch their heart and then open their eyes and leap out of bed and go into their lives with their cape flying behind them and a big S on their chest. You can do it.

Cali Alpert:

Thank you for dropping in with us. If you enjoyed today's episode, please check out our many online learning opportunities featuring more of your favorite teachers and thought leaders. Visit the Learn Online section on eomega.org for more information. Dropping In is made possible in part by the support of Omega members. Help Omega remain a source of hope and healing and receive special content, invitations and discounts designed to support Omega's engaged community of members. Visit eomega.org/membership today.

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