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Advice on love and sanity for the 21st century

Wisdom from Pema Chodron: “We Just Don’t Know”

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There are a small handful of genuinely insightful beings in the world, and one of them is Pema Chodron, who was born Deirdre Brown in 1936, went to Miss Porter’s School in Farmington Conn., but is now a very highly respected Buddhist teacher and abbot, and who runs Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I read her from time to time and I find her wisdom penetrates me to the heart and speaks to me so deeply and gives me peace.  That is no small accomplishment.

At the moment, I’m receiving bits and pieces of her writings in my email. This came the other day and it floored me, and I’ve been meditating upon it ever since.

“When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”

We don’t know. So often I find myself running around trying to make things happen, force things to turn out, and am really burdened and upset when things go awry. I take it personally. This is such a stupid misperception of the nature of things. As she says, “we don’t know.” We simply don’t know how things will turn out, or what is around the corner, or whether we are in good luck or in bad luck because we cannot see or control what is going to happen next.

I find this reassuring. I find this turns me to a mindfulness about the present. It is all that we have. If we try to stay in it, stay mindful, and be compassionate with ourselves and with others, that is the best that we can do, and try to let ourselves be free of worry about the rest.

Categories: General
Alistair Highet