“We are always experiencing successive births and deaths. We feel the death of loved ones most acutely—there is something radical about the change in our reality. We are not given options, there is no room for negotiation, and the situation cannot be rationalized away or covered up by pretense. There is a total rupture in our who-I-am-ness, and we are forced to undergo a great and difficult transformation.
In bereavement, we come to appreciate at the deepest, most felt level exactly what it means to die while we are still alive. The Tibetan term bardo, or “intermediate state,” is not just a reference to the afterlife. It also refers more generally to these moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty are what is being referred to by the term bardo. But to be precise, bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.
Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss knows what it means to be disrupted, to be entombed between death and rebirth. We often label that a state of shock. In those moments, we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like. There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest. [italics mine] This has always been the entry point in our lives for religion, because in that radical state of unreality we need profound reasoning—not just logic, but something beyond logic, something that speaks to us in a timeless, nonconceptual way. Milarepa referred to this disruption as a great marvel, singing from his cave, ‘The precious pot containing my riches becomes my teacher in the very moment it breaks.’”PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/
How much time and energy do you spend trying to get comfortable?
For anyone who has ever tried meditating, it quickly becomes comical. Your scalp itches. You try not to scratch it. Then your nose itches. Then your left knee hurts and you just know you would feel so much better if you shifted it. To some degree, it does not matter whether you shift or scratch or whatever. The point is the noticing and the practice of non-response, learning how not to sub-consciously react to every little thing. Noticing your own suffering without automatically reacting, learning how to have discipline and compassion for yourself, and realizing the universality of your irritation/suffering.
This scenario is woefully inadequate because it doesn’t include those jarring experiences that pull the rug out from under us. Trauma. I am talking about those happenings that are so painful that life simply can never go back to what it was before, the kind of experiences that have a “before” and “after” that forever bifurcate your life, a personal 9/11. These are bardo.
I was going to school in 2008 when Barry first got stage four tonsil cancer. I prepared as best I could for him to die. I continued going to school. He did not die. But the Huntington’s took away his capacity to contribute to the house or our relationship in any meaningful way. Now it’s 2016 and I’m stuck with a house I can’t take care of by myself and a husband that chronically goes downhill. I do everything. I am exhausted. Nothing ever changes. That house is now the tomb of my hopes, dreams, and career.
So I know about shock and I know about being “in-between” stages of life.
What all of this has done for me is to make me rethink absolutely everything. People proceed forward in life based on assumptions they have no way of knowing whether or not they are true. I am no longer capable of that. Sometimes I envy their denial and other times, I think, “If only you knew…”
And I see how much of my life I have tried to get comfortable. If only I had this or that…And now I am pushing 50, no more comfortable than when I was 21. I have scratched, shifted, etc., a gazillion times and it just doesn’t help.
How do you become whole when your life is shattered? Perhaps that is not the goal at all. And can you increase your awareness without having your life rupture in some way? And once you increase your level of consciousness, so what? Then what? Nobody seems to know.