As far back as I can remember I have been asking difficult questions. Where do we come from? Why are we here? How do we know anything anyone says is true? What is ultimately true?
When I was 16 I got my heart broken for the first time. No, it wasn’t a childhood sweet heart. It was loosing my mother to breast cancer. The pain of that loss tore through me as violently and dramaticly as if I’d been cut in half by a sword.
I remember the day she died. I remember knowing that she had not gone anywhere. That she no longer existed in any way I could understand. The best way I can describe what happen is that she went out, like a candle. Her energy, like the smoke that lingers, filled the space, filled me up, and then slowly dissolved. I got hurried away to the house of a friend of the family’s, was put in front of the TV, and made to watch Dances with Wolves on their new VCR.
I remember watching Kevin Costner trying to find a way to survive in a desolate, forign landscape. I remember thinking, “That’s me now, I have to learn how to survive in a motherless world. I have to learn how to be here without the unconditional love only a mother can give.”
My heart grew cold and I withdrew deeply into myself.
Five years later I found myself living in San Francisco, miserable and lonely, full of self-hatred and doubt. I drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and walked half way out across the massive expanse. I looked down into the churning water below. I considered my options. I wondered how I could possibly go on. I remembered my mother. How she’d prayed up until the day she died that her God would save her. She’d prayed desperately, passionately and tirelessly for a miracle that never came. Yet here I was, thinking about throwing away the only life I had.
I walked back to the car. I decided I was going to find a way to live a life that honoured hers. I decided the only thing I could do was find a way to be totally and truly who I was. What was the best use of my energy on this planet? Whatever it was, I was going to find it.
I don’t know if I believe in miracles. I know that the strength of my conviction that day felt bigger than me. Yet, it had arisen from a place deep inside me, a place I didn’t know existed. I know that by going all the way to the edge and feeling the complete desolation of that landscape something in me finally cracked and allowed for something else to break through.
For years I had run away from the pain of loosing my mother and finally I had faced it. I had looked it in the eye and asked it what it truly wanted of me. And the answer I found was my life.
After that day I began a twenty year journey that has led me to discovering the truly radical teachings of the Buddha, putting them to practice, reaping the benefits and learning how to share those with others. That journey led me to ordination in the Triratna Buddhist Community.
Yet, to practice the radical embrace we don’t have to wait for a loved one to die, or until we are about to jump off a bridge. You don’t even have to become a Buddhist. Every day of our lives brings opportunities to get interested in what we are running away from. What we have turned our backs on.
Paradoxically, these abandoned aspects of our experience hold the key to our true emancipation. If you’ve spent your whole life aware of even the subtlest level of unease, and yearn to find a way to turn towards that unease and get curious about what might be learned in that one radical act, then this practice is for you.