I am raising a sensitive child. He’s beautifully aware of so much all at once. I see myself in him sometimes and it triggers the remembrances of the hardships and pain that being a deeply feeling being in our world can lend the soul. I was recently listening to a Zen podcast that was gifted to me by a friend on the Buddhist concepts of samvega and pasada. Samvega according to Thanisarro Bhikkhu is this: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. So in other words, when we turn off laptops, pull out our earbuds and put down our phones, and we allow ourselves to become aware of the depth of suffering and pain the world contains, we get appropriately anxious. The beauty of the unrest of samvega is that this discomfort can become the driving force to deeper practice and spiritual investigation. And eventually if enough of us do this, I think humans may have a chance at survival. “For saṃvega to be an effective drive to practice, it must be accompanied by another emotion called pasada, a “clarity and serene confidence.” Unexpectedly, we find if we trust and appreciate our anxiety that it can become a rich source of energy for developing our own clarity and confidence. In my life, this has absolutely been true. Developing this flow between samvega and pasada has taken time and great amounts of mindfulness practices. I write this piece as a warning because I think there is so much out there attempting to lead us away from our anxiety and fears. Pharmaceuticals, alcohol, meditation retreats, Facebook, shopping, religion, righteousness, (this list goes on forever) all offering us a chance to be free from fear and dismay. There is simply so much in place culturally to numb us to the extraordinary force of our own discomfort. I am working daily to simply recognize when it is there and to not run. I currently take tiny sips of the news and human suffering. I feel for my planet, her waters and all her children as I can handle in any given moment. It’s pretty intense for me still. And, thankfully, I have my practices to bring me mindfully back to what is in front of me in this very moment. The feeling of the keyboard beneath my fingertips, the support of my chair. My warm cup of tea next to me. It sounds so simple right? But my ability to pull my mind where I’d like it to look has been much like training a wild horse. Sometimes I get to ride and more often I get to simply observe the beauty of my wildness.
In closing, I want to see us as a culture learn to trust our fears and discomfort. For me personally, I am working to not immediately turn away from pain and yet, be gentle with myself when I need to do exactly this. This has been my experience of these beautiful concepts. This is what I am teaching my child to help him navigate this crazy world with a tender, open heart.
Deep tenderness to you. To our fears. May they serve our highest good.