Friday, December 4, 2009

Deirdre Blomfield-Brown

I really like this picture. I wonder if anyone who happens to read this knows who Deirdre Blomfield-Brown is. I know who Deirdre has become in the 40+ years since that picture was taken. I've never met her, but like millions and millions of people around the world, have followed her through her books and CDs.

In this picture I see a young, very attractive woman. Married, intelligent (she has a bachelors and masters degree), outgoing, playful, happy, and with a look in her eyes that says she could be, in her mischievous moments, even a bit flirtatious. I see someone who, at one point in her life might have thought she had life by the tail. In this picture she looks like the girl next door, like the woman making copies at the copy machine at the end of the hall, like the woman standing in front of you at the check out counter in the grocery store, with one kid tugging on her sleeve and the other slung over a hip. She just looks like one of us.

But, according to her bio, her life fell apart. After picking up the pieces and putting it back together again, ... it fell apart again.

This time, rather than following the same patterns and rebuilding yet another life with the same drawings and plans, which apparently weren't working anyway, she decided to look inside and see what wasn't working with herself. To see what was broken in here, instead of out there.

Over the course of the years since that time, Deirdre has become Pema Chodron, one of the most loved and highly respected Buddhist teachers in the world — and, if anything, I am under-exaggerating here.

Like Kūkai a millennium before her, she chose the hard road over the easy, continue life as everyone expects you to, continue to live a "don't rock the boat and you may not sink," "don't open the outhouse door and you won't notice the smell," "just smile a lot and pretend and all will be well" kind of life. And, like Kūkai, she found that the hard road actually awakened her to a better way of life.

Aurobindo, in his Essays On The Gita talks about the "acceptance of the necessity in Nature for such vehement crises." Not the 'possible occurance,' but the 'neccessity.' Pema says, in her wonderful book When Things Fall Apart, "We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity. This teaching applies to even the most horrendous situations life can dish out. ... That is why it can be said that whatever occurs can be regarded as the path and that all things, not just some things, are workable. This teaching is a fearless proclamation of what's possible for ordinary people like you and me."

Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, also tells us, "Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure." And the person who could be my favorite contemporary teacher, Daido Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery, says in one of his talks, "She called [silence] an evasion of truth. In a sense we can say that silence is just one side of the duality of speech and silence. So, how could silence be the entry of the nondual gate? What does non-dual mean, anyway? Is nondual the opposite of dual? That is just another duality. How do we transcend all dualities?"

The way forward isn't silently accepting that life isn't working as is. The way forward isn't to bury our heads in the sand and hope that the good-luck fairies will make everything OK. The way forward isn't to try and sweep every crisis under the rug and hope someone else will come by to clean it up later.

The way forward is to run right up to that gate leading out of our worries and troubles, plant our nose right in the middle of the gate so that we are forced to deal with its existence, and then work very, very hard to see that there really is no gate there at all — we are free to walk through whenever we want; and that process begins when we start with Daido's question, "How do we transcend all dualities?"

And this is why I love the picture so much.  In that one picture I can see the beginning of the path and the path after it has been walked from here to the horizon, and that gives me hope that if I keep pushing until my nose is raw, maybe someday I can see what Pema has seen.


standing on my head said...

thank you for this.
i suspect that you have already seen some of what pema chodron sees.
there is a tendency for folks in a spiritual practice to think that, if they meditate enough, do enough yoga, life will smooth out.
imagine the surprise when just the opposite happens! all form of lessons arise, giving us ample opportunity to practice that which we do not yet know how to do. then one day, the gears change. and for a moment, we get it. so we keep pushing our noses into it.
you'd think, after all these years, my nose would be smaller by now!

LimesNow said...

GJ, I read this in the wee hours before walking, and I thought about it a long time. I felt like I wanted to say something, but I was/am afraid it will sound like a sideways comment (like, "Did she even understand the post?") But once before, I pondered too long on my comment to one of your posts and I lost the urgency to make it. So, I'll plunge bravely forward at the risk of sounding lame.

I am not an enlightened person. I have not landed on my zen lily pad. I haven't pursued enlightenment in the way I believe you have. I make my way differently. Yes, I read my Tao and other meditations daily and they are meaningful to me. But enlightenment hasn't been my life quest so far. Or maybe I just call my quest something different.

However, I GET it about the human condition and how we harm ourselves and break ourselves repeatedly. So Pema Chodron and others like her get the highest admiration from me. Not because she became enlightened and now teaches the way to others. That's less important to me. What grabs me in the gut is that she purposely caused her internal tectonic plates to shift ~ she consciously decided to do things differently and she found her way. I think most of us plod around from beginning to end doing things in exactly the same way, wondering why nothing ever changes. So, to me, the most enlightened place is, simply, "be willing to make change."

Garlandless Judy said...

Standing - I appreciate your comment. It sounds like you have experienced some of what I have on the spiritual path. Again, I have to say I hate using the terminology. We're all on some kind of path and when we make a conscious decision to pursue 'enlightenment' (again - hate what the new age media moguls have done to the pursuit) - a lot of SHIT is thrown in our way. Can a spiritual person say SHIT?
Yes, it is true. These roadblocks are what make us dig our way out. I loved that you talked about a gear change. It IS a shift. It's so totally away from how we are used to thinking and acting. I love that you keep saying, 'just breathe.' Because that's exactly it.
Limes - I sense a lot of frustration in how you describe your non-enlightenment. This whole 'spirituality' (if you read my previous comment to Standing - you know I hate the words)- thing is just a choice we make in how we think. The whole God thing - please, don't tell me ANYONE knows ANYTHING for sure about that one. We make him up and I'm not even going to capitalize him. But there IS a higher (even hate that word) way of thinking about everything. And you're right - that willingness thing is HUGE. Sometimes it takes an earthquake of the worst kind.

LimesNow said...

I'm not sure I'm frustrated about being unenlightened. I just go for my "right place" differently and mine may not look like anyone else's. Some of what you've already read about me (and so far it's all been the easy stuff) rendered me a little bit different from many other people. I reject the whole "god" thing but I embrace taking on a difficult struggle and exploring, stretching oneself, to find a way to personal peace and light. I am a true believer of connecting with other humans and helping one another along the path when we can.

LimesNow said...

Ooops, sorry - I posted that before I was completely talked out. ;~} I think a spiritual person can say "shit" without hesitation. It's a word. No more. And singular words probably aren't what it's all about. "I hate you" may be an example of words a spiritual person might want to stay away from. But not individual stupid words that don't matter.

I also wanted to say that young Deirdre of the 60s was, indeed, adorable in an Elizabeth Montgomery / Samantha Stephens kind of way. But the enlightened, mature Pema Chodron possesses one of the most beautiful faces I've ever looked upon.

standing on my head said...

gj-oh yeah, a spiritual person can, and does say SHIT-some days, often!
i agree with you on the terminology. makes me cringe. it has been trivialized by being bandied about with no understanding.
limes-oh yes, pema chodron glows.

if you look at pictures of ramana maharshi, paramahansa yogananda, or any enlightened master, they all wear the same little smile. they KNOW stuff. my guess: i think mostly what they know is love.

Garlandless Judy said...

Limes - I'm sorry if a misidentified you as frustrated in connection to the enlightenment movement. Perhaps projection on my part? If you've figured out 'right place,' please enlighten me. I wish we were talking in person. I'm afraid I may be coming off sort of confrontational. Just know I still struggle and finding the right words is part of that.

Standing - I'd be interested in hearing about the love stuff you see in Pema's and the yogananda's glow.

LimesNow said...

I love blogging. I dislike the frustration that comes from wanting to just jump in the white box and actually talk to the other people. You don't come across (to me) as anything other than open, searching, very honest. And I share in the frustration of trying to find just exactly the right words to express myself - every day of life. My right spot is when all of my systems are operating optimally - I'm talking care of my nutrional needs, getting enough rest, spending enough quiet time, resolving issues that niggle at me, finding a way to do a secret kindness each day . . finding balance and peace. Do I actually spend any time in my right spot? Yes. No all of my time, however. And I haven't pursued it through any one belief system. I've tried to crunch a number of life experiences, some therapy, the time I spend on the massage table, the miles and miles I walk every day. I try to find my way by working at myself and my stuff from many angles. I wonder if that makes any sense at all.

Trée said...

So interesting. I've read several of her books and I am very familiar with the bottom picture but I had no clue when I saw the top one.

Garlandless Judy said...

Makes perfect sense. The secret kindness acts are wonderful. Walking is also a wonderful form of meditation for me.

Garlandless Judy said...

I meant to address that last comment to Limes. I have already commented about Trée's comment on Trée's blog. Has anyone figured out this whole 'how do I respond best' thing? Do I go to your blog? Answer you directly here? Both? Help!....

Trée said...

Judy, typically one answers comments on the same post they are posted and visits to another's blog is in relation to whatever that blogger has posted. That, at least, is the SOP I've seen over the last five years. I do know some people like to respond privately, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

By the way, I was very impressed with your powers of observation in describing the top picture and what it might hold or mean in terms of personality.

LimesNow said...

I think I'm with Tree. I always go back to a post where I've commented, to see if the conversation is continuing. If it is, and if I have something more to say, I typically engage in further conversation. On the other hand, when you posted your response comment on my blog yesterday, it reminded me to come back here and engage. Sometimes I've had something to say that isn't for the enire world to see, so I'll use e-mail for awhile. I've had a couple of nice relationships develop from that.

Busana Muslim said...

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