In her book, The Places That Scare You, Pema Chodron talks about the “in-between state”. She states, “It takes some training to equate complete letting go with comfort. But in fact, ‘nothing to hold on to’ is the root of happiness.”
There are times in my life where I get this; where the letting go actually brings relief to me. There is a sense of freedom when we come to accept this fact. But there are also many times in my life where placing myself in the vulnerable space of not knowing what to do makes life extremely uncomfortable. If not careful, we fill this space by seeking comfort in things such as food, alcohol or people – knowing full well that this relief is short lived and shallow, to say the least. As Pema states, a slice of pizza does not go far when you’ve just found out you have cancer.
Placing ourselves in a space we would most like to avoid is tough business. It’s a space where we agree to let down the walls we have built to keep us safe, protected. I find this most difficult when dealing with the suffering of my family. Watching the people I love suffer - well, this hurts, plain and simple. If I can make the situation right or wrong, if I can figure it out, then I am on familiar ground and my heart feels relief…temporarily. My actions or reactions, my habitual patters of avoidance, are only momentary “fixes”, and quite often they just don’t work. It’s much like putting a Band-aid on a wound that never heals.
If we can learn to stay with those moments of unease, those places of volatile energy, we slowly learn that residing here is much more comfortable that acting out or repressing it. In the practice of Buddhism, this open ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what eventually heals us. It allows us to let go of our responsibility to control our world and in the end, teaches us how to love.
As a mother, the idea of not “fixing” a problem can be a difficult concept to grasp. There are times when disputes arise between sisters and my desire to represent both sides clearly to the other becomes insatiable. Like sitting in the theatre during a love story headed for disaster, wanting to scream, “Look back, look back! He’s there waiting for you!” Simply listening to both sides and sitting in the space of in-action can be almost more than I can bear. But what I have found is that by doing this, I create an environment of openness. Where there is much less “re-action” and more opportunity for action based on compassion and creative thinking.
Letting go, putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability and unknowing takes courage. Allowing the future to be unpredictable (which it always is!!) and open, places us in a position to be nowhere other than in the present moment. And there is nowhere richer in possibility than right here, right now. As Pema says, “This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be. Resting here completely – steadfastly experiencing the clarity of the present moment – is called enlightenment”.
May you find comfort and freedom in the “in-between”.