Bridge as bardo

This week I have continued to gather inspiration comes from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s latest book “In love with the world” and a passage that I read…

rest on the bridge

Why did this strike me? Those of you who read this blog regularly might spot the reference to the bridge as being significant – the name I was conferred when I recently took the Bodhisattva vow has invited me to contemplate how I manifest as Champe Sampa, or “Bridge of Maitri”. In this memoir, Rinpoche provides a vivid account of his leaving the monastery and going out on a wandering retreat. Here, the bridge he refers to is that of the transition from home to homelessness. In the Buddhist teachings, any such transition is referred to as a ‘bardo’ – although most often bardo is associated with the intermediate state between lives on earth: birth to dying, dying to death, death to re-birth. Because of the synchronous use of the metaphor, so timely in my processing and contemplating, it made me sit up, it made me take note.

I thought of my role as a bridge in my working life, both as a therapist and as a coach. When I started out in the latter career, one of my ‘niche’ areas was ‘transition coaching’ – helping people with change, helping people to cross over to new horizons, new territory. As a therapist, my understanding of transitions has become even more nuanced – understanding what is to be left behind (and mourned) is as vital as what is to come ahead. Somehow, this quote spoke to that – the need to take time in any bardo; to appreciate the process and the mix of feelings, the ambivalence, the flux.

Other thoughts about ‘bridge’ have revealed themselves to me this week. It occurred the me that bridges carry traffic in two directions. Given the main tasks of the Bodhisattva warrior are the six paramitas, it highlighted how interactive these qualities are – take generosity, the first of the paramitas. We ordinarily think of generosity as giving; but if we think deeply about experiences of generosity they require a subject, an action and an object: the giver, the gift, the receiver. Maybe a display of generosity is receiving? I see this in clients who find it so hard to receive; who have developed a way of being in the world where they give or be of service because that is how the find acceptance, love or worth. We might also reflect upon generosity being the ability to receive feedback whether that be direct criticism or taking on responsibility for an unskilful act. Perhaps receiving is a gift we can offer to others?

I have also been thinking about giving and receiving in terms of receiving communication from the phenomenal world: how open are we to receive our experience rather than project our beliefs on situations and / or on to people? In the psychotherapeutic world, a classic example of this is the therapist needing to meet the client where they are. I often witness trainee therapists trying to ‘help’ the person in the chair opposite them – skilful therapists are able to listen and receive what is needed FIRST, and then meeting that need. For example, think about a time with a close friend who is telling you of a painful situation: of course, we don’t want someone we love to suffer – but the first reaction can be to try and make it okay “you’ll be fine”…when maybe your friend just wants you to say “that’s really tough, I’m so sorry”. A bridge needs to manifest from the suitable origin and reach the appropriate destination.

More up close and personal, this has given me a chance to consider my own ability to receive. As a self-confessed wounded healer, I came to this work because I wanted to help others – that wish rooted in my own wounded history. When I look across historic friendships, I see how often I ended up being the helper, the listener, the supporter. My close friendships today are those that lend reciprocal support – and that has been tough for me to learn. Even this week I have notedhow I take responsibility for the health of the relationships of some of my nearest and dearest. “What did I do?” “Could I have done something better?” “Is it my fault?”. Classic ‘retroflection’, as we would call it in Gestalt psychotherapy lingo – the tendency for a person to turn stored and mobilized energy back upon oneself instead of out into the environment. So again, thinking how a bridge extends from A to B, B to A; from within, from without; two-way, interaction, engagement.

If nothing else, this Bodhisattva name has presented me with a powerful koan – a paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution.

blind men on bridgeA Zen master by the name of Hakuin Ekaku painted the art shown here: its title is “Blind men crossing the bridge”. It is said to represent one’s attempt to cross over to enlightenment through the struggle with koans. “The grasping and clawing at the air is a symbol of intense effort. The blindness represents ignorance of one’s true nature. The bridge itself may be said to represent the koan. Yet if we make these simple comparisons and go no further we would miss the meaning imbued in the bridge that ends in mid-air. To understand this meaning, the mind of the student must be revealed.” And so it is for me: The process of contemplating “Bridge of Maitri” has opened me up to the phenomenal world, the environment and others; unlike our everyday bridge, there is no destination, no ‘from here’ to ‘there’, and rather it is to be where I am (for as long as I need to) and to engage with what is being communicated to me and what needs to be heard by me.


I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when I re-read the working title I had conjured up for this week’s post – read quickly, it sounds like I intend to write about a French actress and singer from the 1960s (!) So because I must remember the “maitri” aspect of my Bodhisattva name, I kept the playful title 🙂

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