I’ve just returned from holiday, more time spent in my beloved Normandy. Having only been there a month ago, it was quite something to witness how quickly the seasons unfold. It evoked David Hockney’s wonderful book “Spring cannot be cancelled”, written about his painting whilst residing in Normandy for the pandemic. Everywhere, apple, pear, cherry blossom. Ten days of deeper connection to nature; and through that, deeper connection to self.
Returning to England, returning to work – back to life with a bump. One of my clients too had just got back from an idyllic holiday: they shared with me how hard it was to return, and questioned why. “My life looks so good on paper, but actually living it is a different story”. As we discussed their experience, I felt a deep resonance. What do we connect with whilst on vacation that seems ungraspable in the throes of everyday life?
For me, there are several factors. I have had times in the past when I have literally cried when disembarking the Eurotunnel in Calais, especially when venturing to Normandy for a period of retreat. What flavour are those tears? Relief often, poignancy sometimes. I have spoken with my therapist about this and there is something about the land itself (who knows, maybe an ancestral calling, certainly an energetic and spiritual one). But I know also that Helen in France is not Helen in England. I get to be different over there; and I know my yearning to relocate to France one day is in part because I would give myself permission to live a less obligated life. One might say the karmic momentum lessens for me in France. At home in England I continue to play out the habitual scripts from deep seated beliefs of who I am and who I should be; although this is on subtler and subtler levels. And because it is subtler and subtler, it can be harder to discern – and in the words of Portia Nelson, I find myself back in the hole in the sidewalk.
Undoubtedly, the Vajrayana Buddhist path is like a double edged sword in this regard: it stirs up more trouble, and yet this trouble is the waking up! Ngondro, the preliminary practices of the Vajrayana path that are currently my main practice, prepare the vessel for the teachings to come. And as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodrom explains, this as an experience of “heightened neurosis”. I can attest to this, and whilst it might sound odd coming from a “well-therapised” psychotherapist, I consider myself MORE neurotic than ever; or probably more accurately, more in touch with my neurotic tendencies. Life touches me incredibly deeply these days – like living without a skin. With the encouragement and gentle reminders of the Vajrayana elders in my life, I trust the majority of transformation and healing in the Vajrayana or tantric path comes through working with the energy body. My nervous system IS more sensitive AND I have more refined awareness (or interoception) through the Vajrayana practices.
In a nutshell: the Vajrayana practices bring deeply held karma to the surface for illumination; and the awareness that knows the affect is sharpened.
That ouch can be deeply disturbing, to the extent that one may forget the View. I have needed a reminder of this View, having fallen into the hole in the sidewalk (again). The post-holiday complaint of obligation; the difficulties to accomplish the instructions of the Ngondro practice – both pointing to a lesson I needed to learn (again). Space.
In life, allowing the space to be. My therapist suggested I make the generosity of ‘giving space’ a practice. On holiday space is a natural gift we make to ourselves. We can do that equally at home. I am recognising how often I fall under the “tyranny of the shoulds”. “Oh I have an hour spare, I should…” rather than taking a cup of coffee onto the bench outside and rest. Rest is not easy, it is a practice. And on the Vajrayana path, resting in space is the whole point.
In practice, remembering to allow space for the play of experience; or as I spoke about a few weeks ago, Shifting allegiance from the contents of experience to spacious awareness itself. So rather than getting caught up in the “imperfections” of my practice, to recognise the awareness of the experiencing and bringing compassion to myself.
As always, practice and life mirrored.