07/02/2014 05:57 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2014

An Open Heart, an Open Mind to Meditation

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Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff called uncertainty. You see a drop-off. You don't know where it'll lead if you fall. At first, the position may induce fear but taking a second to consider taking a step forward may lead to deep questioning or the freedom to fly. So how about instead of crouching away from the line, you stay with your feet planted on the ground and your eyes focused straight ahead to a loftier goal? Over time and with practice, one becomes familiar with the idea of discomfort -- embracing pain, reframing struggle as opportunity to expand our horizons to unfound, unlimited places. And the sensation is supplemented with the strength we find and share with those around us. We don't stand alone.

An American Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron explores finding ease and appreciation while navigating life through acknowledgment and personal power in Comfortable with Uncertainty:

We can try to control the uncontrollable... but the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure.

We're seeking happiness in the wrong places. We need to break our bad habits by cultivating kindness to ourselves through steadfastness, clear seeing, emotional distress and attention to the present. This awareness can be helpfully reached through practiced meditation. The physical manifestation of this specific tool is called tonglen. In a seated position, one rests hands on the thighs with palms faced down. The eyes remain slightly open. The tongue gently touches the tip of the roof of the mouth. Tonglen can be practiced for about 20 minutes or incorporated with every breath:
  1. Stay in sudden stillness
  2. Breathe in and out claustrophobia, repeat with the idea of freshness in mind
  3. Breathe in dark pain, then breathe out light joy
  4. Mentally connect with others in similar situation and reach out to them metaphorically

Here, the labeling and deliberate acknowledgement of thoughts is followed by an uber conscious release of them. The act of grounding exists with an uplifting feeling before expansion. The symbolic nature of linking with someone brings to surface sympathetic thoughts and feelings, which ultimately ends in empathy: "The more we know our own, the more we're going to understand others." Chondon advises us to "awake and alive, fully curious, about now."

The visual idea of inhaling and exhaling good and bad, comfort and discomfort may briefly bring up emotions that tends to keep us stuck or stepping away from hardship (the cliff). While facing negative moments one may feel vulnerable, but

If you are willing through meditation to be mindful not only of what feels comfortable but also of what pain feels like, if you even aspire to stay awake and open to what you're feeling, to recognize and acknowledge it as best you can in each moment, then something begins to change.

Derived from Zen principles, the teachings outlined in the book relate to the yogic philosophy of changeability, freedom and nonaggression. The goal is to observe refrain and remain relaxed.

Chondon acknowledges the difficulty in becoming Buddha-like. But a continual aspiration to lightness can lead to enlightenment about ourselves and the world. After all, the mark of existence includes impermanence, egolessness and suffering/distortion. The end result teeters willingly on the balance between not trying so hard and finding some eventual steadiness. We may never be still on the search, but feel ease on it nonetheless.

  • Delight instead of getting depressed.
  • Be real instead of feeling restricted.
  • Remain grateful, not greedy.

To grow from an unfamiliar place is applaudable and achievable, most certainly admirable. What we do in the face of audacity shapes our character, our actions and our perspective.