Don’t Look Up

The metaphor about climbing the mountain always made sense to me. Both in the struggle to get higher to attain perspective, and in the essence of fighting against friggin’ gravity (the biggest force in our… lives?!). But so often in life, you get to the top and are left asking…

Now what?

The more midlife friends I make, the more I hear versions of this story. Sometimes they find new mountains to climb. Sometimes they discover Sisyphus (and how “we must imagine Sisyphus happy”). 

All of the time, the conversation eventually comes back to this:

Don’t look up. 

Or, rather, you can keep looking up when it’s appropriate, but you really have to start looking down. 

Deep down. 

Beneath my list of Midlife Crisising Quotes, is this idea of self-examination. The best explanation I’ve ever come across, at least in terms of how often I continue to think of it, comes from Pema Chodron. She explains it with the Sanskrit word, “bodhichitta.”   

To my friends who are moving deeper and deeper into the depths, I see you. Read Pema’s words. I believe this is an excerpt from The Places That Scare You, but my note (from 2019) has it, likely as a bonus addendum, in When Things Fall Apart

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak, we transcend all pain.

The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind—our drunken brother, our schizophrenic sister, our tormented animals and friends.  Their suffering continues,  unrelieved by our personal escape.

In the process of discovering bodhichitta [Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means “noble or awakened heart.”] the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky.  Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward the turbulence and doubt. We jump into it. We move toward it however we can.  We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away.  If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is.

At our pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down.  With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom, we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.

You know what love is.