Shedding as we Pick up

Recently, I have been reading, When things Fall Apart by American Buddhist Nun Pema Chodron. In this work, Chodron talks about the challenges, as well as the gifts, that occur when one is “nailed to the present moment.” By this, Chodron refers to that tender, and yet unnerving state of existence, in which one’s previous exit strategies, or coping mechanisms, are no longer available.

As I am starting to find, “being nailed to the present moment” is slightly different from the discomfort that I experience when I am typically anxious. Specifically, although both are similar in the sense that I am uncomfortable, when I am anxious there is an odd sense of familiarity. This familiarity, this “fixedness” of my experience of anxiety, has a predictable quality to it as it shows up in my heart, body, and mind. And because of that known-ness of this uncomfortable experience, I am more at ease with it.

Whereas being “nailed to the present moment, as Chodron aptly describes it, has both an unnerving and yet tender quality to it. Both of which create a sense of groundlessness. This groundlessness has a lightness and sense of permeability to it that at times leaves me feeling at times as though I am a cloud in the sky being shaped by the changing winds or a passenger strapped into a roller coaster along for the ride.

This lack of control, and my desire to reclaim control and hold onto the things that bring me a sense of comfort, of course brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. He writes:

“We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.

Stoppard’s words clearly remind us that this groundlessness and uncertainty that many feel among the COVID 19 Pandemic – this experience of being “nailed to the present moment” in the words of Chodron – is simply a part of life. In life, there is always a pulsation between an inhalation and an exhalation. Growth is followed by decay by growth. Movement is married to stillness. Sickness is joined to health. Just as shedding is connected to gathering.

If we can remember that, i.e. that everything has its natural cycles, hopefully we can begin to soften just a bit. Hopefully, we can allow ourselves to remain open and permeable to whatever lessons life has to teach us instead of resisting as we attempt to fix things in body, mind, or heart. After all, as snakes remind us – shedding is a natural part of life, a healthy part of life, and in most instances necessary for life and growth to occur.

The morning that I taught on this theme, I found myself thinking that because its been so long since many of us have experienced this groundless state of birth and renewal, we’ve forgotten what it looks and feels like. We’ve forgotten the fact that all of us have moved down that darkened path into the light, we’ve all moved from the safety of the known environment out into an unknown world. And just as we did it before, we have the possibility to do it again. The question of course is where can we begin to let go and soften just a bit so that the labour isn’t longer, harder, or slower than it needs to be to give birth to our new lives and new ways of being. What do we need to shed in order to provide ourselves the opportunity to be able to once again pick up?  


Reflection Questions:

  • What things are you needing to shed at this moment?
  • Are the things that you are shedding in someway harmful or has it merely become time to move forward in life?
  • In what ways might you be resisting this natural process of growth and evolution?
  • Could you imagine that by not allowing yourself to undergo this aspect of life that you are in some way creating harm for yourself or others?