Breaking Through

Posted by Xuan Ooi on Jul 4, 2021
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I was invited into the Noble Friendships Pod by my former classmate. I had the simple goal of getting one step closer to genuinely treating myself as a good friend. At the time I joined, I was deep in the middle of a state in which my body and mind forced me to rest. I had just finished a two-semester long certificate program online and finally had met the limbo space of ambiguity of “What’s next?” There was so much waiting for me to do but I had absolutely no motivation to even approach them. My body tied me back into the present and out of my running thoughts through the manifestation of physical pain, an old and familiar friend of mine. I finally decided to make the focus of each day completing my daily recitation and my daily readings, practices, and responses for the pod. I didn’t expect more from myself since it was crystal clear that I had to open back up the space within myself to just be, to heal, and to attend to what was just in front of me.

I had learned about mettā before, known as “loving friendliness” in the Noble Friendships Pod or “loving-kindness” in some English translations of Buddhist texts in the Pali tradition. It was something I had been prescribed to practice. Yet it wasn’t any less difficult to embody. In a recent practice immersion week, I was participating in a guided meditation that cued everyone to let joy emerge from within them, and I didn’t succeed in persuading myself that it was okay for me to feel that joy, no matter how many times I told myself. I cried bitter tears through that whole sitting period. Despite all of that, I was keen on trying to tap into mettā again.

It was something else to look closely, patiently, and quietly at myself, my dynamic with others, and beyond. It was the day of our midpoint call when everyone met online to share and listen. We split off into breakout rooms and I was paired with a pod mate who had just shared earlier. I remarked to him that he had a kind face and that I had no doubt he was a generous and sweet person. Sometimes you can just tell. We were answering the “Rose, thorns, and bud” question about our experience in the pod so far, and upon sharing, my voice shook, tears pushing out of my eyes as I expressed my own frustration at myself. My pod mate looked at me with kindness, gentleness, and care. He mentioned, “I sense that you are carrying some stress with you.”

While my tears fell I told him that I was worn out from waking up fantasizing only for it to always turn into bitter resentment. There were certain days, that day included, where I would wake up fantasizing about my ex. This fantasy would later shift into anger at someone who I respect and trusted but later found out was advising my ex, and what followed between my ex and I ended up deeply hurting and scarring me. That someone started treating me differently in a way that felt absolutely alienating, including blocking me on social media. I cried for a long time when I found out. On the days that this would happen, I would be unable to get out of bed until hours later, carry my seething anger to the breakfast table.

I added, “Maybe I should write myself letters of care instead of doing what my anger pulled me to do: to pack all of my sour, venomous thoughts into a letter to that someone that I’d never send. It’s clear that person doesn’t want to speak to me. I need to hold some space of gentle caring for myself and just listen, like you are doing with me right now.” He shared his own anecdotes on how with time, he came to terms with difficult experiences; another in which he didn’t judge someone anymore, even though he had certain doubts. We were sent back into the main group after the breakout groups closed. I never ended up writing those letters, though, because my breakthrough came quickly.

After the group call, I mulled over my short exchange with that pod mate. A question came into my own mind: “Have I ever asked myself if I am doing okay?” It was very clear that I was always trying to force myself into forgiving that person, perpetually blaming that person for… something. I sat with myself and told myself, “Well, it’s clear that you’re very hurt by everything that’s happened, even though it’s been a couple years. That’s okay. Would you like to sit with this for a while?”

There is a common saying in my journey in the Dharma, “Return the light and illumine within.” In a similar vein, something came to mind: “Find the source.” That day, the rain had finally found its way into my family home since the roof had some holes in it. I knew that the water stains were the manifestations I could see, but the source of the rain entering the house was somewhere I couldn’t see unless I climbed into the attic and looked to where the holes were, quite a distance away from the visible water damage. Wasn’t my anger similarly a manifestation to something deeper that I couldn’t see? Think. Think. What was the source of why I was so bothered by that someone? I knew it was interlaced tightly with my desire towards my ex. My fantasy and anger always came as a pair.

Think. Think. My mind returned to the reading that I did in my first year of the master’s program at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, an excerpt from Slavoj Zizek’s Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. In one of the later chapters, Zizek mentions the devastating aftershocks one goes through when one’s fantasy space is broken. Of course! I had the notion that the someone I was angry at was a big reason why my ex and I had so much trouble, why we weren’t together anymore. And I knew that wasn’t true because regardless of what I knew and didn’t know, what was said and not said, what happened and what was guessed to have happened, all of that resulted into the same thing: that my ex and I weren’t together anymore. Our lives were always headed away from each other anyhow.

I knew that the person I was mad with wanted the best for my ex and me. I know that person tried to give advice to my ex in a way that would possibly help, but good intentions don’t always equate to good results. My ex hurt me exactly in the same way that person did, but I forgave my ex a long time ago because I genuinely wished him well, mixed in with a little hope that we would one day find ourselves back with each other. What was the difference between my care for one and my heartbrokenness for the other? Not much really.

I sat there in disbelief. Really? Two to three years of fuming extinguished instantly like a candle’s flame upon a singular realization, all because I unknowingly posited that someone destroyed my fantasy space. There was no returning to the way I was before with this type of breakthrough. Since then, I haven’t woken up angry. I haven’t woken up fantasizing and lost in desire. Everything seemed more peaceful. I could let the things that caused me anguish go; this experience taught me that. There was this newfound openness. Later in the pod, there were questions asking about experiences like the kind that I had with that someone, asking what we would do differently now with more knowledge from that day’s pod reading. I mentioned in my response that I wouldn’t do anything differently now, because it was clear that the boundaries that person drew were silence and distance. And finally, I was okay with that, not needing to demand what has never been, what isn’t. The descriptions of mettā all suddenly made sense because I had finally experienced it full force through the boundless open ocean of forgiveness. The stinging hatred dissolved in the warm saltwater that encompasses all. Never again shall I return to that clinging of the poison of anger.


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Originally posted in Noble Friendships Pod.

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