I love the lightbulb moments at retreats. Ya’ know that moment where everyone nods together and starts writing down what the teacher said? If you’ve been to a Namchak retreat, or probably any type of class, you know that moment. The simultaneous group smile like, “That is exactly what we needed to hear!”
I experienced a few of those moments at the past few weekend retreats with Khen Rinpoche. One of my favorite quotes was, “Other living beings are just as important as the dharma. If we feel grateful for the dharma we should be just as grateful for others. They are necessary parts of the path.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
We need others in order to learn and integrate the dharma. We can sit in a room and learn about compassion forever, but if we don’t have other people to be compassionate to, we will never get to exercise or expand that capacity. That goes for any capacity, like patience or even love. Without experiencing troubling people or situations, we will not learn patience. Without other living beings to love, we will not fully experience love. The integration of these virtues begins on the cushion but must be practiced in daily life. As long as a person or situation continues to trouble us or stir up our minds, we know there is more for us to learn. Speaking for myself, it seems that until I truly learn something, I find myself faced with similar “learning opportunities” again and again.
Call to action! For most of us, the holidays bring numerous “learning opportunities:” The family gatherings, group activities, planning and agendas all provide lots of opportunities for expectations to go awry and communications to become mishaps. This holiday season, or anytime, if we notice a troubling person or situation, maybe we can take a moment to acknowledge what we are feeling and experiencing, then express gratitude. It might sound idealistic that in a tense moment we should stop and say, “Thank you so much for this learning opportunity!” We don’t need to say it aloud in the situation or to the other person’s face, but we can try to identify what we need to learn then and acknowledge gratitude for the opportunity to learn it.
Ultimately those difficult learning opportunities give us a chance to ease our suffering and increase our joy. I am grateful that our suffering isn’t absolute and that life is filled with chances to lessen our suffering if we choose to use the opportunities we are given. If you are feeling a sense of dread or anxiety about the stress that the holidays can bring, Khen Rinpoche’s words may bring some comfort: “When we look at others, we should look at them with love and speak with gentleness. It is through our relationships with others that we free ourselves from suffering.”
Wishing you all a Happy Learning Opportunity season!