There’s No Ground, but There’s Home

October 13, 2022

Our job as practitioners is to stop taking refuge in impermanence and take refuge in the heart. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Would you talk about breakups?

Breakups? I feel like breaking out into song. So many songs about breakups [laughs].

Well, the thing that always occurs to me about breakups is that people often have long relationships that have many years in which they were at least in balance, enjoying those relationships. And then they break up and they think that they failed at something or that their relationship was a failure.

The first way to think about breakups is that everything's impermanent. Everything here ends. Absolutely everything. Even the whole planet, even the galaxy, even the sun. Everything's going to end and everything has its time.

The best way to end a relationship is to let it run its lifecycle, be able to recognize that and then end it in some way or another. But of course, we have lots of attachments.

Or we're in a relationship and I'm happy, but there's attachments keeping us there or something's not going all that well, but we hang on too long.

So from my perspective, most relationships don't break up soon enough. Which is kind of a bizarre thing to say. But in my seventeen years of working with students, [you] see so many people staying in relationships well past their due date, well past their sell by date.

Because they don't want to be lonely or they have financial problems that they're worried about if they break up. Or they're worried about children. Or they're worried about any number of things, retaliation or something like that.

Or somebody leaves you, and you can't really see the wisdom in that. And so it's very heart wrenching.

There are always a lot of emotions connected to breakups no matter how one breaks up. It doesn't matter if you're the leave-r or the leave-e. There are always a lot of emotions attached to that.

It is kind of like a death. I mean, it's an ending. But I really would love it if people would look at their relationships and honor the good parts and recognize that something good did come of them at some point or another.

And in that respect, they were successful. Especially women tend to put a lot of their self worth, they tend to externalize a lot of their self worth, into love relationships.

And so in those relationships and there's a threat of being devalued suddenly. And of course, this isn't anyone's personal psychological problem. I mean, it ends up being that.

But this is a society, culture-wide thing that has been embedded in women, pretty much, that your self worth is measured by being in a relationship.

So it sometimes becomes very hard to leave even when you're not happy, because then your self worth suddenly crashes. Or you even get a lot of disapproval from people around you.

I don't know exactly if there's something specific you want me to address, but in general, what I want after fifteen years of counseling people about relationships is: look at what the successes are, honor them, and recognize it's not a failure just because something ends.

Feel your feels, but try to find your own sense of value, if your sense of value is at stake in something.

And then in a general sense, as we are practicing more, we become more sensitive to time. And this applies to any relationship.Try to feel for the time of the relationship.

If you leave when the actual cycle of that relationship is coming to an end, even though you might still feel badly, it will be much more graceful and will be easier if you leave at the end of the real cycle, the actual time of that relationship's end. Instead of hanging on too long or roughly quitting too soon.

So those are just general thoughts on relationships. But if you have anything more specific to your situation, please let me know.

Well, specific to my situation is being afraid to break up because of the threat of suicide.

I think there have been many, many, many people in your situation. If you're not already getting some help through therapy or other people that have been in this situation, [it] would be a great thing to do.

So, first of all, you already know you're going to leave. That isn't in doubt. It's really a matter of how and when.

You aren't going to be able to control how the other person responds. You want them to not feel so hurt that they kill themselves. Obviously you don't want that.

You can do some things to try to have some input into that or give some support. But ultimately you have to live your life and you don't really have control over what somebody else does.

I don't know the person that you're talking about or how serious these threats of suicide are. In a lot of cases, people will use the threat of suicide to try to control the situation.

But there are some cases where that's actually a reality for that person. They actually might kill themselves.

And you can try to get this person therapy. You can give them access to suicide help lines, you can talk to their friends about it, see if you can line up some friends to give them support.

But ultimately you do not have control over it. And ultimately you have to live your life.

You can choose to live your life entrained to someone who is so emotionally upset that anything you do to support yourself is going to be perceived as a threat.

You can entrain your whole life to someone like that, but that isn't really ideal. And so if you want to live your own life, you are going to have to leave, even if that person kills themselves.

It's a cruel fact of life that you can try to provide sort of exit support, but ultimately it is their decision whether they want to live or die.

And again, you might need some support too, if you don't have any already. In therapy or spiritual support or support from friends, which could be helpful or self help or something.

Because so many people have been in your situation. But ultimately, no matter what anyone does, you have to leave. You have to live your life.

You have to let yourself grow and have the life that you want. That's what you're here for. You're not really here to hold back the floodwater for someone else's feeling of loneliness and grief.

I know that might sound harsh, but that is the reality of all of our situations.

I would get some support, think about what things you could do to give excess support to this person. But ultimately you're just going to have to let go of the result because it really isn't under your control.

Can you talk about living well on a dying planet?

Yeah. I mean, it's something that we all have explicitly to think about. Maybe some of us are trying not to think about it.

But for me, as a practitioner, the prospect of so much about what we expect out of everyday life being destabilized and perhaps destroyed is what I'm trying to bring into my practice.

There are some luxuries that we don't have right now. Like we don't have the luxury of thinking of a future that's the same as the present in any basic way.

We don't have the luxury, for instance, of thinking that we are going to be as comfortable as we are today. And even today we're less comfortable than we were ten years ago.

The whole process of planning has changed. Planning for long term things has changed.

And there's an entry of a kind of groundlessness into our experience that is unprecedented for a lot of us.

Not for all of us. Many people have been living with existential groundlessness for other reasons and for a long time.

But I think that recognizing head on what's happening and not shying away from it and seeing this period of destruction as something natural that we can bring onto our path.

That we can really deeply, deeply taste this groundlessness and uncertainty. And keep practicing and try to get to a point where we are not feeling the groundlessness in an ordinary way.

In other words, where we're not feeling terror or a sense of there's something horribly wrong, but where we're feeling the grief of something really beautiful being destroyed wholesale.

But at the same time recognizing the opportunity of destruction and approaching that as practitioners. So that's what I'm doing.

And sometimes I pray to Ma, could you just please let us get it right? Can you please let us fix this thing? I like this planet. So beautiful. There's so many different beings here and so many different forms of expression here. Does this really have to get destroyed?

Obviously, the whole Earth isn't ready to get destroyed. But there's whole species that are being destroyed. We might be among them. We don't know that yet.

But in any case, when I ask Ma that there's kind of a feeling that I have that it's really not up to me. And that those of us that are practitioners are just going to have to do our best to work with it on that level.

In the ordinary sense, we think of groundlessness as we lose a house or we have to deal with some upset in our life. But now we're talking about losing our whole concept of what human life is supposed to be, some of us, that's a much bigger groundlessness.

And if we could bring that onto our path, we would be really experiencing something very profound. And I definitely want to do that.

So I don't do anything to stop feeling the grief about how human beings are and what we've been doing and what we are doing.

And I think there's also kind of a sobering up, at least for me, there's been a sobering up about human beings.

I've always been subject to a kind of giddy optimism about things and that's been slowly eroding over time. And it doesn't feel good to have optimism erode.

But I feel a lot more sober about who we are and what we're capable of. And I think that's a good thing.

So, we'll just see what happens and keep practicing. That's my approach. And use the groundlessness to recognize our real condition.

What is bringing groundlessness onto the path look like?

Well, we are doing that all the time, hopefully.

One thing it looks like is recognizing that our self concept and our concept of other people are conditioned and limited.

That the things that we think are immutable facts are also conditioned and time limited. So we are entering into an experience of groundlessness when our concept of ourselves as the small self begins to erode.

And when we begin to feel more of our continuity with the rest of everything, our self concept is radically eroded.

So groundlessness is not something new that's entering into our experience because of climate destruction, climate change.

It's just that for some of us this is now appearing in a much bigger scale. We have, some of us, taken for granted that we can plan certain things and that our plans have a good chance of coming to fruition.

We didn't have to have conversations about what are going to be places to live, where climate destruction is going to make it unlivable for us. We didn't have those kind of conversations before.

There are multiple pandemics looming. We didn't have those kind of conversations before, or that perception of the future. Many, many things are being destroyed, people are being displaced, animals are dying.

In the United States in particular, our democracy is teetering on the verge of even more destruction, even more erosion than it was experiencing before. For some of us, these are really destabilizing things.

But they're no different from the destabilization of our self concept and concepts about everything. They're just on a bigger scale for some of us.

And this is what we actually always try to bring onto our path that the only real refuge is in the natural state. The only real refuge is in living presence, is in the heart, the heart space, we call it, is everywhere.

So if we were always resting in the heart space, we would be more skillful in dealing with all of these things. But we would also recognize that whatever happened, this Self is still the same as it always was.

That Self we call living presence or God or Lord Shiva or the natural state is always as it was. Nothing has changed for that.

It's just continuing to churn out worlds and beings and to equally as well destroy them. So when we take refuge in the natural state, we recognize that there is no ground, but there's a home.

So there's no ground in impermanence anywhere. Everything is impermanent.

We feel all this grief because we live here and we see animals being destroyed and the natural world being destroyed. Do we watch planets blink out and grieve for them? I mean, whole star systems are exploding out there. Do we sit around crying over them? [laughs]

No, we make science fiction movies about that and enjoy it. 'Oh, look, the whole planet just blew up! Cool.'

We have all these feelings about where we live, but we don't really care about where anyone else lives, which is the problem. But in any case, the first step in addressing this is recognizing that there's nothing unusual going on, even though we don't like it.

So that's a kind of groundlessness. When we give up our claim to how things should be, things shouldn't be this way. We say we shouldn't be doing this.

But yet this happens all the time. I don't know how many inhabited worlds there are out there, but I'm sure there are other inhabited worlds, and I'm sure many of them have also been destroyed over the aeons and aeons of time.

We experience groundlessness when we stop taking refuge in impermanence. And that's actually our job as a practitioners. Stop taking refuge in impermanence and take refuge in the Heart.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.