Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better
Pema Chodron's Commencement Address
At Naropa Institute (May 10, 2014)
Struggling with Perfectionism?
"I live my life in widening circles," says the poet Rilke. My wabi-sabi garden will grow in size to make room for more rocks, yet keep its integrity as a spiral. It is a rock garden in process—a widening beauty—an unfinished becoming rather than a static being. So it is with our very souls; they are not static “things.” We are not perfect, self-enclosed billiard balls bumping up against each other. We are created out of our relatedness to one another—and to the past and possible future. We are hurt by our relationships and we are healed by our relationships. And we are forever free to choose a more healing path, a more beautiful path that the one we are on.
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Invocation for the ceremony by Stephen Hatch, Fast forward to 18:50 to hear it presented.
-- Stephen Hatch
Today, we invoke the presence of Wisdom to rest upon us and energize us. Wisdom, You are a living presence – the feminine Prajnaparamita in Tibetan Buddhism; Sophia in the Western tradition, the spiritual core animating the study of all true “philosophia.” You are the One who blesses us with your enlivening energy, your aha! insights, your ability to bring us into the heart of Ultimate Reality. Wisdom, you are - as the ancient Jewish Hellenistic Book of Wisdom reminds us – the One who “walks about, looking for those who are worthy of you, graciously showing yourself to us as we go, in every inspired thought of ours coming to meet us.”
Today, we invoke the presence of love, which is itself an intellect that gives us knowledge of our Source, of the Earth, and of one another.” As the Dalai Lama said during his Boulder address in 1997, “Naropa should be able to impart to the students the glory and power of the dimension of heart, a good heart, and altruistic aspiration.” May all of us here at Naropa continue to realize that love truly is the means by which we perceive wisdom.
Today, we invoke the presence of joy, which, like a whirling dervish, spins into One the presence of Wisdom and her seeker. May the heat of our enthusiasm for learning dissolve us into that which we learn, enabling us to become embodiments of Wisdom for a joy-starved world.
Today, we invoke the presence of awe and wonder. As poet Mary Oliver says, each of us is “a bride married to amazement.” May we – through our studies - become the means by which the Universe knows and feels wonder in Its own beauty and majesty .
Today, let us invoke the power and beauty of the Rocky Mountain landscape that surrounds us – embodied in our magnificent Flatirons descending right down into town – a landscape which has continually sustained us all on our academic journeys, even when we weren’t paying attention to its presence.
And so, today, we invoke the spaciousness of mountain, sky and prairie. May their vast open expanses reside inside us like an echochamber, allowing us to stand in wonder as each nugget of wisdom we’ve acquired during our time here at Naropa arises - mysteriously - like an echo of an unspoken Sacred Word, resounding in the vast inner sky of awareness, reverberating like distant raven calls within the canyon present at the very core of our being.
Today, we invoke the spirit of the alpenglow light that clothes our Boulder mountains in pink and lavender before sunrise each clear morning – even though the sun is still hidden below the eastern horizon. May we too – in humility - lavish the light of appreciation on each other’s spiritual traditions, while our own tradition disappears from the need for any recognition in return.
Today, we invoke the spirit of the high country lakes – glistening in turquoise, emerald and azure. May they teach us to view every being, along with every individual, race and culture, as a shimmering sunlight diamond of wisdom arising on the vast lake of being, all equally sacred, equally beautiful, equally luminescent.
Today, we invoke the spirit of the rivers, flowing through our blood even now. Like them, may we remain ever fluid and adaptable. May we practice the watercourse way, the way of the Tao, and may we ourselves become “rivers of living water.” In the words of waterfall lover John Muir – my boyhood hero – may we remember that “We all flow from one fountain Soul. All of us are expressions of one Love. Our Source does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but It flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and animals, saturating and fountainizing all.”
Today, we invoke the wildness and spontaneity of the wind. Whenever we feel tempted to grasp ahold of whatever we think we know, as though we could possess it and make it ours, may we heed the words of the one who exclaimed: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from, or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Today, we invoke the rich silence of the wilderness, a silence filled with a listening Presence that humbly mirrors back to us our own creative insights. May we too listen one another into being. May we, like this listening Silence, always learn from one another, realizing that even the very Source of our lives – the Reality dwelling within us - never fails to learn and grow from the unique experiences of each one of us.
Today, we invoke the presence of the Web of Life, the vast Net of Indra. May we understand that each individual, race, culture, religion, species and landscape is a jewel that is capable of mirroring every other jewel tied within that vast net of being. May we understand that we all – together - form a vast mountain meadow in which each of us is a different wildflower species, all equally backlit by a single sacred Sun. May we heed the words of Naropa’s founder, Trungpa Rinpoche, who stated at Naropa’s founding, “The basic point is that all of us, and all of the various traditions, could work together, that we could relate together on the basis of trust – which seems to be lacking enormously in the Western educational system.”
Today, we invoke the spirit of the nighttime sky. When we cannot figure out how to solve the differences that inevitably arise during our journey here on earth as finite human beings, may we allow ourselves to be embraced by Mystery, by the intimate darkness of our vast, starry, nighttime skies and landscapes. May the moonlight Presence which empties Itself into these dark spaces soften our boundaries and begin to blend us all together, as the 16th century Spanish mystic so aptly put it, into “that Dark Night which alone is able to unite lover and Beloved.”
Today, we invoke the spirit of our recent forest fires. We recall how all of you graduates have labored and suffered in the fires of learning, always with too much to read, too much to write, too much to absorb during a mere 16-week semester. And so, may the thousands of acres of fire-blackened trees and meadows spread out to the west of us - vast burns that are filled even now with thousands of purple crocus-like pasqueflowers arising out of the ash [have you seen them?] - teach us that each moment is both a death and a rebirth. May we understand that it is only through the fire of challenge that the light of insight can spring forth.
Finally, speaking quite personally, I want to invoke the spirit of gratefulness that I feel toward Naropa University. I want to speak as a practitioner of Christian Contemplation, teaching in a Buddhist-inspired university. I am aware that all of us live in a culture that is saturated in Christian ideas and teachings. I want to invoke the spirit of a book by a Christian professor of theology named Paul Knitter. The title of the book is this: “Without Buddha, I Could Not Be a Christian.” Like Knitter, I have become a deeper Christian through the mirror that Buddhist traditions – especially the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition of Naropa - has held up before me, a mirror that has enabled me to rediscover the neglected gems of my own tradition. Through this Buddhist mirror, I have come to appreciate a profoundly self-emptying God, and a Christ whose self is a transparent web composed of all other selves instead of being a single isolated self. It is through the mirror of Buddhist tradition that I have come to experience a vast and spacious awareness that was spoken of by Christian mystics throughout the ages, but which has been largely ignored. I am sure that my colleagues of other faiths can add similar stories of gratefulness. Most importantly, I have now come to understand that I – like many of us present here today - am profoundly interspiritual, and that every spiritual tradition interpenetrates every other spiritual tradition within the vast net of pratitya samutpada – of inter-dependent co-origination, which in my tradition is called “the Body of Christ.” For this awareness, I am extremely grateful.
So be it. Amen.