Breathing in the Bardo

There’s the big “B” Bardo — the gap between dying in this life and being reincarnated in the next life, according to Tibetan Buddhist text Bardo Tödöl. Then there is the small “b” bardo, those transition moments between one state and the next. The twilight of sleep. The minute when you “zone out” and stare into space.

A move to a new country, a pivot of your career in mid-life, a shift toward a new phase of your life — what kind of bardo is that? Not quite big “B” or small “b.” It is a sort of a bardo within the Bardo.

Loosening the grip

A bardo is a space for transformation, yet it can feel dark and disorienting. Buddhist teacher Pema Khandro Rinpoche refers to this time as “those moments [when] we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like. There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest.”

There is first a rupture, a cleaving. It is the very definition of disruption. It was watching the home of 20 years disappear into boxes, a history of papers shredded into countless bags, and the knowledge and stories you’ve collected in the form of books dropped off at the curb near the library. It was, finally, the echoing solitude in an empty house.

Then there is just the breathing, the pause, the middle. It is a separation from what I thought (hoped, planned) would happen…without a clear view of what actually will happen. Perhaps the hardest part, right now, for me, is the letting go. Not just stepping forward from the past, but letting go of the future.

Letting go of the plans, the expectations, the dreams, ambitions, and hopes. In a strange way, it’s deeper and more painful than letting go of the past. All that I have worked for is in a suspended reality, tucked out of site in a storage facility. The painful part is letting go of what I thought my future would, could, might be.

U.S. tennis legend Maria Sharapova, in a resignation letter disguised as a Vogue article, claims that she has “never looked back and never looked forward.” She is leaving the only life she has ever known — the international tennis court. The article reads like someone who has emotionally and spiritually prepared for her own bardo. I wonder, though. Once the thrill of the vastness subsides, when she fully experiences the “sense of stillness” she seeks, then what?

It’s not the leap, or the rupture, that is hard. It’s the hovering, the floating, the breathing into the open space. There is promise that rupture can become rapture. I’m not there. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there. I have had to make a tremendous personal shift from being a planner and dreamer to just being, seeing what unfolds. It’s enormously uncomfortable and vulnerable. It begs the question, “if I am not that, then what am I?”

Meanwhile, I sit. I breathe. I wait.

Bardos are spaces of potential creativity and innovation, because they create breaks in our familiar routines and patterns. In that momentary space of freedom, the fresh perception of something new and awake may suddenly arise.

 

Lion’s Roar

 

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