Sitting in Judgement

It’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about.

I loved my work as a computer consultant designing software, coding, testing, and training the end users. I also made a ton of money and was able to pay off all my student loans and credit card debt. I even bought a vehicle straight off the assembly line. That was fun, to get exactly what I wanted.

But life doesn’t always give us what we think we want.

My body went haywire, and slowly everything I built was destroyed. I lost not only my job, but my career and identity as a computer consultant. I lost friends, and I nearly lost my boyfriend. But he stuck around and our relationship grew into something new, something stronger. (He’s now my husband.) I lost an entire decade – my 30’s – to spending the majority of my time being sick in bed.

I lost all my physical strength, and sometimes even my brain would shut down, causing me to have memory lapses and confuse words, like saying black when I meant white. My husband repeatedly deals with me insisting we’ve never watched a movie, only to have to me say: “Oh! I remember it now!” at the last scene. (I just did that to myself yesterday!)

If you’ve never had severe pain and fatigue, you cannot imagine what it’s like to be on the couch wanting a glass of water and not being able to get it. Until you experience it, you cannot know the frustration of having the wrong word come out of your mouth, and knowing it’s wrong, but not being able to do anything about it except try to back-peddle and try to explain what you really meant, with words that – yes, you guessed it – also come out wrong. Until you lived it, you cannot know what it’s like to have an unpredictable body that may or may not cooperate at any given moment.

There was no car accident or sudden incident to point to…this illness came upon me gradually, like being hit by a truck over and over. At one point, during one of my early collapses, I argued with myself about calling Rama for help. I had the number to his answering service, so I could have easily gotten a message to him.

But as I said, it’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about. I thought the pain and fatigue were temporary. I thought I was being weak. I convinced myself it was nothing to worry about, and that I needed to exercise more and work harder. In short, I ignored my body’s cries for help and tried to force it to perform despite the collapses.

Two weeks later, Rama died.

After Rama left the body, I spent a lot of time beating myself up over the decision not to call him. He could have healed me, right? Or he could have at least spared me a great deal of suffering.

When he was gone, I decided to honor the commitment I made during the teaching empowerment he gave me. Even though I was barely getting through the day, I decided to teach meditation publicly. (I had taught privately for years, but my students were sparse.)

Going through all the basics with new students turned out to be the most amazing gift. I relearned everything, and found not only did it work for the students, it worked for me.

During my lost decade, I found incredible support as we created and built Dharma Center. (Thank you – you all know who you are!) My faith in the Teachings grew exponentially.

Of course, I would still torture myself from time to time. One day I did the math and figured if I had stayed in the tech world, I would have been on track to have earned well over a million dollars by that point. I would have been able to buy a beautiful house near bday-sunset-4webthe ocean that would provide a buffer from the world. I would have been able to write large checks to support the Teachings. And the bright minds I would have been able to mentor…Oh wait, I get to do that now!

I’ve spent nearly 20 years being poked and prodded by doctors with lots of labels but no answers. I’ve tried hundreds of remedies and diets and treatments. I still play in that world from time to time. But what has helped the most is learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs, when it needs it. (To learn more of what works for me, check out my book Peace with Pain.)

I also learned to fall gracefully, keeping in mind what my Aikido teacher showed me so many years ago: “Don’t fall, just relax and sit.” I’ve accepted that my body is high maintenance.

During all of this, I’ve also somehow learned how to look good even when I feel like crap. Apparently that is my special siddha power. So unless you spend a great deal of time with me, or if I tell you, you’d never know the condition of my body.

When I finally let go of the judgement – of everything – the most amazing thing happened. I let go of who I thought I was and who I thought others were and realized I know nothing.

I began to have timeless moments where I lived above the pain. But always, I would come tumbling back to the apparent reality of suffering. Even with these ups and downs, the illness I had judged as life-destroying and the body I had judged as weak turned out to be exactly what I needed to wake up. Once yet again, it’s easy to sit in judgement of things we know nothing about.

I don’t recommend this method of pain as a means to self-discovery as it is fraught with the pitfalls of self-pity and anger. Instead, look honesty at whatever Life has given you to work with and stretch to see what is beyond your self.

The coming and going into samadhi continued for I have no idea how long. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, it stopped – or I stopped. The doubt was gone. The suffering was gone.

I was standing on a rock my body should not have been able to climb in its exhausted state. (I pushed my body to do it because my student wanted to see the other side of the arch, and something surged within me to make it possible.) I stood there, in my unpredictable body with all of its pleasure and pain, knowing inner peace and unconditional joy beyond all of this. To borrow from Shankara, both the rope and the snake were gone. To this day, It remains. There are no words to adequately describe it; I can only call it Grace.

After all this time, I finally get the joke when Rama sang with Zazen: “Why did the Zen Master become a Zen Master? Because he couldn’t get a job doing anything else.”




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3 thoughts on “Sitting in Judgement

  1. anona me

    Thank you for revealing this.
    Our teacher was so proficient at appearing superhuman. Leaving that image behind has carried me through. Yet I ponder if he could have benefited from our powers of observation to see beyond that superhuman image and step in to support him more than we did.

    Observing you since around 2007, it has been a gift to spend time with you and see both superhuman and human qualities. I have noted that you are incredibly easy to overlook and yet I have never meet a better example of a Buddhist in all my seeking and meeting of teachers and students. I think it is easily misleading in that it can appear as though there is no work, effort, application, sacrifice in any of your practice or in running a school and bringing students of various levels along the path of Enlightenment. There seems to be a misunderstanding that if someone appears happy that they must not be working at anything.

    Given your situation, it is amazing that the DC still exists and has come this far. It definitely did not happen by someone sitting on their ass all day or by the assistance of faeries. Running this kind of school is a full time job and more. I’m sure there are those who consult in IT and also teach but I’m not sure how many of our age run a center open 7 days a week, have beginner and intermediate students and also hold a ft corporate career. It’s not impossible but definitely not easy, even for someone without health challenges.

    It hurts me to know you are in pain and struggle physically. But I also relate to your experience on a smaller scale, having lived with chronic fatigue. I know what it’s like to helplessly loose friends and opportunities and the inability to explain it to anyone, let alone oneself. I know about that phase where you think you can just push through it yet fail every time or worse make yourself sicker. You are one of the few who has shown me and others an amazing amount of patience and loving kindness, something so sorely needed in our own tribe and in the world today.

    But you are correct in that one really doesn’t know what it is like until one stands in another person’s shoes and situation. And I’ve never heard you complain for anyone to know the depth of your struggle. So why would anyone have the need to judge at all? Perhaps to explain something they do not yet understand and do not have the patience to try to. There are a myriad of skills and gifts that each of us has to bring to the world. Our teacher left us a template of a lifestyle and there are many facets to that. Seems to me if one accomplishes just one of those areas well, what complaint could there possibly be?

  2. Michael

    Wow Jenna, thank you for sharing your story with such profound honesty and insight.
    I appreciate and am grateful for all you do.

  3. Ari

    Very inspiring and real, Jenna. Thank you. (And I can commiserate on chronic pain and migraines, big time! 😉

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