Buddhism has three jewels--the buddha, the dharma and the sangha. If you were a Buddhist you would say that we take refuge in them. In Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron shares that taking refuge does not mean we find comfort in the Buddha. Nor can we celebrate safety. No, she says, we are the Buddha; we are here to awaken; we rise again and again, pushing out of our comfort zone. The willingness to do this does not come easily.
We have a lot of fear, self-doubt and even resentment. We would not have to do this work if we had good parenting, right? Wrong. If you had bad parenting it is still the same practice. You are not alone. And as you gain more loving kindness in this practice, you learn that you are wearing armor that gets in the way of being open. You are so protected by your many defenses. You thought those defenses were your security and strength, but that protection now keeps you from being fully alive and awake.
Isn't this a lot like the path of recovery in Alanon or in Emotions Anonymous?
When you come to your first meeting, you have dragons to face, that lurk right near where you most need to open up and heal. Each time you come to a meeting, for refuge, you prepare to go forward and meet that dragon, wearing less and less protection. Every time you meet your next challenge, you see there's still more armor to take off.
This practice of taking off our protection is what we sign up for when we take refuge in Buddhism or Program. Either way, you can become willing to acknowledge or reconnect with your “awakeness’, by removing more and more armor as you meet your dragon.
I know I will spend my life doing this. Chodron is explicit that refuge requires each person to take off their own armor. Only we know where our own zippers and padlocks are. The seams to my armor may go up on the side of each leg, like a zipper, where you may have snaps or simply velcro. I must stop comparing. We each have our work to do and we may help each other to identify it. But we must do it alone. My advice may not be of any help to you. We don't give advice in our program work, either.
We just start by taking off some armor. You are the only one who knows how you protected yourself, the materials you used and the special features you included in your armor. Your thread may be iron, where someone else's is silk. Still, each time you meet the dragon, you'll need a cutting tool to rip the seams. Those program tools need to be handy. If you have your snippers hidden in a box, that makes the job take more time than your silk-threaded neighbor.
In taking refuge in the Buddha, just like in Alanon and in EA, the most special armor is the one you wear over your heart. In program we have a way of uncovering our hearts, and it's that searching and fearless moral inventory. With courage (heart) we are able to remove what we believe to be our dearest protection. In so doing we also eliminate the obstacles to our wisdom, our gentleness and our presence.