What happens when you find yourself in the Bardo?

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. — Nancy Levin

Loosely speaking, “Bardo” is the state of existence between two lives on earth, after death and before one’s next birth. It is a state between death and rebirth but not a purgatory as a Christian perspective might suggest.

This Tibetan word, with its provocative connotation, means a transition or a gap between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. Barmeans “in between,” and domeans “suspended” or “thrown.”

On listening to an interview by Richard Fidler with George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, I realised I was in the Bardo.  I feel like I’m in suspended animation, in a period of time between my usual or known way of life and what is to come.  Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t on hold.  It’s not like I’m waiting for the perfect conditions to continue but a lot has happened recently, and I find myself in an in-between place — a place without solid roots, a place of itinerancy and it’s a curious place to be.  At first, being adrift rocked me. There were moments of shock, panic and grief. After several weeks, I find I like this place of not belonging, of having no ties or roots. I belong in no place and yet every place.  I have the chance to see life from a different perspective, with fresh eyes and a respect I have not exercised before.

If the Bardo describes a state between reincarnation on earth, after death, it’s a stunning analogy for my life. After 22 years of a certain way of life having spectacularly ended and being without a home, and working toward finding a new one, I find I have the opportunity for a reincarnation of sorts. There is much to learn about who I am. So much of who we are is a response to our circumstances, relationships and the situations we experience.  Strip all that away and who are we?  On a number of occasions in recent months I’ve been asked questions that begin —  “How do you behave when faced with…”.  I can only respond with —  “I used to react like…. but now, given all the reasons I behaved that way no longer exist, I don’t know.”

Rather than face this obscurity and lack of certainty with stark terror, it’s a wonderful time of contemplation and inner reflection*, of spiritual and personal growth as well as transformation.

Being in the Bardo isn’t as dire as might be expected. It’s liberating, consolidating and a unique opportunity that I am, now that I can articulate it, grateful to be experiencing. There is part of me that longs to linger and I need to remind myself it’s a transitional time and place and that a rebirth must ultimately follow. With that vision in mind, I approach with excitement and anticipation.

 

*Interestingly my computer auto corrected reflection and it read perfection. We might never reach inner perfection but gee, it’s a gorgeous concept and a beautiful perspective to contemplate. Thanks autocorrect, for once I’m impressed.

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When reality challenges image — how do you present to the world?

“I was like a chocolate in a box, looking well behaved and perfect in place, all the while harboring a secret center.” ― Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

“I am looking for the one I can’t fool.” ― Kamand Kojouri

How we are and how we are perceived often differ. There are many reasons for this, but the striking truth is that image and reality are often skewed

I have written before of the labels we place on ourselves and those others bestow upon us. This idea of image versus reality arose again in my conversations and thoughts and has me asking a few questions.

A friend and I struck upon a shared observation recently, that we’d met people who (and this is not limited to this field mind you) label themselves as spiritual and dress the part. We observed the wearing of certain adornments, clothing of a particular style, adopting coiffed dreadlocks or making radical statements by being unwashed or going unshod in public.  This attire and this façade of course have nothing to do with the level of spirituality one possesses but I wonder if it has more to do with aligning oneself where and how one wants to be perceived.

Let me explain.  For many years I have marvelled at the disparate views people hold of me compared to my own view of myself. Yes, yes, I know we judge ourselves harshly but that’s not what I am talking about here. Mostly everyone I come into contact with draws the conclusion that I am quite prim and prissy (yes, it’s a burden). Once they get to know me they can’t quite match my potty mouth and my beliefs with the external presentation.  I’ve never understood it, I don’t see the disparity.  People have repeated things like:

“I can’t believe you can say that word and get away with it.  It seems so unexpected coming from you. If it was me people would expect that language and be offended.”
or
“I would never have thought someone like you would have a faith.”
or
“Really, you have crystals and signing bowls?” (If only they knew the half of it.)

I’ve never understood it. I’ve looked but can’t see the elegance and poise I hear described.  Now, I certainly dress in a particular way to go to work that is far different to how I choose to dress at home.  But even in social settings people have shared the same opinions.  I don’t see the façade they do. I feel the inner messiness is clearly reflected externally.

So, back to our friend with the dreadlocks presenting as a deeply spiritual, connected person, and hey, maybe he is, who am I to judge?  Apart from personal choice and comfort, on some level the projection is a façade.  A costume. A symbol.  Yet, look around the room at the grandmother in her twin set and pearl earrings and that big dude dressed all in black with the tattoos they are not projecting an image that screams “I’m spiritual” but they’re both highly skilled channels and mediums and have a deeper grasp on universal and metaphysical truths than most.

As I ponder these scenarios the questions rise.

Why do others interpret our image in particular ways? 
I guess that’s conditioning. Labelling seems a natural human tendency. The need to pigeon-hole creates a level of certainty and comfort. Certainly, some of us adorn ourselves in ways that help others identify us how we want to be identified rather than misreading us and forming beliefs about us that don’t align to who or what we are. In both of these situations we draw upon some very strong and often unconscious archetypal symbols here.

Why do we/ how can we believe one thing to be true of ourselves, yet others see us in a totally different light?

This one stumped me for a bit then two more questions dropped in and I suddenly realised something I hadn’t before.

Do we create an image to reflect who we are? Or do we create an image to protect who we are?
And there it was. I have done the latter. My wise friend’s words came flooding back – he was curious about how I present to the world and what lay beneath the surface.  He touched on things being undiscovered and undisclosed.  I realise I have made an unconscious effort, from a very early age, to project a certain image to the world to protect myself, believing and knowing on some level others wouldn’t understand the truth of me.

It’s a curious and interesting concept to ponder and one we should all be aware of.  There is so much more to a person than their external image. We know that and often forget. Reality often challenges image. In your meeting of people remember the iceberg effect —the little bit we see does not adequately reflect all that is under the surface. Similarly, is the little bit you reveal reflecting what you want the world to know of you?