Working through the four maras

When I downsized before moving west I got rid of a lot of books, but there were a select few that I saved and brought with me. One of those keepers is Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. For such a slender book, it packs quite a punch for me, and while I first purchased it way back in 2009 after my divorce I still have yet to finish it.

The chapter on loneliness has pulled me back again and again, and I’ve written on it twice before, here and here. Since I’ve had some feelings of sadness and loneliness lately, I thought I’d pull out the book again and remind myself why the feeling of loneliness is not a horrible thing to be avoided but one to be embraced.

After some reviewing and underlining of passages, I moved to another chapter in the book, and — wham! — just like that, I have another set of resonating concepts to consider and process through. (This is why I like this book so much; I’m always finding something to which I relate and on which I can reflect.)

Chapter 11 on the four maras is my new work, I think. The first mara, devaputra mara, is when “we react with this tragically human habit of seeking pleasure and trying to avoid pain.” I’ve done my share of that over the years, but I think I’m doing well with recognizing this tendency in myself and accepting that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin.

Skanda mara “has to do with how we always try to re-create ourselves, to try to get some ground back, try to be who we think we are.” This one bears more thinking about. “Instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we can touch in to that mind of simply not knowing, which is basic wisdom mind.” This one isn’t coming to me easily, so it needs more reflection.

Klesha mara is about how we use our emotions.

We use them to to try to deny that in fact no one has ever known or will ever know what’s happening. We use them to try to make everything secure and predictable and real again, to fool ourselves about what is really true. We could just sit with the emotional energy and let it pass….Instead, we throw kerosene on the emotion so it will feel more real.

…By becoming aware of how we do this silly thing again and again because we don’t want to dwell in the uncertainty and awkwardness and pain of not knowing, we begin to develop true compassion for ourselves and everyone else, because we see what happens and how we react when things fall apart.

Oh, yes! Over the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of emotion and just letting it happen. It can be a challenge when the emotions surge during inconvenient times, like while I’m working or when I’m around other people who I still don’t know very well. It’s not looked upon well when you show a lot of emotion at work, especially if you’re a woman.

And then there is yama mara, which Pema describes as having to do with the fear of death.

The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens…From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice, smooth ride.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.

Yes, plenty to think about and plenty to process here. This is why it’s been taking me years to get through this book.


4 thoughts on “Working through the four maras

    • I think I’ll write another post about my loneliness since it must sound like I am saying I have no friends. I’ve actually made quite a few friends and feel like I’m settling in to my new community quite well. My loneliness and sadness comes from missing a partner in my life.


  1. I have the opposite problem. My messed up childhood has led to me to have trouble experiencing emotions at their extremes. My best friend on the other hand has the opposite problem. We try to bring each other into the center. She is off all meds because she hated the numbness of being emotionless. Now she tries to manage the downs through yoga, diet and exercise and embraces the periods of joy.

    Being able to experience emotions is a gift. The price however, is being able to feel both extremes, joy and sorrow. Your pendulum swings much wider than mine. Peace comes with knowing that bliss isn’t a state that you can be at all the time…it’s just not possible to keep the pendulum at that spot. Thankfully the same is true for sorrow. Better times do come.

    Good luck building your network of like minded friends and companions. I’m sure it will be built with time if you allocate time to it.


  2. Pingback: Making friends and loneliness | a windycitygal's Weblog

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