In Tibetan Buddhism there is a word for the space between the time when a person dies and when they are re-born into their next life. The name for this space is the Bardo.
Buddhists study the Bardo while they are still alive, with the intention of more intelligently navigating from one life to the next after they die. Reincarnation is a very specific belief, but you don’t have to believe in it or be a Buddhist to learn from the Bardo teachings.
We are always in a type of Bardo because we are always in between the moment that just passed and the moment that is yet to come. Life is not made up of arrivals, even though at times we may want it to be. In fact, most of life is lived in between experiences like hope and disappointment, happiness and sadness, excitement and boredom, yesterday and tomorrow.
Like many people, I’m a forward thinker. I am also goal oriented. This makes the concept of the Bardo challenging for me. Maybe you can relate? I have a more difficult time “enjoying the journey” than enjoying the places that I arrive. The journey seems dull in comparison to the arrivals. The arrivals are usually exciting, fun, joyful, and interesting. At the very least, they are a break from the mundane, even if they aren’t always positive. But the journey can be boring and full of hard work that requires perseverance, dedication, and patience. It’s during these times that I worry if I will ever reach my destination. Sometimes I wonder why life can’t be full of arrivals, or at least more of them. When I look back, I see that it is not. So what to do?
One answer is to get comfortable with the space between; to connect with the element of the Bardo that exists in daily life.
At first, I had a hard time starting this process, so I had to “trick” myself into connecting into this space. I came up with a metaphor to help get me started. It’s an image of a large building with magnificent rooms inside that are connected by hallways. I asked myself: if the rooms represent the big events in life (graduations, successes, failures, celebrations, marriages, divorces, births or even deaths), then isn’t it true that we actually spend most of our lives not in one of the magnificent rooms, but in the hallways? The hallways are the space between.
The first time I realized that the majority of my life is spent in the hallway (which is just the nature of things and doesn’t mean that there’s something missing or wrong with my life), I felt immensely comforted. Life began to make more sense, and I saw that the study of the elements of the Bardo that we experience in daily life are full of value and should be cherished. In the “daily Bardo” we find comforting everyday routines, small but important tasks, friends and family, roles to fill, professions, responsibilities, challenges, and the small steps taken to move towards larger goals and dreams. The normal things that we do every day create a life that feels authentic and good, and it is here, in the space between, that we live out the majority of our lives.
I imagine that everyone experiences the Bardo differently. My experience so far is one of a sense of curiosity, spaciousness, and appreciation. It is also here that guidance can speak to me when I’m feeling lost…I just need to listen closely. This is so much better than wondering if I’m ever going to achieve my next goal or when the next exciting or interesting thing might happen. I cannot change the way I am, nor would I want to; none of us can change the way we are wired. That is not the point. When we connect with the nuanced space of the Bardo, so full of wisdom and possibility, we balance any tendencies we might have that keep us from actually enjoying and fully experiencing life. We finally have a chance to truly live our lives with a sense of wholeness and fulfillment.
I wish you well if you choose to explore the space between.
Maybe I’ll see you there…