Monday Mantra: Both


“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.” – Pema Chödrön

7 Responses to “Monday Mantra: Both”
  1. Elise P says:

    This is a really beautiful sentiment. Life is definitely full of ups and downs, and I understand that we need these opposites to make us whole…but what about the in between? What about the days that are not filled with either gloriousness or wretchedness, but rather lots of “I’m tired,” “I’m busy,” and to do lists full of chores? I feel like this is the majority of my life, and it seems that I often find myself stuck in the monotony of routine. Nothing really pops up on my radar unless it happens to coincide with my busy schedule. I know that in life, balance is key. Like Pema says, if we felt glorious all the time, then we wouldn’t be living reality, and constant wretchedness would make us horribly depressed…
    I suppose this post makes me reflect on the day to day, normal parts of life. Getting up, getting dressed, making breakfast, ding my work, etc. It makes me question how I can find moments of meaning in the extremely average. How can I find the benefit of experiencing these opposing forces – gloriousness and wretchedness, highs and lows, pain and pleasure – when life isn’t always about these contrasting states?
    Just a thought…

    • mindbodybrew says:

      What a great observation. “Glorious” and “wretched” do feel like pretty grand adjectives, that may seem a little hyperbolic when describing the day-to-day life. Perhaps within these grand words we can find spectrums? What’s glorious in life could be something phenomenal and life-changing, or maybe it could be something as simple as flipping a fried egg without breaking the yolk (something that seems to be nearly impossible for me!). Maybe these words can have a malleable scale to them, so that they don’t always seem to label such extremes?

  2. Swraj Khare says:

    a very compassionate thought..

  3. Marissa says:

    So true, lovely and necessary. This is ever-present in my life right now. For the past week little things have been popping up and knocking me out of my daily routine (for ex: water main break and my apartment’s water shuts off-yay). They’ve all been a wake up call that helped me realize a number of things that I take for granted. Like hello Marissa, some people don’t even have access to clean water. It’s made me a lot more aware of the multitude of little (and large) blessings in my life and it’s made me so much happier and grateful than I was before. These little and sometimes not so little events in life make us more compassionate, grateful, and understanding.

    • mindbodybrew says:

      You bring up a great point–sometimes it takes things going wrong for us to realize how great they are when they are right. Your mention of gratitude fits in wonderfully with Pema’s description of wretchedness as humbling, and softening. I am always reminded of this whenever I get sick, and lose the ability to breathe out of my nose, or smell, or even sometimes taste the flavors of food. It’s easy to forget about these things when we have them, but as soon as we lose them, we realize how great they are. I suppose our work as yogis then is, in part, to find ways to remember the good things when we still have them, rather than only when we lose them… Something I’m going to have to work regularly on. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Nick Dill says:

    Pema is always such an inspiration in her writings. This reminds me of a dance piece I recently watched. There was a piece a text overlaying the music that really stuck with me from this work. The quote goes: “Life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.”

    I have been thinking about this quote. At first it seemed so pessimistic and of the “life is so hard” mindset, but it ended so richly. Yes, life is hard. But this is how we learn to appreciate life and all of the beauty within it. This is exactly what Pema is saying as well. We all strive to find the calm, beauty, and “gloriousness” of life. Yet, we need to know pain. We need to have the wind knocked out of us so that we can appreciate this glory. Otherwise, we only live in the glory and it becomes ordinary. We no longer appreciate it. I think we all have experienced this bidirectional relationship in life, and we can find balance between them on the mat.

    • mindbodybrew says:

      Thank you for sharing this quote–I imagine it will be sticking around in my mind this week as well! I agree that the mat is a great way to find a balance between these extremes. In training, I remember TM used to tell us not to label elements of our practice as “good” or bad”–not to give them value judgements, but to just observe them for what they are. I wonder if this can play in to the balance between gloriousness and wretchedness–perhaps by not seeing particular asanas as being one or the other, but instead seeing them as tools to find both the inspiration that comes from glory, and the softness that comes from the wretched.

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