Embodied Transformation & Evolution

The Badger & The Buddha ~catastrophe, survival & what really matters

Posted by on Jan 23, 2018 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 0 comments

The Badger & The Buddha ~catastrophe, survival & what really matters

I woke up this morning to find that the city of Victoria received a tsunami alert last night, while we were sleeping. My daughter had been trying to call us at three in the morning to let us know that the large earthquake off Alaska had triggered the alert all along the Northern Pacific coastline.

By the time we woke up the alert had been cancelled; and I was left feeling decidedly edgy. I started remembering similar moments, especially ones that happened in India, triggered by floods, earthquakes, cholera epidemics, terrorist attacks. Our life in India was punctuated by regular intense reminders about impermanence and the immanence of death.

When I was in the midst of the California fires in October, there were very loud evacuation bleeps that came by text, every time I turned on my phone. I cannot tell you how disturbing the sound of those alarms were. And how grateful I felt, in the very same moment, that technology is now able to protect us in this way, especially if we are fast asleep.

And here comes the truth of the matter: we are asleep. Most of us are deeply entranced when it comes to facing the truth of impermanence. We are snoozing, living our lives in a narcotized state, and agreeing with each other that this is a good way to live. If we weren’t all in some very strong unconscious agreement about this, we’d be living a very different kind of life.

When I was remembering those encounters with death and impermanence, one thing came back to me again and again. What I wanted in those close encounters with death, more than anything, while the adrenaline and waves of fear were pumping through my body, was to stay in touch with what really mattered. What do I mean by this? Let me try to make it clear.

Whenever our life is threatened, our survival system takes over. Depending on the state of our nervous system and our brain, we will be moved to fight, flee, or freeze. Safety and survival are all that matters. Our focus becomes extremely narrow. There is nothing wrong with this response, it’s perfectly natural.  But each time it happened, I became instantly aware that another part of me was also clamouring for my attention. It was literally shouting, “Don’t forget about me! Don’t throw me away.You need me too.”

This part of me is much bigger than my survival brain. It’s not really oriented to survival at all. It cares about something else: the reason for my existence. It lives in a different dimension than my survival self. It is concerned with something much deeper than my survival: what really matters to me, the essential meaning of my life.

I hesitate to give this part of me, and of you, a name, because that will call us back into all of the familiar concepts we have about it. What I am pointing to here is not a spiritual concept. It’s something much more visceral, immediate and embodied. It is not an idea or a dream.  Someone, I think it was Chogyam Trungpa said, “Reality is like a bee sting.”


The Badger & The Buddha

I know how this deeper dimension lives in me. It takes the form of two questions I have been walking with as long as I can remember: What is Love really? And what is True? Actually, the truth is that these two questions are walking me. I’m not in charge here–I can’t get away from these damn questions. They sting me all the time. I am a non-conventional, non-religious person, so this deeper dimension of life works in me through these two unrelenting inquiries. In you, the deeper side of life will take a very different shape. It might not even be a question. It might be a passion, an abiding interest, something that claims your attention or your heart, over and over again.

However it takes shape in us, something happens when we make direct contact with this depth, this passion, the reason for our existence. We feel it, all over our body, like a bee sting. Or a plunge into cold water. There is nothing abstract about it. Sometimes I call this part of who we are ‘the Buddha,’ because what drives it is expansive, mysterious, beyond the rational mind. There is a deep caring that flows forth from this place, an endless generosity.

Our survival self is very different. And we need this part of us. Sometimes I call it the Badger. Other people compare it to the Panther, which is pretty appealing. Panther is glamorous, sexy. Who wouldn’t want to be panther, gliding through the forests at night, sleek muscles rippling under her glistening, taut black body? Badger is not sexy. Badger is small, fierce, aggressive and very smelly. Which is often how this survival energy appears to us, especially if we have been marginalizing it in favour of the Buddha.

Badger digs a wonderful home for himself and takes very good care of it. And if anyone tries to cross the threshold uninvited, they encounter Badger’s teeth and claws. Badger doesn’t give up and roll over. He fights with everything he has, to protect, life, home and family. I was part of a powerful medicine ceremony years ago, facilitated by my friend Michael Smith,  a gifted healer. He invoked Badger Medicine on behalf of a friend who had cancer. It was a powerful and deeply moving experience, to feel the energy of Badger enter the room and the body of my friend. I’ve had immense respect for this medicine ever since. I’ve worked on befriending the natural aggression of Badger, realizing that it is healthy, something we need, if we want to survive and thrive here on earth.

Can Badger and Buddha co-exist in us? I know they can. And this will only happen one way: through practice. Embodied, persistent, patient and curious practice. Whenever I ask anyone to stand in front of me and speak to me directly from the place where the reason for their existence lives, I am amazed. They come alive, they arrive in this moment, they breathe with their whole body. This is the everyday Buddha, just waiting for a chance to fully land here on earth, here in this body. But there’s no real landing without Badger. Badger takes care of the nitty gritty, messy, unpleasant details of life. Badger faces what my more fragile parts would rather avoid, forever. Badger does the taxes. Badger goes to the lawyers and sorts out the wills. Badger has the unpleasant conversations. Badger unblocks the toilet. Badger closes the deal. Badger stands up for her rights. Badger gets angry when a course correction is needed.

Of course the real human includes Badger and Buddha. They are not separate at all. But on the way to full embodiment, we need to practice. We can’t pretend there is more integration than there really is. That’s a dangerous practice. We might wake up one morning and find we don’t know how to survive–we’ve lost track of our instincts.  Or that we are surviving very well, but we’ve forgotten the reason for our existence.

A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world

 ~Ellen Bass


with love,


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