Chronic tension and conflict can provoke reactions that are more about what happened in the past than what’s happening at this very moment. In such instances, the conflict may be quite real but not entirely true.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s plane was departing late. This was not unusual; in those days, air travel in Nepal was uncertain.
But that day, high winds were coming. By the time the plane was in the air, those winds had arrived with a vengeance.
As the tiny plane flew to a remote site high in the Himalaya, turbulence tossed it up and down, up and down. Passengers began to scream and cry. Despite trying to steady himself, Rinpoche nevertheless was gripped by the same fear the others were experiencing.
Thankfully, the plane did not crash. But when it was time to return from the Himalaya, Rinpoche found the terror returning as he was crammed into the same small plane. Sweating through his robes, he clutched the armrests in fear during the easy flight.
That terror did not end after he landed, either. For many years he re-experienced the fear, even when traveling on large commercial airliners.
The fear I felt on that return trip…was real, in the sense that I was fully experiencing it. However, as I looked back on each subsequent experience, I had to admit that it wasn’t true. That is, it wasn’t grounded in actual, present circumstances, but instead was triggered by residual memories of a past experience.
We know this experience during chronic tension and conflict, too. We feel real conflict with them…hours, days, even months later, even if the present conversation is completely benign. They walk into the room and there the conflict is again, hovering in the air between us. We feel it viscerally, even if they have not spoken.
Do we respond to the chronic tension based on our residual memories of what happened? Or do we allow the possibility that the present circumstances — our interaction with them right here, right now — may be perfectly fine if we allow it to be?
Tsoknyi Rinpoche uses a simple, four-word mantra to help ground him in the present in moments like this: Real but not true.
Ask yourself again and again if what you’re experiencing is real or true, until mentally and emotionally you can accept your feelings as real but the conditions on which they’re based as possibly not true.
Repetition of the mantra has become a practice for him. It is an acknowledgement of real feelings and also a check-in with himself. “Such momentary pauses can transform your understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of.”