Freedom Within Barriers — Taking the Power Out of Diabetes

Pema Chodron, the celebrated Buddhist nun and prolific author, released a book entitled The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness. The book was a collection of morning talks that Chodron gave to a group who had come to Gampo Abbey for an intensive meditation retreat in the spring of 1989. The book covers a wide range of subjects, but the theme running through the whole thing (and hence the inspiration for the title) is that “freedom,” “happiness,” “wholeness,” or whatever state of mind, body, or material goal you’re after, is something to be found in the moment, regardless of the material circumstances; that freedom, happiness, and peace are the products of an inner journey, not worldly accomplishments or circumstances. As Bob Marley so beautifully said, “none but ourselves can free our minds.”

The radical idea at the heart of it all is that there is immense, even limitless, freedom and peace to be found in seemingly oppressive situations. The wise woman understands that there is no magic bullet; that “escaping” one set of circumstances only leads to becoming entrapped in the next set of circumstances. She realizes that ultimately no true peace can be found in “chasing” the “right” set of circumstances, the “right” state of mind, the “right” career, the “right” appearance, or the “right” social status. She realizes that the work of happiness must be internal.


As Chodron and other wisdom tradition teachers have pointed out, this isn’t just an invitation to be lazy or sloppy — to say, “Well, nothing I do matters; might as well stop trying.” No, it is an invitation to be fully present in the moment, to fully experience the full emotional landscape of it — the good, the bad, the happy, the upsetting, the kind, the angry, the mean, the jealous, the compassionate, all of it — and to drop our inner opposition to what upsets us. And when we do, a paradox takes place. When we finally accept the circumstances, thoughts, feelings, or other experiences we’ve been running from, they lose their power. Think about it. If you actively hate something, you are, by default, always reacting to that thing. And by reacting to it, you are letting it dictate your path. You might respond by saying, “No, I’m in control. That’s why I fight it — you see? I’m the aggressor; I’m the instigator here!” But the fact is, if you feel an automatic response, an automatic surge of emotional intensity, whenever you look at something, then IT is calling the shots, not you.

This idea has such power for us! Diabetes can feel like a prison sometimes. It can feel like “the thing that keeps me from being happy.” It can feel like nothing but a set of limitations. And it IS limiting, but this is where we’ve got to learn how to use this radical idea that freedom is NOT dictated by our circumstances, but by our own minds.

How do we accomplish this? How do we set about claiming our freedom within the barriers of diabetes? This is the question I plan to explore in the coming weeks. And I invite you to share your ideas in the comments so that we might learn from one another. It’s not easy to find peace within the sometimes turbulent confines of diabetes. It’s not easy to struggle with unpredictable blood sugars without feeling constantly pulled in one direction or another by our reactions to them. It’s certainly not easy facing the prospect of complications brought on by this condition. But people have done just that. Every day, people find that “wisdom of no escape” that Chodron was talking about.

I will share my own ideas and strategies with everyone in the coming weeks, but today I want to avoid that. Today, I wanted to just pose the question and invite reader comments, because this is the kind of topic that I think works best when many voices are allowed to come forward. I hope some of you can share your wisdom here, so that we might all learn from each other. And I invite everyone to simply hold the question this week. Often the simple act of asking the question is much more powerful than a book’s worth of “expert answers.”

See you all next week!