Embracing Disillusion - Nalandabodhi International
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It was 7:30 a.m. when I clocked out. I reported on my patients to the incoming day-shift nurse, said goodbye to my friends on the hospital floor, and headed home. After a couple of days off I would be back, not for my overnight shift, but as the newest member of the day shift. The change, long planned, would let me spend more time with my wife.

At home, she greeted me. “Let’s go for a walk.” Our custom was to take long walks to discuss life and reconnect. I was happy to go.

Stepping out the door, I began to sense something was off.

Married for seven years, together for ten, we often picked up on each other’s subtle signals. She wanted to say something but was hesitating. As the silence stretched on, the hairs on my body began to stand on end. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

“I want a divorce.”

A gut punch out of left field. Never before and never since have I felt so blindsided. Just a few days before, we were planning our life together. Now, as her words turned from a slow drip into a cascading waterfall, new information washed away my sandcastle of reality. The most solid reference for my life and identity — our marriage — dissolved in an instant.

Who are you, and what have you done with my wife?

Who am I without you?

At such times, it is painfully clear that there is a gap between our beliefs and reality. The gap itself isn’t a problem, but ignorance of it can lead to trouble. However, since beliefs work most of the time, we may fall for the illusion that there is no gap at all—that our beliefs are reality. If—by happenstance or self-examination—we “rediscover” the gap between belief and reality, the illusion dissolves. The experience of disillusion, however, can be intense.

My first reaction was to see disillusion as negative. I had lost my sense of control and identity. Everything was unfamiliar, challenging, and scary.

But is that the same as bad?

Travel is unfamiliar, exercise is challenging, and roller coasters are scary, but I love all of those things. In the same way I was mistaken about the solidity of my marriage, was I also mistaken about the negativity of disillusion? Was disillusion an opportunity to embrace rather than an enemy to defeat? Closer examination shifted my perspective, opening up new ways to move forward.

If you find yourself swimming in the gap between belief and reality, I offer these reflections on embracing disillusion from my own time as a shipwrecked traveler:

  1. Don’t Panic: The gap is a common, human experience. Though it may feel catastrophic, there is nothing special about the gap. It is very human. So be kind and don’t beat yourself up!
  2. What can I let go of? In martial arts I learned that when falling, it is best to tuck and roll, embrace the fall, go with the flow. When beliefs fail, resist the urge to cling to them. Knowing what doesn’t work can help us discover what does.
  3. How can I make this situation positive? If we can embrace disillusion with kindness and curiosity, it becomes an opportunity to discover something new and more honest about ourselves and our world.
Ben Mikolaj
Ben Mikolaj

Ben Mikolaj has been a student of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche since 2009 and currently serves as COO of Nalandabodhi International. Ben enjoys traveling, reading, hiking, jokes, the mysterious, musical theater, and movies. He can often be found running around Green Lake in Seattle with his fiancée and their dog Kraken.

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