Magic Carpet Ride: When the Rug Gets Pulled Out from Under Us

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Last week I had a rather embarrassing and unpleasant experience. I found out that I had been very mistaken about something that I was quite sure of. It certainly wasn’t the first (or last) time I will be totally wrong,  but this experience was resoundingly shocking to my sense of equilibrium. What happened was that I had spent the previous three weeks of a new student clinic shift operating under the assumption that the shift officially started at 6:30pm when, in fact, it actually started at 6:15. This only became clear to me at the end of the shift last week when the supervisor was trying to get me to pull needles so she could take off and I told her I was pretty sure I still had 20 minutes left with my client. It turned out I didn’t.

Of course I was totally embarrassed for having made my patients (and supervisor) wait on me, but what was more disturbing, and what I found so hard to come to grips with, was that for three weeks I had been under the assumption that I was right on time when, in fact, I had been living in a 15 minute “time warp”.

As I lay sleepless that night, I kept churning over the details of how I could have come to such an utterly erroneous assumption. I felt a sense of total disorientation: If I had been so mistaken about this one little thing, what else was I totally mistaken about? What if everything I thought about myself and reality was ever-so-slightly, but profoundly, different?

What this experience reminded me of is the Break-through Koan” practice from Zen Buddhism which attempts to “shock” the student/practitioner into a state of openness in which Buddhist concepts like “Emptiness” or the “Nature of Mind” can be experienced. While I certainly do not have the hubris or ignorance to liken my confusion to a moment of “Satori”, I can definitely report that I had a momentary glimpse into the instability of Reality!

I was also reminded, and comforted, by this great quote from Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart:

“The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land.”

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