There is a popular Tibetan story about a powerful bandit in India who, after countless successful raids, realized the terrible suffering he had been causing. Yearning for a way to atone for what he had done, he visited a famous master. “I am a sinner,” he declared, “and I am in torment. What is the way out? What can I do?” The master looked the bandit up and down then asked him what he was good at. “Nothing,” replied the bandit. “Nothing?” exclaimed the master. “You must be good at something.”

The bandit was silent for a while, then said, “Actually, there is one thing I have a talent for, and that is stealing.” The master was pleased. “Good,” he said, “that’s exactly the skill you need now. Go to a quiet place and rob all your perceptions, then steal all the stars and planets in the sky, and dissolve them in the belly of emptiness, the all-encompassing space of the nature of mind.”

“Emptiness” is the Buddhist term for the insubstantiality of our experiences as they arise and pass away. The nature of attachment is unsubstantial and like all experiences it will pass away. Like the thief in the story, if I’m good at sadness and regret, if I’m good at anxiety, then I can use those things for greater understanding. If I’m good at self-doubt, thinking, I’m not going to say this right, or I should be handling this better, then this doubt, too, can be seen like any painful state, as a bird flying through the sky of awareness. With faith in the power of awareness, I would be able to see my whole tangle of turbulent, painful emotions for what they were – changing, moving, evanescent. They didn’t have to lead me into greater hopelessness or anger or fear. I could be aware of them without getting caught by them. Instead of locating myself in the grief or the sadness or the regret, I could locate myself in awareness of them.

-- Sharon Salzberg, Faith