American Buddhist Nun, Author and Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Lineage
Pema Chödrön, born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown
American Buddhist Nun, Author and Teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist Lineage
The honesty of precision and the goodheartedness of gentleness are qualities of making friends with yourself... As you work with being really faithful to the technique and being as precise as you can and simultaneously as kind as you can, the ability to let go seems to happen to you. The discovery of your ability to let go spontaneously arises; you don?t force it. You shouldn?t be forcing accuracy or gentleness either, but while you couldmake a project out of accuracy, you could make a project out of gentleness, it?s hard to make a project out of letting go.
The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness. Instead, there?s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy.
This is what we are here to see for ourselves. Both the brilliance and the suffering are here all the time; they interpenetrate each other. For a fully enlightened being, the difference between what is neurosis and what is wisdom is very hard to perceive, because somehow the energy underlying both of them is the same. The basic creative energy of life... bubbles up and courses through all of existence. It can be experienced as open, free, unburdened, full of possibility, energizing. Or this very same energy can be experienced as petty, narrow, stuck, caught... The basic point of it all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind ? thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call ?me? or ?I.? Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. No one else can really sort out for you what to accept ? what opens up your world ? and what to reject ? what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery? This is the process of making friends with ourselves and with our world. It involves not just the parts we like, but the whole picture, because it all has a lot to teach us.
We see how beautiful and wonderful and amazing things are, and we see how caught up we are. It isn?t that one is the bad part and one is the good part, but that it?s a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff. When it?s all mixed up together, it?s us: humanness.
Precision, gentleness, and the ability to let go ... are not something that we have to gain, but something that we could bring out, cultivate, rediscover in ourselves.
Being fully present isn?t something that happens once and then you have achieved it; it?s being awake to the ebb and flow and movement and creation of life, being alive to the process of life itself. That also has its softness. If there were a goal that you were supposed to achieve, such as ?no thoughts,? that wouldn?t be very soft. You?d have to struggle a lot to get rid of all those thoughts, and you probably couldn?t do it anyway. The fact that there is no goal also adds to the softness.
If we see our so-called limitations with clarity, precision, gentleness, goodheartedness, and kindness and, having seen them fully, then let go, open further, we begin to find that our world is more vast and more refreshing and fascinating than we had realized before. In other words, the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we?re doing.
Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It?s about seeing how we react to all these things. It?s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It?s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness? The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself. The other problem is that our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.
The cultivation of the noble heart and mind of bodhicitta is a personal journey. The very life we have is our working basis; the very life we have is our journey to enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something we're going to achieve after we follow the instructions, and then get it right. In fact when it comes to awakening the heart and mind, you can't get it right.
The next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear. When I was first married, my husband said I was one of the bravest people he knew. When I asked him why, he said because I was a complete coward but went ahead and did things anyhow.
There are three habitual methods that human beings use for relating to troubling habits such as laziness, anger or self-pity. I call these the three futile strategies?the strategies of attacking, indulging, and ignoring. The futile strategy of attacking is particularly popular. When we see our habit we condemn ourselves?we criticize and shame ourselves. The futile strategy of indulging is equally common. We justify or even applaud our habit: ?It?s just the way I am. I don?t deserve discomfort or inconvenience? The strategy of ignoring is quite effective, least for a while. We dissociate, space out, go numb. We do anything we can to distance ourselves from the naked truth of our habits.
War begins when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily whenever we feel uncomfortable. It?s so sad, really, because our motivation in hardening our hearts is to find some kind of ease, some kind of freedom from the distress that we?re feeling. We can do everything in our power, but war is never going to end as long as our hearts are hardened against each other.
We insist on being Someone, with a capital S. We get security from defining ourselves as worthless or worthy, superior or inferior. We waste precious time exaggerating or romanticizing or belittling ourselves with a complacent surety that yes, that?s who we are. We mistake the openness of our being?the inherent wonder and surprise of each moment?for a solid, irrefutable self. Because of this misunderstanding, we suffer.
When the Buddha taught, he didn?t say that we were bad people or that there was some sin that we had committed?original or otherwise?that made us more ignorant than clear, more harsh than gentle, more closed than open. He taught that there is a kind of innocent misunderstanding that we all share, something that can be turned around, corrected, and seen through, as if we were in a dark room and someone showed us where the light switch was. It isn?t a sin that we are in a dark room. It?s just an innocent situation, but how fortunate that someone shows us where the light switch is. It brightens up our life considerably. We can start to read books, to see one another?s faces, to discover the colors of the walls, to enjoy the little animals that creep in and out of the room.
When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself for feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.
The essence of Bravery is being without self-deception. However it?s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we?d prefer to deny ? judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.
The next time you lose heart and you can?t bear to experience what you?re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That?s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrl gave me. And I now pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering?yours, mine, and that of all living beings.
There are three truths- traditionally called three marks- of our existence: Impermanence, suffering and egolessness.
We act out because, ironically, we think it will bring us some relief. We equate it with happiness. Often there is some relief, for the moment. When you have an addiction and you fulfill that addiction, there is a moment in which you feel some relief. Then the nightmare gets worse. So it is with aggression. When you get to tell someone off, you might feel pretty good for a while, but somehow the sense of righteous indignation and hatred grows, and it hurts you. It?s as if you pick up hot coals with your bare hands and throw them at your enemy. If the coals happen to hit him he will be hurt. But in the meantime, you are guaranteed to be burned.
We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering, we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is we only become more fearful, more hardened and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us - a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears, and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet, when we don't close off, when we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.
When things fall apart and we can?t get the pieces back together, when we lose something dear to us, when they whole thing is just not working and we don?t know what to do, this is the time when the natural warmth of tenderness, the warmth of empathy and kindness, are just waiting to be uncovered, just waiting to be embraced. This is our chance to come out of our self-protecting bubble and to realize that we are never alone. This is our chance to finally understand that wherever we go, everyone we meet is essentially just like us. Our own suffering, if we turn toward it, can open us to a loving relationship with the world.
Whether we?re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn?t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it?s an experience that?s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.
The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is always a sign that we are holding on to something - usually ourselves.
The only real obstacle is ignorance. When you say "Mom!" or when you need a hand to hold, if you refuse to look at the whole situation, you aren't able to see it as a teaching, an inspiration to realize that this is the place where you could go further, where you could love yourself more. If you can't say to yourself at that point, "I'm going to look into this, because that's all I need to do to continue this journey of going forward and opening more," then you're committed to the obstacle of ignorance.
There is a story about a group of people climbing to the top of a mountain. It turns out it's pretty steep, and as soon as they get up to a certain height, a couple of people look down and see how far it is, and they completely freeze; they had come up against their edge and they couldn't go beyond it. The fear was so great that they couldn't move. Other people tripped on ahead, laughing and talking, but as the climb got steeper and more scary, more people began to get scared and freeze. All the way up this mountain there were places where people met their edge and just froze and couldn't go any farther. The people who made it to the top looked out and were very happy to have made it to the top. The moral of the story is that it really doesn't make any difference where you meet your edge; just meeting it is the point. Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again. That's where you're challenged; that's where, if you're a person who wants to live, you start to ask yourself questions like, "Now, why am I so scared? What is it that I don't want to see? Why can't I go any further than this?" The people who got to the top were not the heroes of the day. It's just that they weren't afraid of heights; they are going to meet their edge somewhere else. The ones who froze at the bottom were not the losers. They simply stopped first and so their lesson came earlier than the others. However, sooner or later everybody meets his or her edge.