The more the wood – the hotter the fire . . .
Excerpted from “Taking the Leap” by Pema Chodron
So we start by making friends with our experience and developing warmth for our good old selves. Slowly, very slowly, gently, very gently, we let the stakes get higher as we touch in on more troubling feelings. This leads to trusting that we have the strength and good-heartedness to live in this precious world, despite its land mines, with dignity and kindness. With this kind of confidence, connecting with others comes more easily, because what is there to fear when we have stayed with ourselves through thick and thin? Other people can provoke anything in us and we don’t need to defend ourselves by striking out or shutting down.
Selfless help, helping others without an agenda, is the result of our having helped ourselves. We feel loving towards ourselves and therefore we feel loving towards others. Over time all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.
photo by brooke golightly
The Big Squeeze
Excerpted from “True Happiness”
Sounds True, Inc.
This is the place where most of us hang out for a long time, in what I sometimes call the big squeeze, where you are sort of caught between your idealistic notions of how you want to be (and how you think everyone else should be as well), and your “human frailty” if you want to call it that – the realness of your cravings, or the strength of your habitual patterns. You are sort of caught and rubbed between these two things…
(the sound of Ani-la rubbing her hands together is heard in the recording over a brief period of silence)
And, it’s very interesting, because on the one hand there is your idealism, how one “should” be. And then you are up against how you actually are. And interestingly enough – if you actually allow yourself to be rubbed instead of being harsh on yourself, if you will allow yourself to be rubbed – this is a place were some sort of real balance comes in. You really learn what is the middle way between idealism and craving, some kind of middle way where you can hold your seat, you can keep your heart open and stay receptive to these difficult places. You can stay open and more and more you can not harm yourself by doing the same things over and over.
But it’s half way… you’re sort of right in the middle of something, and I really think this is the place where we learn compassion for ourselves. This is the place where we begin to have some appreciation for what other people are up against, some real empathy, instead of just criticizing them all the time.
When you see yourself, how strong your aspiration is and how you are not always able to measure up, you learn so much from this inbetween state of a really good-hearted strong wish to not block your buddha-nature, and yet still finding yourself in that very place.
there is no light without darkness… there is no darkness without light… everything is everything… my joy only runs as deep as my sorrow… it’s all good…
“Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both.
Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.
On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple.
Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
Excerpted from “Start Where You Are”
by Pema Chödrön
Here’s more of the article I excerpted from last Sunday…
By Pema Chödrön
Let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone. You’re one with the whole situation. You’re open and receptive and there and interested. Then there is a little shenpa pulling-away, a kind of uneasy feeling in the stomach—which we usually don’t notice—and then comes our big thought. We are suddenly verbalizing to ourselves, “How am I looking here? Did I just say something stupid? Am I too fat? That was a stupid thing to say, wasn’t it, and I am too fat….”
Some thought or other causes us to split off, and before we know it we’re completely self-absorbed. We’re probably not even hearing the words of the person we’re conversing with, because we have retreated into a bubble of self-absorption. That’s splitting off. That’s dividing in two.
The Buddha taught about this basic split as the birth of dualism, the birth of self versus other, of me versus you. It happens moment after moment. When we start out, we are “one-with.” We have a sense of our interconnectedness, though we might not use that fancy word. We’re simply listening and there. And then, split! We pull back into our own worry or concern or even our own elation. Somehow we’re no longer together. Now it’s more about me and self, rather than them and other. By contrast, being “one-with” is neither about other nor about self. It’s just totally open, present, there.
Settling the Score
If the path of the peacemaker, of happiness, is being open and receptive and one with your experience, then settling the score is the path of making war, whereby aggression gives birth to aggression and violence gives birth to violence. Nothing is settled. Nothing is made even. But the mind of settling the score does not take that into consideration. When you are caught by that mind, because of the highly charged and ever-expanding emotionality you’re going through, you do not see what settling the score is really doing. You probably don’t even see yourself trying to settle the score.
If we started to think about and talk about and make an in-depth exploration of the various wars around the world, we would probably get very churned up. Thinking about wars can indeed get us really worked up. If we did that, we would have plenty of emotional reactivity to work with, because despite all the teachings we may have heard and all the practice we may have done, our knee-jerk reaction is to get highly activated. Before long, we start focusing on those people who caused the whole thing. We get ourselves going and then at some irrational level, we start wanting to settle the score, to get the bad guy and make him pay. But what if we could think of all of those wars and do something that would really cause peace to be the result? Where communication from the heart would be the result? Where the outcome would be more together rather than more split apart?
In a way, that would really be settling the score. That would really be getting even. But settling the score doesn’t usually mean that. It means I want my side to win and the other side to lose. They deserve to lose because of what they’ve done. The side that I want to lose can be an individual in my life or a government. It can be a type or group of people. It can be anything or anyone I point the finger at. I get quite enraged thinking about how they’re responsible for everything, so of course I want to settle the score. It’s only natural.
We all do this. But in so doing we become mired in what the Buddhist teachings refer to as samsara. We use a method to relate to our pain. We use a method to relate to the underlying groundlessness and feelings of insecurity. We feel that things are out of control, that they are definitely not going the way we want them to go. But our method to heal the anguish of things not going the way we want them to is what Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche calls pouring kerosene on the fire to put it out.
We bite the hook and escalate the emotional reactivity. We speak out and we act out. The terrorists blow up the bus and then the army comes in to settle the score. It might be better to pause and reflect on how the terrorists got to the place where they were so full of hatred that they wanted to blow up a bus of innocent people. Is the score really settled? Or is the very thing that caused the bus to be blown up in the first place now escalating? Look at this cycle in your own life and in your own experience. See if it is happening: Are you trying to settle the score?
By Pema Chödrön
There is a key moment, says Pema Chödrön, when we make the choice between peace and conflict. In this new teaching from her program Practicing Peace in Times of War, she describes the practice we can do at that very moment to bring peace for ourselves, for others, and for the world.
If we want to make peace, with ourselves and with the world at large, we have to look closely at the source of all of our wars. So often, it seems, we want to “settle the score,” which means getting our revenge, our payback. We want others to feel what we have felt. It means getting even, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with evenness at all. It is, in fact, a highly charged emotional reaction.
Underlying all of these thoughts and emotions is our basic intelligence, our basic wisdom. We all have it and we can all uncover it. It can grow and expand and become more accessible to us as a tool of peacemaking and a tool of happiness for ourselves and for others. But this intelligence is obscured by emotional reactivity when our experience becomes more about us than about them, more about self than about other. That is war.
I have often spoken of shenpa, the Tibetan term for the hook in our mind that snags us and prevents us from being open and receptive. When we try to settle the score, we cover over our innate wisdom, our innate intelligence, with rapidly escalating, highly charged, shenpa-oozing emotionality. We produce one hook after another.
What are we to do about that? We could say that this emotionality is bad and we have to get rid of it. But that brings problems, because it’s really the same approach as getting even with other people. In this case we’re basically saying that we have to settle the score with ourselves, get even with ourselves, as it were, by ridding ourselves of our emotionality.
Since this approach will not work, what we need to do is to neither reject nor indulge in our own emotional energy, but instead come to know it. Then, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught, we can transmute the confusion of emotions into wisdom. In simple terms, we must gain the capacity to slowly, over time, become one with our own energy instead of splitting off. We must learn to use the tools we have available to transform this moment of splitting in two. *Splitting in two* is the moment when peace turns into war, and it is a very common experience.
***Especially if you’re “biracial”***
The following is excerpted from:
Pema Chödrön and Dzigar Kongtrül: Let’s Be Honest
A discussion led by Elizabeth Namgyel
…Dzigar Kongtrül: Self-importance is having too much attachment to one’s own well-being and freedom from suffering, without having the same kind of care and concern for others’ well-being and freedom from suffering. When we have a great deal of self-importance, we will never be able to enjoy whatever we possess that we have gathered through our hard work, wit, and cunning. It will always bring a sense of dissatisfaction. We will never feel quite ready to enjoy it, because we carry the burden of being attached to it. However, if we apply to others the same sense of loving and caring that we have in cherishing ourselves, we reduce the self-importance.
When self-importance is reduced, a door opens to your positive qualities. As you continue to reduce the self-importance, the positive qualities take deeper root in your mindstream and your heart. At that point, you have real discipline and you begin to sustain yourself with your innate positive qualities, rather than the drive to become important. The ability to love, to care, to be concerned, to be compassionate—these were all there from the beginning. Previously, they were guided by self-centeredness; now they are guided by the needs of others.
This innate love is a powerful force that is now being led by a completely noble, incredibly dignified leader. Before, this powerful force, an army with the richness of a whole kingdom behind it and the loyalty of the subjects, was being led by a crooked king, and that crookedness created a state of confusion that spread everywhere. When that crooked leader is replaced by a noble leader, with a genuine sense of dignity, everyone in the kingdom can reap the benefit of the positive qualities that are the basic nature of the kingdom in the first place.
Pema Chödrön: Is the leader self-reflection?
Dzigar Kongtrül: The noble leader is altruistic mind, and the crooked leader is self-centeredness. Self-reflection is what discriminates between the qualities of self-centeredness of the bad leader and the altruistic mind of the good leader.
Pema Chödrön: It is interesting to consider the nature of the self-centeredness that seems to be prevalent in the West. I don’t think the term “self-cherishing,” for example, is all that helpful here, because the ego twist in the West isn’t that we love ourselves too much. Rather, we tend to have a negative preoccupation with ourselves. We might go shopping, not so much to feather our own nest, but to try to overcome some very bad feeling we have toward ourselves. Rather than cherishing ourselves, we hate ourselves. So, loving- kindness toward oneself needs to be developed as the basis before you can spread it to other people.
Dzigar Kongtrül: The loving-kindness is directed to your mind, not to the self. When you redirect the love and compassion from the self-centered approach, which has never produced good results anyway, to the altruistic approach, you find you have positive feelings in great abundance. Even though these are extended outwardly to others, they don’t leave your mind and end up somewhere else. They fill your mind and sustain it.
Pema Chödrön: Shantideva talks about all the ways that we are willing to hurt ourselves, including suicide. He says, if you’re willing to hurt yourself that much, it’s no wonder you’re willing to hurt other people. It seems to me the verses in the Bodhicaryavatara that discuss this issue are key for the West, because we’re much more into self-degradation than what you call self-cherishing.
Dzigar Kongtrül: The use of language in this case is interesting. When we say self-degradation, it sounds like we don’t have much self-importance. But in reality if one were not holding tightly to the self, there would be no reason to feel such aversion to it.
Pema Chödrön: Yes, I see self-degradation as one of the main ways that self-importance manifests in the West. You are still “full of yourself,” but you are full of yourself as a negative thing.
Dzigar Kongtrül: We come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. But if you really study, if you really practice, you will find that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong. So you need to commit to a course of study and practice, and until you do that, whether one is in the West or anywhere else, there is going to be the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with you. When you wish to be happy and free from suffering, and yet your mind is not supporting you, it’s very easy to resort to thinking that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.
Excerpted from “Getting Unstuck” by Pema Chodron, from teachings on Shenpa that she attributes to her current teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
So this is a teaching on a Tibetan word – Shenpa. S-H-E-N-P-A, Shenpa.
And actually its taught about a lot in Buddhism but not quite in the style that Dzigar Kongtrul has been presenting it.
The usual translation of the work Shenpa is “attachment”. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition is attachment. But the word attachment absolutely doesn’t get at what it is, and so Dzigar Kongtrul said lets just not use that translation, its incomplete and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.
So, if I were translating Shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I am going to give you a few. One word might be “hooked”. How we get hooked. We get hooked, and then we get “stuck”. Everyone likes to hear teachings on getting stuck and how to get unstuck because it is so common to feel stuck.
Guess what: you can meditate for a long, long time, and you can still get stuck.
In terms of [the example previously described of] having scabies and the itch that goes along with that, and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and its the urge to scratch. So “urge” is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, have one more drink, or whatever your addiction is.
And it gets into everyday experience. Somebody says a mean word to you… and then something in you tightens. That’s the shenpa. And then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem or blaming them or anger at them or denigrating yourself, and then words or actions, maybe if you have strong addictions you just go right for your addiction to cover over that bad feeling that arose when someone said this mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you. Hooks you. Another word might not affect you, but we’re talking about when it touches that sore place. That’s a shenpa.
The fundamental root shenpa is what in buddhism is called ego, or ego-clinging. And we experience it as this tightening and self-absorption that gets very strong at that point. So the fundamental root shenpa is ego-clinging, or self-absorption, or “cocoon”*, and then the branch shenpas are all the different styles of scratching and so forth, like that.
So someone criticizes you, they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child and – shenpa – almost co-arising. As soon as those words have registered – boom, its there, and its like a tightening.
Shenpa is not the thoughts. Dzigar Kongtrul made a big thing about it’s closer to an emotion, it’s pre-verbal and then it breeds thoughts really quickly, but shenpa is not the thoughts. He said it’s more like an emotion, but I think its even pre-emotion in a way, its kind of that (makes gasping sound)… so that you can feel it happening, which often, people just starting with this can – you feel it happening sometimes.
Say like at the monastery, at Gampo Abbey, people were finding someone would come sit next to them, and of course you have a kind of intimate relationship with everyone there living in community, and they can feel the shenpa just because this person sat down next to them, because they have some kind of thing going about this person, and they’re hooked.
Now if you catch it at that level, its very workable and then you have the possibility to have this enormous curiosity about this urge to do the habitual thing, to strengthen the habituation. You can feel it.
One thing about shenpa is it’s never new, it always has a familiar taste in the mouth. It has a familiar smell. It’s like when you begin to get the hang of it, you feel like this has been happening forever.
It causes you to feel the fundamental underlying insecurity of the human experience that is inherent in a changing shifting impermanent illusory world as long as we are habituated to want to have ground under our feet.
excerpted from a talk entitled “Guidelines for Living Fearlessly”
Pema Chodron Books and Tapes
How to taste the quality of the moment, of the week, without the labels of good and bad, or succeeding and failing. But really just get used to tasting or knowing or experiencing the quality of what you are going through, not as some final thing.
I think Rilke said “no feeling is final”. Its a great line in one of his poems. No feeling is final, but somehow in the moment, we often feel, a sort of – this is how it is – in such a heavy way. And then so much story line goes with that that it drags us down.
So sometimes we like what we are feeling and then we don’t like what we’re feeling. And then we like it again, and then we don’t like it again. And then it just sort of goes like that – it’s actually fine for it to be like that.
Enlightened people, from what I have heard, the moods come and go, the energy shifts come and go. Its not like suddenly you are enlightened and then the rain never comes. It doesn’t mean you don’t wake up with a headache, or a heavy feeling in your heart.
But basically it never goes beyond that, its just the quality of awakened energy as it is manifesting right now. So it is a really profound deep shift of attitude towards our moods and thoughts and our emotions.
The path of liberation depends on not taking everything so personally.
I remember Trungpa Rinpoche saying to a group of students, one of which was complaining about their very very difficult work situation with a very difficult boss, and his answer began with the statement “well the trouble is, we all take everything so personally”. And I remember we all laughed and it seemed like a really funny comment. But I now see exactly what he meant.
Taking it personally means investing so much energy and time as if you are like this, and the situation is like this, and its fixed, instead of realizing that its always shifting and changing.
Sometimes the sun is brightly shining, and sometimes it hasn’t shone for the last three days. And you feel what you feel about that. But of course what we are really talking about is the emotional weather.
Excerpted from “The Wisdom of No Escape”
by Pema Chodron
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry that we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
Trungpa Rinpoche always used to say, “You can do it.” That was probably one of his main teachings, “You can do it.” Thich Nhat Hanh, in his Guide to Walking Meditation, begins by talking about how everybody carries around this burden, and if you want to put it off, if you want to lay it down, you can do it. You can connect with the joy in your heart.
…When things are still, you may find that you are feeling grim and doing everything with a grim expression: grimly opening the door, grimly drinking your tea, concentrating so hard on being quiet and still and moving slowly that you’re miserable. On the other hand, you could just relax and realize that, behind all the worry, complaint, and disapproval that goes on in your mind, the sun is always coming up in the morning, moving across the sky, and going down in the evening. The birds are always out there collecting their food and making their nests and flying across the sky. The grass is always being blown by the wind or standing still. Food and flowers and tress are growing out of the earth. There’s enormous richness. You could develop your passion for life and your curiosity and your interest. You could connect with your joyfulness. You could start right now.
The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, its a brand-new sun. Its born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.