speaking of patience

Excerpted from Pema Chodron’s “The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience”, Shambhala Sun, March 2005.

That’s what it’s like with aggression: you can’t speak because everyone will feel the vibes. No matter what is coming out of your mouth, it’s like you’re sitting on top of a keg of dynamite and it’s vibrating.

Patience has a lot to do with getting smart at that point and just waiting: not speaking or doing anything. On the other hand, it also means being completely and totally honest with yourself about the fact that you’re furious. You’re not suppressing anything—patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. If you wait and don’t feed your discursive thought, you can be honest about the fact that you’re angry. But at the same time you can continue to let go of the internal dialogue. In that dialogue you are blaming and criticizing, and then probably feeling guilty and beating yourself up for doing that. It’s torturous, because you feel bad about being so angry at the same time that you really are extremely angry, and you can’t drop it. It’s painful to experience such awful confusion. Still, you just wait and remain patient with your confusion and the pain that comes with it.

Patience has a quality of enormous honesty in it, but it also has a quality of not escalating things, allowing a lot of space for the other person to speak, for the other person to express themselves, while you don’t react, even though inside you are reacting. You let the words go and just be there.

This suggests the fearlessness that goes with patience. If you practice the kind of patience that leads to the de-escalation of aggression and the cessation of suffering, you will be cultivating enormous courage. You will really get to know anger and how it breeds violent words and actions. You will see the whole thing without acting it out. When you practice patience, you’re not repressing anger, you’re just sitting there with it—going cold turkey with the aggression. As a result, you really get to know the energy of anger and you also get to know where it leads, even without going there. You’ve expressed your anger so many times, you know where it will lead. The desire to say something mean, to gossip or slander, to complain—to just somehow get rid of that aggression—is like a tidal wave. But you realize that such actions don’t get rid of the aggression; they escalate it. So instead you’re patient, patient with yourself.

speaking of uncertainty

Three Methods for Working with Uncertainty

Excerpted from Three Methods for Working with Uncertainty, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, March 1997

1. No more struggle
Whatever arises, train again and again in seeing it for what it is. The innermost essence of mind is without bias. Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever. Whatever happens, we can look at it with a nonjudgmental attitude. This is the primary method for working with painful situations.

2. Using poison as medicine
When suffering arises, we breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune. It’s our kinship with all living things, the seed of compassion and openness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering.

3. Regarding whatever arises as awakened energy
This reverses our habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to smooth things out, trying to prove that pain is a mistake that would not exist in our lives if only we did the right things. This view encourages us to look at the charnel ground of our lives as the working basis for attaining enlightenment.

breath in, breath out

The following is excerpted from the chapter “Unlimited Friendliness” in a new book “Taking The Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears” by Pema Chodron.


A question that has intrigued me for years is this: how can we start exactly where we are, with all our entanglements, and still develop unconditional acceptance of ourselves instead of guilt and depression?

One of the most helpful methods I’ve found is the practice of compassionate abiding. This is a way of bringing warmth to unwanted feelings. It is a direct method of embracing our experience rather than rejecting it. So the next time you realize that you’re hooked, you could experiment with this approach.

Contacting the experience of being hooked you breath in, allowing the feeling completely and opening to it. The in-breath can be deep and relaxed – anything that helps you to let the feeling be there, anything that helps you not to push it away. Then still abiding with the urge and edginess of feelings such as craving or aggression, as you breath out you relax and give the feeling space. The out-breathe is not a way of sending the discomfort away but of ventilating it, or loosening the tension around it, of becoming aware of the space in which the discomfort is occurring.

The practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch the parts of ourselves that we are not proud of [maitri is defined previously as “unconditional friendliness towards oneself”]. We touch feelings we think we shouldn’t be having – feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage, all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain we feel for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addictions and phobias. We contact whatever we are experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue for a few moments, or as long as we wish, synchronizing it with the breath. This process has a leaning-in quality. Breathing in and leaning in are very much the same. We touch the experience, feeling it in the body if that helps, and we breathe it in.

In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it is very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate non-aggression, the ultimate maitri.