Archive | December 2017

Reflections

Others will always show you exactly where you are stuck. They say or do something and you automatically get hooked into a familiar way of reacting—shutting down, speeding up, or getting all worked up. When you react in the habitual way, with anger, greed, and so forth, it gives you a chance to see your patterns and work with them honestly and compassionately. Without others provoking you, you remain ignorant of your painful habits and cannot train in transforming them into the path of awakening.

Excerpted from: The Compassion Book: Teachings for Awakening the Heart by Pema Chödrön, pages 26–27

reflectionsThere are days that these teachings resonate more profoundly for me than others. This teaching was just what I needed right now, in this moment.

I try to take each experience, whether positive or negative, and find its teachable moment. Of course, the negative experiences are harder– emotions tend to get in the way, such as anger, helplessness, betrayal, guilt, shame, and deflection. I falter and fail much of the time, indulging in the self-serving desires to blame others, justify my own re/actions, and ignore the suffering that my indulgence causes to both myself and others. But I find that pushing through the emotional aspects is most often well worth the effort.

This teaching does not attempt to prevent us from our “familiar way of reacting”, but instead instructs us to use those familiar ways as teachings in themselves. We see our reactions and compassionationately work with them in the moment of greatest need. In the same way that we learn to ride a bike, we must feel the loss of balance and our bodies’ reactions to it, experience the way we correct ourselves– or overcorrect– and then deal with the consequences of how we react. We could study from a book how to ride a bike and read how the author describes the body’s reaction to balance shifts, but until we are physically attempting the bike, knowing the pain of road rash and the exhiliration of triumph with the wind blowing back our hair, we cannot know what it means to ride a bike.

This is the glorious nature of this teaching! It’s calling us to explore our own selves in an attempt to grow, to learn, to be a better whatever we already are– and perhaps our improvement will create ripples around us, creating a better relationship, community, professional life, and so forth. It is only through our self-reflections and work that we can create change in the world around us.

 

Discovery

Having discovered all our confusions and neuroses, we begin to realize that they are harmless or helpless. Then gradually we find the innocent-child quality in us. And it does not mean that we are being reduced to a child. Rather, we become fresh, inquisitive, sparkling; we want to know more about the world, more about life. All of our preconceptions have been stripped away.

~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

As much as I value the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, this one confuses me:

Having discovered all our confusions and neuroses, wouldn’t we then be as close to full enlightenment as humanly possible?

Wouldn’t we, by the very nature of discovery, recognize them as confusions and neuroses that would automatically make them harmless and helpless?

And as we are in the process of discovery, wouldn’t we be finding that innocent-child quality, so that the full discovery would already have resulted in the return of our fresh, inquisitive, sparkling nature?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this or I’m missing some context. Perhcontemplationaps I’m assigning a near-saintly status to the idea of being Enlightened and that the discovery itself is the process– so, “having discovered” isn’t then a new beginning, but a point of Having Discovered (if that makes sense).

After all, “all of our preconceptions have been stripped away”.

Hmmm…

 

Do Something Unpredictable 

When someone else’s pain triggers fear in us, we turn inward and start erecting walls. We panic because we feel we can’t handle the pain. Sometimes we should trust this panic as a sign that we aren’t yet ready to open so far. But sometimes instead of closing down or resisting we might have the courage to do something unpredictable: turn our attention back toward the other person. This is the same as keeping our heart open to the pain. If we can’t shift our attention, perhaps we can let the story line go and feel the energy of the pain in our body for one second without freaking out or retreating. However, if none of these is yet possible, we engender some compassion for our current limitations and go forward.

~ Pema Chödrön

courageWhat a powerful quote! Today, we see so much suffering in the world– we see victims of abuse, oppression, discrimination and violence. We see victims on the news or in our own communities; worse, we may see them in our homes or the homes of those we love. We feel the pain instantly, but often we retreat and push away because the suffering is too great. This is a natural, human response. But what is it that motivates some of us toward action? Why do some of us open ourselves to the very real threat of vicarious trauma, while others either cannot or will not act?

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators in the human experience. Fear spurs us to react or prevents us from moving a muscle. Action rooted in fear most often results in negative consequences– action that harms others in an effort to regain some measure of stability for ourself. Yet fear is also a natural reaction to suffering designed to ensure our survival. It has its merits and purpose.

I think it’s what we do when experience fear that can create either positive or negative results. As Pema Chödrön describes in this quote, we sit with it.. we see the pain and suffering and we feel it for a moment- we explore it, we try to understand it, and by doing so, we naturally turn our attention from ourselves, from our fear and panic, back toward the other(s) experiencing the suffering. Through this, we can act instead of react- and perhaps think a bit globally in our response.

Courage is refusing to accept the patina of security that ignoring the suffering of others allows us in the moment. We can create a positive change in the world, but only if we’re willing to feel, explore and understand the suffering of others.