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
There 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.