Archives

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.

 

Healing Room

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

~ Pema Chödrön

img_0710As I’ve read books by some of my favorite spiritual teachers, their words, snippets here and there, have resonated deeply with me; however, this particular quote truly blossomed for me over the last year, becoming real to me in a way I could never have anticipated.

While I won’t discuss the details, I was put into the position of making a professional ethical decision that was incredibly painful to make, but one that I never waivered or questioned for a second. I know that I did the right thing; however, sometimes doing the right thing is the most difficult path to travel. My professional purpose was pummeled into the ground and my passion for the important work that I do was decimated. Everything that I once loved about my career became torturous.

The most painful and heartwrenching part of this journey was learning that those I valued and trusted, looked to for support and guidance, were not the people I thought they were. I became angry, hurt, distrustful and resentful. For a short time, I was unable to find comfort in the teachings that had always grounded me before. I was devastated.

And then I simply stopped fighting it. I allowed the negativity to wash over and through me, watching it, feeling it, acknowledging it, for what it was.

Finally, I returned to Pema Chödrön and read these words: they finally made sense. My experience was a painful one– one of many pains and joys and triumphs and failures on this journey. I gave myself permission to feel those things. I also recognized that things will get better, eventually. Things come together and they fall apart. I found comfort in that realization.

Once the negative emotions began to subside, I created the intention of finding my compassion. I sought to find the sufferings of others that hurt me and give them a measure of compassionate thought. I gave myself compassion, as well.

It’s been a tough year in so many ways, but I’m finding resiliency, forgiveness, compassion and hope along the way.

Mindfulness: Reactions

peaceandviolenceOne of the many reasons that Buddhist philosophy resonates so deeply with me is the way it encourages us to be mindful and sit with emotions. We don’t avoid them, but we don’t attach to them, either; we just sit with them for a moment and become aware of ourselves, the way we feel, the positive or negative physiological changes, and of course the myriad thoughts that emotions generate.  Through regular practice, we can learn to refrain from negative knee-jerk reactions and decisions, and therefore suffering, by simply becoming aware. Meditation releases the hold that our thoughts and emotions have upon us and we become more mindful humans. But this isn’t easy. It takes consistency, dedication, patience…  practice.

Emotions arise from all sorts of places, for all sorts of reasons. They serve important functions in our human experiences, such as allowing us to develop interpersonal relationships, social norms, even morals and ethics. Compassion, itself, arises from emotions. However, we can experience overwhelmingly strong emotions that can undermine our ability to respond to stimuli in appropriate ways. We overreact, “fly off the handle”, and when we act in this manner, we harm not only the recipient of our anger, but also our own self.

Our emotions and reactions arise not only from the Self, but also from the Collective – occuring within larger contexts, arising from social norms and belief-systems on both a micro and macro scale. Religious, political, regional or national ~ we experience emotions and react to those emotions and thoughts based on the larger context of our environment and experience, both individually and collectively. And this is where I continually find myself both interested and stymied.

As I practice Buddhist philosophy and meditation, I do so with a broader purpose ~ not only to be a better person, but also to create positive change for the world around me. I believe that each of us holds a piece of the puzzle; and when we each put our pieces together, we can create a global society in which we see our interconnectedness and therefore, we can work together to reduce sufferings on every level. But I often wonder how…. and I have many, many “how”s:

How does a practitioner of Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness maintain their compassionate focus and loving-kindness in the midst of all the seemingly chaotic turmoil in our ever-changing and connected world?

How can Buddhists be agents of social change? Or are we limited to change from within and hope that our inner change will affect and influence others?

How do we marry Buddhism and mindfulness with activism – or is that even possible?

As with most things, there’s more than one answer. And the answers can be contradictory.

One can argue that Siddhartha, himself, was a social activist. His decision to leave the royal palace and search for a path to end suffering was not merely to explain, alleviate and answer to his own suffering, but for the sufferings of all sentient beings. His teachings were socially radical for their time. Over the last 50+ years, as Buddhism has been incorporated into Western traditions and schools of thought, “engaged Buddhism” has developed and become a place and voice for many social activists that have embraced the path of Buddhist tradition.

So in my own search for The Answer, I find myself reevaluating my understanding of compassion, finding deeper and broader meanings as I move along this path. Being compassionate doesn’t begin and end with those of like minds, similar beliefs and values, or membership in the same circles. The real work of compassionate practice is being aware of the humanness of us all, to be able to open that soft place within us that recognizes the suffering of others in spite of their actions, words or beliefs. For instance, being compassionate to a hurting child is easy ~ but being compassionate to the adult that hurt the child is far different. It requires real work and the ability to see beyond the action itself to the underlying suffering.

Of course, this does not mean allowing the negative action or condoning it. Actions have consequences. But being compassionate ~ becoming aware of the suffering that causes the negative actions ~ allows us to respond from a place of true awareness, react without causing more suffering, and maybe even provide an opportunity, or an open door, for growth, development, and healing. As we face the violence, anger, fear and division that continue to mark the human experience, finding the deeper and broader context of compassion can help with the rush of difficult emotions that seem to tumble onto each other, one after the other.

Perhaps the answer lies in the attempt.

Namaste ~