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Compassion and Peace for Pema July 14, 2020

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“I’ve often heard the Dalai Lama say that having compassion for oneself is the basis for developing compassion for others.

Step one is maitri, a Sanskrit word meaning lovingkindness toward all beings. Here, however… it means unlimited friendliness toward ourselves, with the clear implication that this leads naturally to unlimited friendliness toward others. Maitri also has the meaning of trusting oneself—trusting that we have what it takes to know ourselves thoroughly and completely without feeling hopeless, without turning against ourselves because of what we see.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

There’s a concept we’ve heard a lot about in the last few years: persistence, staying with it, stick-to-itiveness, leaning in, being present. I would argue that the ability to be present is part of being human, but so is the ability – even the desire – to get away from something (or someone) that is toxic or challenging. You could say that these two sides of the coin are two sides of human nature and, so, it’s natural that abiding (i.e., enduring) is part of the practice. The problem we run into when we move aspects of human nature from the practice – be it Buddhism or Yoga – and into business or personal relationships, without the benefit of the practice and/or an understanding of human nature, is that we take it out of context.

Born today in 1936, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is the author of almost two dozen books and countless articles. She is one of the teachers credited with spreading the teachings of the Buddha into the Western world. She was married and divorced, twice, in her early twenties and thirties and calls her second ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. She is a mother and a grandmother, as well as the principal teacher and director at the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery established in North America for Westerners, Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada. She might appear to be the poster child for “leaning in” – and yet, she recently resigned (in protest) from her leadership role at Shambhala International after a series of accusations related to the misconduct of other teachers and leaders led her to conclude that the governing organization was going in an “unwise direction.”

Just to be clear, calling something “the unwise direction” is very definitely calling it antithetical to the tenets of Buddhism.

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings often center around the concept of shenpa, a Tibetan word she defines as “attachment” and the practice of the 4 R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve), which is the practice of getting unhooked. From the outside looking in, this could look like the opposite of stick-to-itiveness.  Yet, the core of the teachings is what she refers to as “compassionate abiding.” It is being present with what is, leaning in (if you like that phrase), but without engaging the additional layer of suffering that can come from dealing with a toxic or “unwise” situation. It is, absolutely, recognizing the reality of the situation and also offering oneself the opportunity to let go of what no longer serves them. It is breathing in to what is, recognizing and acknowledging it, and then breathing out, relaxing and “giv[ing] the feeling space.”

That’s it, that’s the practice. I realize that sometimes I may explain this in a way that seems opposite of what Chödrön teaches; so let me clarify. Both the inhale and the exhale are opportunities to recognize/acknowledge what is and relax into it. Both the inhale and the exhale create space around what is. When I say, “let go of what no longer serves you” (on the exhale), it is not a suggestion to run away. Instead, it is an opportunity to release the tightness that comes from the shenpa: It’s an opportunity to get unhooked. As attachment is the root of suffering in Buddhism (and in the philosophy of Yoga), the ultimate act of self-compassion is any act of non-attachment or detachment. This, the compassionate part, is what is missing when we take the practice and/or human nature out of the “leaning in” equation. After all, we can leave a toxic situation and still be attached to the toxicity.

“This practice helps us to develop maitri because we willingly touch parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of. We touch feelings that we think we shouldn’t be having—feelings of failure, of shame, of murderous rage; all those politically incorrect feelings like racial prejudice, disdain for people we consider ugly or inferior, sexual addiction, and phobias. We contact whatever we’re experiencing and go beyond liking or disliking by breathing in and opening. Then we breathe out and relax. We continue that for a few moments or for 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’s very simple and direct.”

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

“Compassionate abiding” is sustained by metta/maitri (“loving-kindness”) and it is an inherent part of the practice of the Four R’s. Ani Pema Chödrön says that it can be a stand-alone practice and also a way to prepare for tonglen meditation, a form of compassion often defined as “taking in and sending out” or “giving and receiving.” Either way, it is breathing with intention and that intention is related to the end of suffering. It is, again, recognizing/acknowledging the ways in which we are suffering and, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others are suffering in this same way. It is recognizing/acknowledging our own desire to be free of suffering while, simultaneously, recognizing/acknowledging that others also want to be free of this same suffering. It is simultaneously working towards our own liberation as a means of liberating others – and it opens us up to the reality of people whose suffering is different and/or greater than our own. The desire, the work, the effort are not separate. In fact, the minute we start separating our own needs, desires, and suffering from the needs, desires, and suffering of others is the minute we create more avidyā (“ignorance”) and therefore more suffering.

“By trying this, we learn exactly where we are open and where we are closed. We learn quickly where we would do well to just practice abiding compassionately with our own confused feelings, before we try to work with other people, because right now our efforts would probably make a bigger mess. I know many people who want to be teachers, or feed the homeless, or start clinics, or try in some way to truly help others. Despite their generous intentions, they don’t always realize that if they plan to work closely with people they may be in for a lot of difficulty—a lot of feeling hooked. The people they hope to help will not always see them as saviors. In fact, they will probably criticize them and give them a hard time. Teachers and helpers of all kinds will be of limited use if they are doing their work to build up their own egos.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 Please join me today (Tuesday, July 14th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom to experience a little heart melting. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Selfless help—helping others without an agenda— is the result of having helped ourselves. We feel loving toward ourselves and therefore we feel loving toward others. Over time, all those we used to feel separate from become more and more melted into our heart.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

 

Check out the full article at Tricycle and

 

Fill your cup with Ani Pema and Oprah

 

 

 

### “May [all of us] be able to feel feelings like this without it causing us to shut down to others.” ###

 

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