Tuesday, January 22, 2008

another perspective

The day after I wrote my last post, I was reading O Magazine and an interview Oprah had with the Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron struck me. In the interview, Pema is describing how she went from being an "average mother of two" to a Buddhist Nun. She talks about an article she read after her second marriage broke up titled "Working with Negativity" by Chogyam Trungpa. Trungpa's article stated, "'We all experience negativity--the basic aggression of wanting things to be different than they are.'" Until that time everthing else she had read was essentially saying to look on the positive side. This article said, "'Stay with your experience.'"

Since my last post was essentially about staying positive and being grateful for the simple pleasures and blessings in life, I thought I would also explore the Buddhist perspective of staying with your experiences.

Pema: The problem is that we have so little tolerance for uncomfortable feelings. I'm not even talking about unpleasant outer circumstances, but that feeling in your stomach of I don't want this to be happening. You try to escape it in some way, but if somehow you could stay present and touch the rawness of the experience, you can really learn something.
Oprah: When you tell people to touch the rawness and feel it, what should they do? They're already feeling pain.
Pema: Go to your body and connect with the physical sensation. It always feels really bad; it's usually a tightening in the throat or the heart or the solar plexus. Stay with that and say to youself, "Millions of people all over the world have this kind of discomfort, fear--I don't even have to call it anything--this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity." Connect with the idea that this moment is a shared experience all over the world.
Oprah: What happens if you choose not to sit with the feeling?
Pema: It cuts you off from your compassion and empathy for others. That gives birth to a chain reaction that causes people to self-destruct or strike out and hurt other people. It's the source of a lot of the pain and destruction that we see in the world today.
Oprah: So what do you do to stay with it?
Pema: I think the most straightforward way is to breathe in very deeply and connect with the feeling, and breathe it out on the exhalation. I call it compassionate abiding. It means staying with yourself when, probably for your whole lifetime, you've always run away at that point...
Oprah: You also wrote in When Things Fall Apart that every day gives us an opportunity to either open up or shut down, and that the most precious opportunity presents itself when you think you can't handle whatever is happening. So if, in that moment, you can train youself to open up instead of shutting down...
Pema: That's exactly when you get a real transformation.

While I still believe it's important not to get sucked into the habit of negative thinking, but instead to try to make note of all of our blessings (both big and small) in life on a daily basis, I also realize there are times in life when it's hard to see the blessings through the obstacles and pain. I definitely appreciate this Buddhist perspective of acceptance during those times. Rumi's poem, "The Guest House" is an excellent depiction of Pema's description of staying with your experience and then getting a real transformation as a result.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

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