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.




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”.



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.

Reality Is Illusory 

A lot of what we’re doing when we’re sitting is beginning to connect. It’s pointing yourself in the direction of beginning to wake up to the fact that the reality we assume, that we take for granted, is illusory. And it starts with seeing the transparency of our thoughts.

~ Pema Chödrön

When I read these words, I was struck by the sudden realization of just how important a daily meditation practice is for my well-being. I don’t have a true daily meditative practice– it’s more sporadic than it should be and the reasons are as varied as my creative mind can invent. (In other words, I have excuses, not reasons).

But when I meditate, I feel the positive results. I feel centered, grounded.. connected. And one of the most important aspects is the realization that the troubles I face and the obstacles in my path are not nearly as great as I think they are– my mind creates their level of importance. They feel real; they can even be measurable; yet they are illusory. They are desert mirages.. they grow before my eyes and take on a life of their own.

When I meditate, my mind and all the emotions, thoughts, issues and negativity no longer resemble caged animals in a zoo, pacing and racing; instead, I watch them pass, coming and going, rising and falling, gradually reducing their form to transparent, detached, passing entities that no longer control me.

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 ~


“Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.”

~ Pema Chödrön

Positive reinforcement word Compassion engrained in a rock

As I read this quote the other morning, I was struck by how dichotomous my meditative practice, and its purpose, is from every other aspect in my life – and I suddenly became aware of another vitally important part that meditative practice and mindfulness have for me and my well-being.

As Pema Chödrön stated, meditation is about awareness of what is Now; what Is; just Is; Now. But in most aspects of my life, I’m focused on the future – meeting goals, reaching destinations, striving toward visions; therefore, The Now is filled with important tasks and assignments, stepping-stones on the various journeys I travel. My intentional foundational chosen focus of compassionate action, mindfulness, empathetic interactions, and meditative practice have become increasingly essential for me as my awareness grows – awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses as well as the effect I have on others around me, coupled by a desire to be a better person in every aspect of my life. So today’s post is the expression of my struggle with the ways I operate most effectively in daily life and the effects I have on those around me – and the benefits of incorporating a meditative practice, with mindfulness and compassionate action, into my daily life outside of the meditation event itself.

I’m an energetic person, highly motivated by a desire to be the change, and thereby create the change, I wish to see in the world. My mind is a constantly churning engine of ideas and thoughts, recognizing problems and creating solutions, then mapping out their possibilities and potential shortcomings. While I tend to have multiple projects going on simultaneously, they’re each a spoke on a wheel with a common goal in the center, each one necessary and a balanced component of the end result. I see things as big puzzle pieces that fit together in intricate ways, and I create several pieces at once while I’m envisioning the final picture, framed and hung on the wall. My excitement and energy are fed by this process, and without the struggle, I get bored and can even lose my focus.

Unfortunately (for me), not everyone responds positively to this type of environment. Change is difficult for most, especially change-within change-on top of change-amid change. While I can see clearly the final product, at the same time as the individual pieces are being created at various stages, others may not see anything at all but chaos and instability. I ask quite a lot of people in my life, both at work and at home. And I would imagine the most difficult thing I ask for is trust – trust in me, trust in my process, trust in my abilities and trust in my vision.

There’s definitely other ways to reach the same goal. For instance, one might be more careful, methodical, slow and steady; fully completing step 1, including gathering data from putting step 1 into practice for a while, before beginning step 2; researching every avenue and eventuality for possible obstacles and cliffs; deciding the best course based on careful analysis and thoughtful contemplation; discussing every movement forward with others in the field and weighing all the options; and finding the calmest moment to step forward, when as many other issues or projects have been completed as possible. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this method and many reasons why it’s highly effective. However, my preferred method is also correct and highly effective – they each have their pros and cons.

One is the rabbit and the other is the hare. The rabbit isn’t necessarily singularly focused on beating the hare, nor ruled by ego. The rabbit can be looking for and aware of the obstacles and cliffs, researching avenues and taking the first steps, starting projects while another is underway, at the same time as carefully analysing data and getting the project train started on the tracks. Yes, it’s completely true that the rabbit method is practically guaranteed to be disastrous in the wrong hands; however, in the right hands, the rabbit can achieve even better results than the hare – achieving the goal quicker by eliminating unnecessary or over-contemplation, and by using resources and time much more effectively.

So, I suppose I’m selling my case, justifying my madness and the chaos I seem to create. I suppose I’m also creating my own suffering through my attachment to my method and unwillingness to be the hare. And I freely admit that I do suffer as a result of being the rabbit. I suffer when I have to deal with the results of the effects I have on the hare.

The hare becomes agitated and even angry with the changes swirling around and the instability that change creates anyway, coupled with the inability to see how the pieces fall together. The hare handles projects most effectively by fully completing one step and putting it into practice long enough to gather corroborative evidence of efficacy before the next step can be examined, explored, discussed, evaluated, contemplated, mapped and then finally taken. But that makes it extremely difficult for me to even begin explaining my vision, let alone ensuring the stability of the wheel with its various spokes. The resulting frustration on both sides easily leads to anger and resentment, the sense of being ignored or not taken seriously, and most especially, feeling a lack of trust and respect in each other’s abilities and experience. And so both the rabbit and the hare suffer.

I’ve been experiencing this suffering lately, even as I’ve found an inner strength and a purpose. It’s interesting how things happen and life progresses. A few months ago, I had been plagued by turmoil over instability and lack of control over certain aspects of my life. Just as I was at my lowest point, and about to take a divergent path, incredible events began to happen, people I value and respect shared their own faith in my abilities and strengths, and rather quickly, I became aware of my own value. I remembered that I start within and work outward from there. As if a light was turned on my brain, I saw exactly what I needed to do and the ways I could make a difference in not only my own perception of my environment, but also for others experiencing the same things about the issues.

My fire and passion were reignited and the ways in which I needed to act in order to realize my goal, my vision, became crystal clear. As soon as awareness hit me, I began to implement changes and solve problems – my energy and motivation shot through the roof! It’s been a truly glorious time! But as I’ve been rising to meet the challenges and creatively exploring new avenues; as I’ve been recognizing that I can do whatever I put my mind to doing, being my own boss and forging ahead on this adventure, the hare has been experiencing turmoil and instability with each step I’ve taken. My positive outlook created negativity for the hare. And the hare fought back against it all.

In this case, I know I’m taking the right action for the goals I want to reach in the timeframe I am given. I won’t be deterred any longer or undermined in any manner. I allowed too much time to pass and too many obstacles to rise. Once the mind is clear and the fog has lifted, the path is vivid and I’m ready to run! However, I still have to navigate and handle the effects I have created and the suffering that is as much my fault as it is the hare’s.

And that’s the frame by which I read the opening quote. And as a result of this teaching, the clarity of the mind is only matched by the clarity of the soul!

Each morning, I set an intention of being mindful and compassionate in my thoughts, words and actions. Very tough intention, once my feet pass over the threshold of my home. But the intention is pure and the consequences are positive. So each day, I struggle and often I fail. Oh how we tend to make things so much harder for ourselves than we need to!

Pema Chödrön’s quote is reminding me that the purpose of meditative practice is simply awareness. I meditate and I feel what it is to be human, to be female, to be whatever it is that I am.. in that moment, in that environment, under that set of circumstances, with whatever is The Now. Being aware, experiencing awareness, isn’t about being better than I was or handling situations more effectively – it’s just being aware. At this moment, I am tired. I am hungry. I am anxious. I am calm. I am cold. I am hot. I am worried. I am happy. I am excited. I am depressed … It’s not about the why or the how – just about being aware of the moment.

So why should I spend any time practicing awareness of the moment without delving into background and root causes and solutions and so forth? Isn’t that a waste of time? Perhaps. It just is. And I’m not being flippant. Being aware of simply being, allows everything to fall away. Everything is extra and nothing is actual. Start by asking yourself, “who am I?” Who are you, really? Are you the thoughts in your head, the emotions you feel, the words you speak, the actions you take, the dreams you have, the work you do? If you lose all those things, are you still you? If you stop having thoughts at all for, say, 10 minutes, and you feel no emotions and you speak no words and you take no actions and you dream nothing and do no work, for 10 full minutes, are you still you? Are you your experiences? What if you lose your memory – are you still you? You see?

So I get caught up in the actions and reactions, the methods and the results, the rabbit and hare. But in the moment, in this moment, I am tired. I am hungry. I am warm. I am breathing. Or I’m none of the above. And when I remember that, I can appreciate that the hare is also none of the above or all of the above. The goal is important and it’s not. For a moment. And I can smile in spite of suffering. We will suffer. We are suffering. And we’re not.

I suppose what I’m saying is that we’re all here for such a short time. We’ve been granted the rarest of gifts in being alive and in this human form. We have amazing potential and can move those mountains. So take a moment here and there to just be. Just breathe. And this too shall pass.

~ namaste ~


“In meditation, we work with breath and meditationposture as expressions of our state of being. By assuming a dignified and upright posture and identifying with the outgoing breath, we begin to make friends with ourselves in a fundamental sense. Through practice, one begins to see the simplicity of one’s original state of mind and to see how confusion, speed, and aggression are generated by ignoring the peacefulness of our being.”

~ Chogyam Trungpa


Meditation is both simple and complex. Sitting quietly, focusing on the breath, being fully aware of The Now .. how simple an activity. But when one sits quietly, focusing on the breath, one becomes aware that thoughts are in control, swirling around inside the mind, one after another, and The Now becomes elusive. This is the first step ~ becoming aware of our thoughts and training our mind to calm and quiet.

The practice of meditation is not so much technique as it is mindset. It’s a way of life, a lifestyle. It’s awareness, clarity, consciousness ~ acknowledging thoughts without becoming attached to them. It’s serenity and peace from within, regardless of any chaos in the environment. The health benefits of this practice are being discovered with increasing frequency as more scientific studies discover the mechanisms in the brain before, during and after meditation.

Studies are finding that meditation lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, decreases anxiety, increases creativity, improves memory, even strengthens the immune system. Daily practice can reduce heart disease, reduce the effects of fibromyalgia, and can actually increase optimism and compassion. MRIs detecting the activity in the brain have shown that meditation decreases beta waves, which are indicators of information processing, meaning our brains slow down and rest.

There are many meditation styles and types to try, but an effective method for beginners is guided meditation, via podcasts, apps, videos or classes. They can focus on specific topics, such as energy or clarity; focus on the body and sensations; or direct the meditator to focus on an object and chant or direct the breath. As one becomes more accustomed to the practice, the guiding becomes less necessary and can even become distracting, so simply starting a timer and closing the eyes can be enough.

If you’re a beginner or a seasoned meditator, share your experiences in the comments below. Over the coming weeks, the resource pages will be updated to include those books, podcasts and websites that I like to use ~ and I would love to learn about yours, as well.

Simply let experience take place very freely, so that your open heart is suffused with the tenderness of true compassion.”

~ Tsoknyi Rinpoche

~ namaste ~