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.

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.


“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 ~