Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wisdom of Pema Chödrön

Much of therapy and the therapeutic relationship, as I see it, involves working together to get to a place where we see ourselves more authentically--all parts of ourselves. The process involves moving toward acceptance, understanding, forgiveness and self compassion--whatever is necessary to allow us to be present in the moment with ourselves as we are, and with our true feelings and experiences.  Pema Chödrön , the famous Buddhist scholar is a wonderful guide when it comes to facing our fears--the dark places-- rather than running from them.  Sitting with our most difficult feelings and finding that we can move through them allows us to know and to trust ourselves, to heal, to truly be free and live life to the fullest.  I find her teachings to be both wise and inspiring, and they inform greatly my approach to counseling.  Here is just a taste of her wisdom.

"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." 
— from The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

"If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher." 

"Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already."

"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life."
— from The Wisdom of No Escape: How to love yourself and your world

If you are up for it, you can try Pema Chödrön's "Spiritual Detox," which happens to resemble very closely how therapy works!  Check it out the next time a stressful situation arises and you feel like running for the hills:

1) Think about the outer situation, what just happened to provoke  your reaction-anger/fear/desperation?
2) Ask yourself, what feelings did this situation bring up?
3) Sit with the feelings, try to become aware of the layers of feelings.
4) Now try to become aware of your "strategy," what habit do you use to move away from the rawness of this feeling that you don't want to feel?  Yelling?  Acting out?  Berating yourself?
5) For the next few minutes, let your strategy go.  Try to put that strategy aside and just be with what's there.
6) Observe.  

Insight comes out of being kind to yourself, not out of saying you are broken and need to be fixed, changed or made over.  Staying with your feelings instead of acting them out, repressing them or trying to fix them allows  your own inner wisdom to come forth.

Pema Chödrön is an American-born Buddhist nun and one of today's leading meditation teachers.  
She is the director of Gampo Abbey, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America.