I was listening to a Pema Chodron interview last night from earlier this year. Isn’t it so cool how we walk right into the light we need to solidify our answers, when we’re actively processing through something that wounded us? One of the most wonderful breakthroughs I’m thankful for was learning some processing happens in waves. It’s good not to push too hard or too fast for resolution and clarity. That only leads to frustration and stuckness. You might give a good chunk of time or energy in the initial feelings right after being emotionally hit by someone’s words, actions, or attitude toward you. This initial processing might not completely clarify what you want to do, if any action at all. It might not immediately bring you peace. I think it can reduce the anxiety or pain in whatever way it’s manifesting, if you accept the pace of healing as it comes, moving your attention to self love when you notice you’re frustrated during the in between space, still waiting for closure. You may find you can be present for parts of your day—a family meal, movie time, a long walk. But then randomly, that unresolved wound will rise to your attention and replay itself, looking for resolution and relief. You might talk about where you’re currently at with it, what your noticing. You can then gently turn inside for further acknowledgement, self-nurturing and processing. “In all human beings, beneath any and all anger, confusion and fear, is a basic goodness that connects us all.” This is good to remember or else we can easily make ourselves superior to the one we feel injured us. Not a good place to hang out—the, I am right, you are wrong… I am good, you are bad, island we can so easily find ourselves washed up on.
“Just like me,” Chodron said, that person (maybe someone who hurt me or others) really wants to be loved, that person doesn’t want to suffer, that person doesn’t want hatred coming towards them.” This. Is. Deep. Pause here. Think about this. Who has offended you? Mistreated you? Disrespected you? Behaved aggressively toward you? “Just like me…” Hmm… How then do you respond? I’d say pause long enough to find your answer. And always turn your highest nurturing-self inward toward loving kindness for you.
This brought to mind many things—the way we can so easily lose our connection to others around us and cause or expand more pain and suffering. How lucky we are to have people like Pema Chodron, Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, Tara Brach, to name of few I admire most, who share their hard earned lessons so eloquently. I love the enlightened wounded-healer-type-teachings. That’s how I see these spiritual giants, anyway.
When asked about legacy Chodron said she doesn’t think about that, she cares about individual lives and that what she says might impact their lives. “Particularly because there’s so much suffering.” If she can say something to alleviate someone’s suffering to a degree, that’s what brings her deep satisfaction. What a gift that kind of thoughtful giving is, not just for the people directly touched by her (and all spiritual teachers and healers of all kinds) but to all of humanity as it ripples out. To a degree, we can all embrace this mission and find deep meaning in it.
I deeply appreciate her thoughts on contacting the part of the human life that’s vulnerable and tender and genuine. “If you get in touch with that, it’s like a link with all humanity. That’s the healing part, the inner connectedness with other people based on having stood in their shoes.” It’s also how to stay connected when we really want to withdraw (usually to self protect, I think). The vulnerable tender part of being human is very linked with knowing how to love. So when things show up that cause us suffering, first we must acknowledge our feelings. When everything in you is shutdown and the mind is racing, blaming the other, or judging yourself, move yourself to
accept, what you’re experiencing…This will slow the racing mind, stop the blaming and judging. This gives us space for stillness. Then, there are various things you can do next. For instance, “go to your body. And just locate it in your body. If you’re angry or afraid, you feel it in your body as tightness.”So, it’s like making friends with that tightness, being kind to that practice of welcoming. “When the pain is there, you acknowledge it, then breathe it in, accepting the pain, welcoming the unwelcome.”
“Human beings are fundamentally good.” This is something you’ll repeatedly read or hear from all great spiritual teachers and it’s something you see easily if you work in the healing professions because you get to see the most vulnerable part of even the most outwardly tough people. My friend Jan calls this your “God part,” often saying in peer review or consultation sessions, of a person behaving in a way that makes them hard to love, “I saw his or her God part,” as she unfolds her good vision for them. I’ve adopted her expression. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. We all have that good inner essence—that God part. “People feel so bad about themselves”, Chodron said, “so if there’s anyway to communicate that they’re perfect just as they are, (that is her desire.) What we call faults or failings are temporary. We work with those by getting to know them well.”
On using the practice, “Just like me” or “that could be me. That person wants to be loved, doesn’t want suffering, doesn’t want hatred or anger coming toward them.” Just like me, everyone wants to be heard. Just like me, everyone wants to know they really matter. If you’re frustrated , angry, or hurt by someone, try the exercise of entering into their life. You can become present enough to transcend your resistance and reconnect.
Pema shared her first deeply profound level of enlightenment that brought her to tears was what she described as “time stood still.” Time stood still, (she) felt a “profound sense of nowness.” A feeling of this moment in time is infinite…a feeling of things are neutral in a way, in the sense that one person hears something and says “it’s good” and another hears the same thing and says “it’s bad.” This awareness allows you to hear both sides. She was in tears, she said, when she first realized this because she felt “everyone is causing self and others so much suffering because they don’t understand this.” Racism, sexism… the (distorted)thinking that something neutral is bad or threatening, then the reaction. Round and round the suffering goes and ripples out. We can use this knowledge to be the change for greater acceptance and peace we are all longing for.
“Every word we speak and every action we perform affects our future but where do words and actions come from? They all start from our mind and when we indulge (emphasis added to bring attention to the fact that we do not need to indulge this pattern) in resentment or obsession, or self righteous thinking, we create several problems for ourselves. First, we suffer the immediate pain of those thoughts and emotions, then we act out in a way that causes ourselves and others harm. Finally, we reinforce a habit that we would be better off without.” For me, this immediately brings to mind what Viktor Frankl taught us in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, when he talks about our ability to pause between stimulus and response…. to “choose our response” in that space rather than just react. When we get emotionally hit we need time to process, acknowledge, feel, find our past connections or associations. Then we can be intentionally tender, gentle, nurturing and loving toward ourself to bring clarity and peace, reconnection and softness, as we move toward finishing the emotional contraction.
Chodron told the story that she received a letter about one of her grandchildren while she was away in solitude (something she does for about 100 days per year and loves.) After reading this letter, she became aware of her obsessing. She said she became aware of the storyline that was going on inside her mind. Even in complete solitude what you’re doing is affecting the world, she said. “The ripples go out—we are so interconnected at such a vast level. The ripples go out—even without talking to or being with another person—the ripples go out. It really matters how we respect ourselves, how we are kind to ourselves, and how we acknowledge we’re causing ourselves suffering by all this obsessing.” We can relate to whatever comes up. This is where meditation comes in because it helps us become so much more aware. We become more aware of where we are stuck—that you’re obsessing or you’re working yourself into a rage (internally or externally) talking about your sister-in-law, an old friend, past lover, boss, neighbor, whomever. Acknowledge you’re doing that, and turn towards your feelings, turn toward yourself instead, and pay attention to that. Then you become able to become an effective agent for change. Because you aren’t blinding yourself with your emotional reactivity, you’re really understanding and fully embodying whatever it is you’re feeling, without making it bad, but with some kind of “kind attitude.” Remember, “you’re just a human being,”… and at the same time, on the other hand, you’re not continuing the rant, whether it’s verbal or in your mind. Somehow in that process, you’re more open and available to the people in front of you and you don’t see them as adversaries or enemies. Even people who do terrible things to people. You wish you could find a way to communicate to their humanness and the more you’re not blocked, the more you really can.
The final element in this interview that deeply resonated for me was this: The person who’s caused you your greatest humiliation, pain, and suffering is also your greatest teacher. We should be thanking that person. “TroubleMakers as Gurus”, are how they’re sometimes described. This connects to a couple of exercises I love and have personally used and also facilitated others through. One stems from the 12-step spiritual recovery process, especially steps 4 and 5. The others involve Inner Child therapy techniques, such as therapeutic letter writing, guided imagery, psychodrama, and emotional release work. There’s only so much you can do without a facilitator, a therapist, sponsor or “enlightened witness,” as Alice Miller puts it. Journaling or writing about what happened, who did what? How did that feel for you? What patterns do you see in how you reacted or responded? What did the process through that pain teach you? How are you different now? All of these awarenesses come, of course, only after a certain amount of healing and time but they can help us respond differently, more effectively.
I’m immensely grateful for holiday time off For more time to read, write, listen and learn from others who give back from the gifts of their life journey. And how about this meme also coming up in my shared memories today? I’d posted it a couple years ago. Divine synchronicity.