Archive for November, 2014


Sunday, November 23rd, 2014


Antelope IslandThis is the seventh of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters eighteen  through twenty. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.


The Dilemma of Coming up Short

In chapter eighteen, Secret Oral Instructions, Pema Chödrön discusses the discrepancy between our aspirations and our actual behavior. She gives an example of a moment inspiration: Perhaps we just read something that shifts our perspective. “We feel”, she says, “that we’ve just connected with a truth we’ve always known and that if we could just learn more about it, our life would be delightful and rich.”  At these moments  we feel expansive, we feel changed and committed to going about our life more generously— we feel “a great tenderness toward everyone, and a commitment to benefit others”. Then only hours or even minutes later we can think critical thoughts about someone, or turn down an opportunity to help a friend because of the inconvenience.  When we realize we’ve done this we may then feel deflated and self-critical.

But she tells us with equanimity, “It’s not a matter of the right choice or the wrong choice, but simply that we are often presented with a dilemma about bringing together the inspiration of the teachings with what they mean to us on the spot.   There is a perplexing tension between our aspirations and the reality of feeling tired, hungry, stressed-out, afraid, bored, angry or whatever we experience in any given moment of our life.”

The Trick of Choicelessness

In chapter twenty Pema introduces us to the Samaya Bond that a dedicated student   of Buddhism may make with a teacher.  It is, she says, “a complete and unconditional relationship between student and teacher: a commitment to sanity—to indestructible sanity. Samaya is like a marriage with reality, a marriage with the phenomenal world.”   She then extends the concept of samaya  to mean the commitment we  can choose to make with reality. She describes samaya as a trick. “Choosing” reality, by choosing the world as it actually is.  By committing to reality we feel we have a choice.  But there is no choice, there is only the world as it actually is.   Reality is like a room with no exit.  But  by choosing not to escape , we do not spend our lives  in the futile search for an  exit.  The trick, then, is in accepting what already is.

Three Traditional Methods For Working With Chaos

The three methods of working with chaos described in chapter nineteen make a good focal point for the core practices described in this book overall.   I have included here an outline of the chapter.  One option for a regular mindfulness meditation practice is to practice these three methods for a set number of days such as 21, 30 or 90—whatever seems appropriate for you.


  1. No More Struggle
  2. Using Poison As Medicine
  3. Seeing Whatever Arises as Enlightened Wisdom

1.     No More Struggle: The primary method for working with painful situations

  • During meditation whatever arises in our mind we look at directly, call it “Thinking” and go back quickly to the immediacy of the breath.  Again & again return to pristine awareness free of concepts.
  • Don’t judge the thoughts or judge yourself for thinking them.
  • Remember:
    • “Things arise and things dissolve forever and ever”.
    • Meditation practice is not about accomplishing anything, but about ceasing struggle & relaxing as it is.


2.    Using Poison as Medicine: Tong-Len

  • When any difficulty/pain  arises,  let go of the story line and breathe it in.
    • Passion (craving, addiction, greed)
    • Aggression(delusion, distorted thinking)
    • Ignorance (delusion, distorted thinking)
    •  The poisons of passion (craving, addiction, greed) aggression (hatred) and ignorance (delusion, distorted thinking) denial; the tendency to shut down) are taken as the seeds of compassion, because there is a universality in pain
    • The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to or within us.  We can use everything that happens to us as a means for waking up (awakening).
    • As one Lojong slogan says, “When the world is filled with evil, all mishaps, all difficulties, should be transformed into the path of enlightenment.”

      3. Regard whatever arises as the manifestation of awakened energy.

  • We can regard ourselves as already awake; we can regard our world as already sacred.
  • This reverses our fundamental habitual pattern of trying to avoid conflict, trying to make ourselves better than we are, trying to prove that pain is a mistake and would not exist in our lives if only we did all the right things.
  • The elemental struggle is with our feeling of being wrong, with our guilt and shame at what we are.  That’s what we have to befriend.
  • We can dissolve the illusion of dualism between us and them , between this and that, between here and there, by moving toward what we find difficult and wish to push away (the charnel ground).

In sum, lighten up, lower your standards and relax as it it.



Settle in to some approximation of the formal sitting position, and focus awhile on your outbreath.  Label any thought that arises as “thinking” and let it go.

Eventually focus on each of the phrases below, one at a time.  Speak each one of them aloud or quietly to yourself.  Repeat each one at least once before going on to the next.


There is no better time than right now.

There is no better place than here.

I am already awake.

There is no higher state of consciousness than this one. 

Samsara is Nirvana.  Nirvana is Samsara.


Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at




Sending and Receiving

Monday, November 10th, 2014

This is the sixth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters fifteen  through seventeen. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.

In chapter sixteen  Pema Chödrön introduces the precept  of pasjna which  is freedom from the actions of making ourselves secure”.  Pasjna, it seems to me,   is the core of what frees us to  practice sending loving kindness outward.   She describes prasjna as  the “wisdom that cuts through the suffering that comes from seeking to protect our own territory”.  sendreceive3By not being compelled to protect our own territory we have no reason to defend against perceived threats by those who see the world differently than us.

Today’s exercise, below, is meant to guide you through the more formal practice of Tonglen as described in chapter fifteen.  To build on the descriptions  of tonglen presented last week from  chapter fourteen we can see tonglen practice as a method of connecting with suffering—the suffering  of ourselves and those around us.  It can lead to overcoming our fear of suffering thus expanding our heart when our impulse is to constrict.

Pema reassures us that it is okay if at any point in the practice we become stuck. If so we are to do tonglen  for what we are feeling at the moment  by breathing  in our stuckness and breathe what we feel we need—such as openness and fluidity.  Then we  breathe in for everyone who is feeling stuck and send out what we feel they need.

Or maybe it is our own pain that blocks us from receiving the pain of others. If you can name the pain, breathe in for those who feel the same pain.   If you can’t name  the pain, focus on the emotional and physical sensation. Then breathe in for all those who feel the same sensation.

She encourages us  to go against the grain of wanting things to work out and tells us that in Buddhist language this is referred  “dissolving the fixation and clinging to the ego”.   This suggests becoming free of making ourselves the reference point—the center of things.  If we feel we are the center of things then our needs, beliefs and our opinions must be protected or propagated.  From this perspective the needs, belief and opinions of others are less important to us and even seem like they are competing with us. To cease to cling to our ego is to be free of this and the suffering that comes with.


In chapter seventeen she talks about our attachment to opinions and how we become fixated on them to the point  that we see them as truth.  She writes,

Opinions are opinions, nothing more or less. We can begin to notice them, and we can begin to label them as opinions, just as we label thoughts as thoughts… To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions introduces us to the possibility of egolessness.
We can just let those opinions go, and come back to the immediacy of our experience. We can come back to looking at someone’s face in front of us, to tasting our coffee, to brushing our teeth… If we can see our opinions as opinions and even for a moment let them go, and then come back to the immediacy of our experience, we may discover that we are in a brand-new world, that we have new eyes and new ears.”

 This creates  spaciousness and clarity—what she calls “intelligence” or clear seeing.  Intelligence is particularly important as we take action in the world to make it more kind and loving.   Let’s say, for example that I see an injustice in our community or nation and I choose to become politically active to change it and to protest the way it is.   I may have an opinion about those who are at fault.  If my opinion seems solid and true to me those who have different opinions are seen by me as the ones causing the injustice.  I am tempted to focus more on them, as I become angry with feel “righteous indignation”, then I focus on the cause.  I make them the “other”, and demonize them.  It can be said, therefore, that we actually  construct our enemies through our solid opinion and the righteousness we feel.  When I do this it does nothing for my cause and it likely hurts my cause because it fosters the defensiveness of my opponents and helps to solidify their opinions.  In contrast intelligence, that is, clear seeing, begets authentic speech and authentic speak begets effective action.


“Tonglen”, Pema tells us, “can extend infinitely”.  Most of us begin with a lot of stuckness, constriction, and long standing judgments.  As we practice, gradually over time, we may find that our compassions expands—becomes more spacious. We may find that we are more able to be there for others in what used to be intolerable situations.

Settle yourself in your seated position.

1.  First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, opening up to basic spaciousness and clarity.

 2. Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy—and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light—a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in and out-breaths. 

3. Third, work with a personal situation—any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help.  If you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering.

 4. Now make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough.

             But if you feel ready you could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself.  Breathe in their pain and send them relief.  (This passage is an abbreviated version of Pema Chödrön’s instruction at the end of chapter fifteen.)

Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at





Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This is the fifth of ten posts in the Exploring Mindfulness series, a reflection on the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön.  This post addresses chapters twelve  through fourteen. To find out more or to ask to be part of the online discussion visit: Exploring Mindfulness.


sign.inward & outward


These chapters got me thinking about the aspects of mindfulness that have us looking inward and those that have us looking outward and how these aspects are inseparable.






Chapter 12, “Growing up” encourages us to do inward exploration, to let go of our reliance on what the outside world tells us.   Growing up means to stop waiting for someone else to tell us what to do.  It means to stop waiting for someone else to tell us what the truth is.    We have to find out for ourselves what is true.


This is sometimes scary, but with a mindful disposition it can also be exciting—an adventure; even fun.  To find out for ourselves is to be curious and inquisitive about the nature of things.  Perhaps mindfulness  could be summed up as: Be inquisitive.  Meditation could be summed as: Practice inquisitiveness.


Basic Goodness


Pema Chödrön is a nun in the Shambala tradition of Buddhism that was begun by her teacher Chögyam Trungpa [chogam trunpa] Rinpoche. An  mportant tenet of Shambala is “Basic Goodness”.  Keep in mind, though, that Buddhism does not have doctrine or creed.  It is personal experimentation to discover the nature of things.  As such, the tenet of “Basic Goodness” is not a belief.  So it is not technically accurate for one to say, “I believe in Basic Goodness”.  It would be more accurate for one to say, “Others, through the practice of mindfulness have discovered basic goodness in themselves and teach that each of us can discover this within ourselves”.  This can inspire us to practice.


Basic Goodness is not thinking of oneself as a “good person.” To think of oneself as a good person implies that there are bad people to distinguish oneself from.  This, from a mindful perspective,  is a false distinction, because mindfulness is non-dualistic.  In mindfulness thinking there is no “this and that”, it can be said that, in fact “this is that”.


Secondly, when I think of myself as a good person and, as always happens, I see evidence to contrary,  I feel a nagging guilt. I feel that I have let myself down.   Or I repress that guilt or deny the evidence.  Or I may even project the evidence of ways that I am bad onto others so I see them as bad.


Basic Goodness is not character.  It is human potential which arises from our practice.


  • We practice openness when our conditioning compels to close.
  • We practice spaciousness when our conditioning compels us to constrict.
  • We practice softening  and lightening-up when our conditioning suggests hardness and heaviness.




While an arisen Basic Goodness seems like a happy thing, there is a lot of anxiety and discomfort in the process of arising.  That is because letting go of dualistic thinking makes us uneasy since we don’t know where we stand.   As I referred to in the last post, in chapter 9, Pema Chödrön talks about drawing lines and the initial comfort of standing on one side or the other.  The reality is there are no lines—no reference points. This creates discomfort for most of us—even anxiety and fear.  This fear is a path to discovery of Basic Goodness.  It takes bravery and that’s why it is called the path of the warrior.  Non-duality—no lines and no reference points can also be described as “groundlessness”  as introduced in chapter 6.  I imagine the uneasiness of suddenly experiencing zero gravity—weightlessness. It takes getting used to!




 The Awakened Heart (Bodhichitta)


In chapter 14, The Love That Never Dies, Pema Chödrön introduces the discovery of “awakened heart” with the story of the young father who witnessed the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.   Because of his love for his own two-year old child— because of being a parent—he can no longer distance himself from this experience of suffering.  She writes, “he feels as if each of those children were his children.  He feels the grief of all the parents as his own grief.”  This failure to protect oneself from pain in the face of the suffering from other is the arising of the noble heart.   This experience of  pain is necessary for true compassion.  Through compassion and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we find healing, she says, “in the tenderness of pain itself.” This is the awakening of the heart.




Tonglen a practice designed to help with the awakening of the heart.  Putting it simply, tonglen is sending and receiving.  P explains, “Whenever we encounter suffering in any form, the tonglen instruction is to breathe it in with the wish that everyone can be free of pain.  Whenever we encounter happiness in any form, the instruction is to breathe it out, send it out, with the wish that everyone could feel joy.”






Settle yourself into a seated position.  Be aware of yourself in space. Then, for a few moments, place a soft focus on you normal breathing.


Now focus on your out-breath only, with no attention given to the in-breath.  Do this for a few moments.


Next think of someone you know is suffering.  It can be someone you know personally or someone you have heard about, such as through the news.  Breathe in that person’s suffering as if you are relieving them of it.  Breathe out what you feel they may need to lessen their suffering such as healing, peace or courage.  Do this successively for different people.


Link to online discussion:  DISCUSSION    If your not already member and would like to be, contact me at