by on November 2nd, 2014
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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












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