Pema Chödrön: “Compassionate Abiding”

May 26, 2020

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How do we find a sense of stability when everything seems so groundless? Pema Chödrön is celebrated around the world for her ability to help us turn toward things that are difficult and embrace our uncertainty. In this week’s podcast, Pema joins Tami to share her one-of-a-kind guidance, including a special practice she calls “compassionate abiding.” Tami and Pema also talk about how to stay embodied when panic arises, accessing the wisdom inherent in our emotions, and the importance of cultivating “unconditional friendship” and befriending even those parts of ourselves that we want to reject.

Ani Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She attended Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, Ani Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to Scotland at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave her explicit instructions on establishing this monastery for western monks and nuns.

Ani Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Ani Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in the West, as well as continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. Her non-profit, The Pema Chödrön Foundation, was set up to assist in this purpose.

She has written several books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, The Places that Scare You, No Time To Lose, Practicing Peace in Times of War, How to Meditate, and Living Beautifully. All are available from Shambhala Publications and Sounds True.

Author photo © Liza Matthews

Revised March, 2019

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Pema Chödrön: “Compassionate Abiding”

How do we find a sense of stability when everything seems so groundless? Pema Chödrön is celebrated around the world for her ability to help us turn toward things that are difficult and embrace our uncertainty. In this week’s podcast, Pema joins Tami to share her one-of-a-kind guidance, including a special practice she calls “compassionate abiding.” Tami and Pema also talk about how to stay embodied when panic arises, accessing the wisdom inherent in our emotions, and the importance of cultivating “unconditional friendship” and befriending even those parts of ourselves that we want to reject.

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Gratitude Is a Byproduct of Service

Among the lessons I’ve seen people embrace by performing their microgestures is the true meaning of gratitude. Gratitude has become a big idea in certain circles these days, and a lot has been written about research showing that a focus on gratitude has real benefits for people in terms of their mental and physical well-being.3 This is probably why the practice of gratitude journaling has become so popular. You can even buy gratitude journals at your local bookstore ready for you to fill in the blanks about what makes you feel lucky today.

I have to admit that I have a bit of a bone to pick with the gratitude journalers of the world. It’s not that I disagree with the research or the idea that gratitude can be a powerful force. It’s that I think the idea of gratitude, perhaps because it has become so popular, is too often misunderstood.

I don’t believe that gratitude is about sitting in your room and saying thanks so only your walls can hear you. I don’t believe it’s something that should remain in the pages of a journal. I don’t believe it’s something you can find on a bracelet or in an Instagram quote. These can be good ways to remind yourself to be thankful, but they’re not enough. That’s because gratitude isn’t meant to be passive. “God is a verb,” as Paulo Coelho once said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey about his bestselling book, The Alchemist.4 I believe that gratitude, too, needs to be treated as an action.

In fact, we used to talk about gratitude in terms of giving thanks, which makes it sound so much more active, instead of merely being thankful. Rightly so, because I believe gratitude is something you should do, not something you merely think or feel or write about. This means you can’t just read in the news about the hurricane that devastated a town or the drug problem that plagues a community and feel thankful that you’re removed from it and safe. You can’t just walk by people in need and feel sorry for their suffering and grateful that you’re not in the same position. True gratitude is more than just a feeling. It’s the expression of that feeling through action—the action of serving others. To truly be grateful, you have to act gratefully.

It’s a bit like that old philosophical question about whether, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? By the same token, if you love someone but you never express that love, either verbally or through your actions, can you really call it love? If you’re grateful for what you have but never extend that gratitude to others, then are you truly living a grateful life?

When we mindfully show our appreciation for what we have through the action of serving others, then gratitude is the result. It’s the byproduct of that service, and there’s really no other way to get it. We live in a world that loves shortcuts. If there’s a faster, easier, simpler way to get something done, then we’re all over it. People write about “life hacks” as if they’re going to save us, but some things can’t be hacked. I believe that gratitude is one of them.

In the energy exchange, there’s a dynamic between people made up of living, breathing energy that flows back and forth. When that energy stops moving, it dies. Gratitude has an energy behind it too, but I believe that energy dies, or at least atrophies, when we keep it confined to our thoughts and prayers or the pages of our journal. Even sharing grateful thoughts on social media—which I highly encourage as an antidote to all the complaints and judgments that tend to be put on display—is not the same as allowing our gratitude to inspire us to act on behalf of others. Because it’s so often relegated to contexts like these, gratitude is really in danger of losing its meaning.

I was once in a yoga class that was winding down on a hot day when I witnessed a missed opportunity to really live gratitude. We were all sitting in Lotus Position with the lights dimmed and the door open so the breeze could flow through the studio. Soft music was playing in the background and our hands were pressed together at our hearts as we whispered our “namastes.” Just then a man, who appeared to be suffering from mental illness, walked in through the open door to say hello and ask, “What are you all doing in here?” He was friendly

enough, but the reaction was immediate. The people closest to him scattered while others turned away or shook their heads. No one answered him. I meant to, but I didn’t gather my thoughts quickly enough. The teacher rushed over to tell him to leave, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him.

It was as if everyone in the room had forgotten what they’d been doing right before the man walked in. Yoga classes often end with the students saying namaste as an expression of gratitude for the experience they just had, the teacher who guided them through it, and the fellow students they shared it with. But it’s also generally considered to have spiritual connotations, to be a conscious acknowledgment of another person’s soul, of the divine light that resides in all of us. Some literally translate namaste from Sanskrit to mean: “The light in me acknowledges the light in you.”

I guess my fellow classmates decided that not everyone was worthy of a namaste. I don’t mean to be overly harsh. I get why people were frightened, as they often are by mental illness, or turned off by the disruption when they were in the midst of a peaceful moment. But if we’d all taken a moment to simply notice this man (an act of non-resistance), I think it would have quickly become clear that he meant us no harm. He was just curious and, I think, lonely. It seemed like what he wanted most of all was someone to talk to, and here he’d found a group of people expressing gratitude in a tranquil place. We can perhaps forgive him for thinking we were the kind of people who might be receptive to his attempt to connect.

We live in an amazing time. Being part of the Information Age gives us exposure to all kinds of wisdom and ancient teachings along with all the new. Yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years. Verses on gratitude can be found in the Bible. There is truth and power in these old ways, but let’s make sure we’re getting the most out of them. These ancient concepts should be more than just things you think to yourself or utter on autopilot. If we really want the benefits, we need to learn how to live them.

If you are grateful for something in your life, you have to find a way to put some of that grateful energy back into the world instead of holding onto it. That’s the only way to keep it flowing. That’s the only way gratitude can come back to you. If you have your antenna up while you perform your microgestures, you’ll start to notice the flow and you’ll start to better appreciate when some of it flows back your way.

❤ HEARTWORK

Ask yourself: How can I do more than just think grateful thoughts? How can I act gratefully in the world today?

If you keep a gratitude journal, consider recording not just what you’re thankful for, but the full energy exchange: what you’re grateful for and what you gave gratefully in return.

Notes:

  1. Colby Itkowitz, “The Science Behind Why You Shouldn’t Stop Giving Thanks After Thanksgiving,” The Washington Post (November 24, 2016).
  2. Paulo Coelho, “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor?” Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations (August 9, 2017). 

This is an excerpt from Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck by LaRayia Gaston.

 

larayia gaston author photoLARAYIA GASTON is a former model, actress, and founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to bringing organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She resides in Los Angeles. For more, visit lunchonme.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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Victory! A Poem

Victory!

By Jeff Foster

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You don’t have to win. 

You only have to be yourself.

 

You only have to be real. 

And speak from the heart. 

And know that you have the right to see how you see, 

and think how you think, and feel what you feel, 

and desire what you desire.

 

You don’t have to be a success in the eyes of the world 

and you don’t have to be an expert on living.

 

You only have to offer what you offer, 

breathe how you breathe, make mistakes and screw 

up 

and learn to love your stumbling and say the 

wrong thing 

and stop worrying so much about impressing anyone 

because in the end you only have to live with yourself

 

and joy is not given but found in the deepest 

recesses of your being 

so there can be joy in falling and joy in making 

mistakes 

and joy in making a fool of yourself and joy in 

forgetting joy 

and then holding yourself close as you crumble to 

the ground 

and weep out the old dreams.

 

Joy is closeness 

with the one you love: 

You.

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You really don’t have to win.

 

You only have to remember this intimacy with 

the sky, the nearness of the mountains and feel the sun 

warming your shoulders and the nape of your neck

 

and know that you are alive, 

and that you are a success at being alive, 

and that you have won already, 

and you are victorious already, 

without having to prove 

a damn 

thing.

 

To anyone.

This poem is excerpted from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

 

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

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