Author: Pema Chödrön
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times Pema Chödrön 1997
Buddhism in difficult times (When Things Fall Apart)
When Things Fall Apart: Before becoming a Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron worked as an elementary school teacher, was married, and had three children. Everything began to change on the day when the husband arrived from work and said that he had an affair on the side. When asked how she came to Buddhism, Pema jokes that she got so angry with her ex-husband. In fact, when her marriage fell apart, Pema honestly tried to reassemble her life in the usual way, but nothing worked. Then she realized that the only way out was to abandon the old, dependent version of herself, allow her ego to collapse, and work with what was indestructible in the end.
In the book when everything falls apart. Heart Advice in Troubled Times” was first published in 1997 and included lectures and talks by Pema Chodron from 1987 to 1994. Today, the content of this work is more relevant than ever. In times of turbulence, uncertainty, and lack of understanding of the future, we all experience fear, pain, and anxiety. In addition to world cataclysms, in the life of each of us, big and small tragedies constantly happen, we experience losses and disappointments, we go through personal crises and through difficult stages on the family and professional path. How to deal with all this pain? How not to lose the ability to love and compassion – including yourself?
Pema Chodron replies: “Life is our best teacher and friend.” If we do not run away from its lessons, do not close ourselves off from what fate presents us, but on the contrary, open ourselves to pain, allow ourselves to feel all, even negative, emotions, allow ourselves to linger on the edge of the gaping abyss, we will learn to relax in the very heart of chaos, do not panic and treat all living beings, far and near, with sincere compassion and kindness.
In her book, Pema Chodron gives practical techniques and instructions to help calm the mind, heal the wounds of the heart, and learn how to turn the poison of suffering into a healing elixir. Moments when the ground is slipping from under our feet and the whole familiar world is collapsing can become a turning point in our lives, because this is how we learn that the lack of stability is the key to life. Our healing from illusions and forgetfulness begins at the moment when we recognize that there is a place in life for everything – grief and joy, tension and relief, melancholy and bliss. And, fortunately for us, we really do not know what will happen next. The collapse of hopes may be the beginning of something new and beautiful.
When everything is falling apart
When life rolls, the first thing we experience is fear. And this is absolutely normal. Fear is a universal experience, it is familiar to all living beings on the planet. Feeling fear in response to the prospect of loneliness, death, and ignorance of the future is natural, because the closer to the truth, the more terrible.
Often our first and only reaction to fear is to run away from it wherever our eyes look. In the worst case, we eat, drink, watch endless TV shows, and enter into strange relationships – in a word, we do everything so as not to face fear face to face. At best, we perceive fear as an indicator of a problem that needs to be urgently solved, and then the fear will go away forever.
But fear will never go away forever because it is part of life. So why don’t we get to know this feeling better? All you need to do is to stop and be in this feeling. Don’t deny the fear, don’t distract yourself in every possible way, don’t take it as an indicator of a problem, but see it as an opportunity to completely abandon the old ways of responding.
The next time you experience fear, consider it good luck. It is only through fear that courage is manifested. We tend to think that brave people are never afraid of anything. In fact, brave people also constantly experience fear, but do not deny it, but learn to move forward, no matter what.
After fear comes to pain. When the familiar world collapses and the earth leaves from under our feet, we are left face to face with our real reflection in the mirror. We see all our acne, wrinkles, aggression, lack of kindness, and humility. This is a very vulnerable and tender place of our soul. We have a choice of what to do with this tenderness: to close ourselves from it in a sense of resentment or to accept it with trepidation in our lives.
Pain is a test that we face time after time and get a chance to awaken our hearts. Any pain is associated with a sense of loss – a loved one, youth, health, the usual way of life. It arises because our hope that everything will always be fine, or at least stable, is often shattered. But the truth is that nothing ever gets right: everything comes together and everything falls apart again and again. This is the essence of life. And pain is an opportunity to start the healing process. We are healthy when we give space to everything that happens to us in life: grief, relief, despair, joy.
However, the most important thing is to give place to ignorance. In difficult times, we try to do what we think should help. But the truth is, we don’t know if it will help or not. We don’t know if this is the end of the beginning of a great adventure. Once on the edge of the abyss, we must fulfill our main task – to simply stand there and, if possible, not specify anything.
The hope that we can learn to always have only pleasure and constantly avoid pain is called samsara in Buddhism. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth teaches that suffering is inevitable as long as we believe in the permanence of things and states, that they can satisfy our hunger for security. Thus, when the ground leaves under our feet and we have nowhere to land, we finally begin to see how everything works.
Despite the fact that everything always turns out differently than we imagined, life and the present moment are our main friends and teachers. We tend to perceive discomfort as a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. However, the warriors of the spirit know for sure that such feelings as disappointment, shame, disgust, anger, envy, irritation, and fear are designed to show us exactly where we are stuck. They help us see unresolved issues and give us the opportunity to let go of what we no longer need.
The situation in which you have reached the bottom or “reached the handle” is not a punishment, but an opportunity to loosen your grip. Trembling and fear in difficult circumstances is a sign of mental health, not vice versa. What matters is what we do next with these feelings. The healthy approach is to take them as a sign that it is time to stop fighting and look directly at what threatens us. Frustration and anxiety only indicate that we are entering uncharted territory.
Our main task in difficult times is not to succumb to the feeling entirely and not to ignore it, but to try to see it for what it is, let it pass through us, and let it go. This is the path to selflessness – a state in which life turns from a constant struggle with changes into a stream of equally important experiences.
Meditation helps you look beyond the walls of hope and fear and see what’s really going on. Meditation gives us the opportunity to see our thoughts and emotions clearly and let them go. The main feature of meditation is that it breaks through even the most tightly closed doors. We are beginning to see that we are closed. This very awareness dispels the darkness of ignorance and helps to understand how to stop running and hiding from life, and instead open up to it and finally relax.
In her meditation practice, Pema Chodron follows the instructions of her teacher Trungpa Rinpoche:
- Take a comfortable posture for meditation. For this:
make sure the seat is flat, not sloping to either side;
cross your legs in front of you (if you are sitting on a chair, your feet should be on the floor, your knees are slightly apart);
keep the body straight at the expense of the back, try not to lean on anything;
put your hands on your feet with your palms down;
do not close your eyes, but just lower your gaze and direct it to a point located a meter and a half from you;
open your mouth slightly to relax your jaw and breathe freely through your nose and mouth.
- Pay attention to the exhalation. But do not try to concentrate hard on the breath, otherwise, you will break the natural rhythm and will not be able to relax; only gently notice the exhalation, leaving the inhalation unfocused.
- When you notice that thoughts have completely captured your attention, do not scold yourself for being distracted. Instead, label them as “thinking processes” and gently bring your attention back to your exhalation. Don’t give too much importance to thoughts, don’t classify them as good or bad, just call them for what they are: a process of thinking.
The meaning of the practice of meditation is not to give up thoughts, but to learn to notice them without judgment and let them go, over and over again, again and again. Thoughts, like clouds and waves, never stop moving. They appear and disappear, pleasant and sad, exciting and depressing. Our task is to note them as a thought process without judgment and return to the starting point.
During practice, you can experience many emotions: from fear and joy to ordinary boredom. Whatever you feel, whatever you think, the main thing is to gently return your attention to the exhalation. Try not to treat meditation as an important exam. Take humor and lightness with you – unconditional kindness and compassion require practice in relation to yourself first.
Maitri is one of the most important concepts of Buddhism, implying benevolence and compassion for all living things. Pema Chodron calls Maitri loving kindness.
In a first approximation, Maitri is the practice of loving-kindness and unconditional benevolence towards oneself. We cannot achieve enlightenment, experience satisfaction, and enjoy life until we learn to see ourselves as we are and recognize habitual patterns of thought and behavior. However, if we practice self-knowledge without kindness, tenderness, humor, and compassion, we will not only not achieve what we strive for, but we will make ourselves even worse.
Many mistakenly confuse Maitri with self-development and awareness of one’s own value. We can get so carried away with treating ourselves well that we completely forget how our actions affect other living beings. When we practice Maitri, we don’t pat ourselves on the back saying, “Don’t worry, dear, everything will be all right,” but skillfully and compassionately discover ways to self-deceive and lose the opportunity to continue to hide behind countless masks. We are not trying to solve a problem or get rid of the pain forever, but let go of control and let concepts and ideas fall apart as we go.
The first step on this path is to recognize that everything that happens to us is neither a beginning nor an end. Thoughts, emotions, moods, memories – everything comes and goes, only the existence of the present moment remains unchanged. Even if we are swirling in a whirlwind of experience, we can gently and without judgment bring ourselves back to the present moment. We can meet everything that comes our way, not with severity and condemnation, but with curiosity and interest. Instead of fighting the confusion, accept it and relax. In time, you will see that clarity and purity are always available.
In Nepal, dogs bark even at night. But every 20 minutes they all suddenly fall silent, and there are several minutes of blessed silence. Then the dogs start barking again. When we first begin to meditate, dogs bark incessantly. Then, suddenly, breaks begin to appear. Over time, rest periods become longer and occur more frequently. Taming your thoughts is like taming dogs: throwing stones at them won’t accomplish anything. Only with perseverance, compassion, and kindness can we help them finally calm down.
To really practice Maitri, you need to get rid of the illusion of the existence of a medicine that will fix everything. Life is what it is. It will always be cold and hot, pain and joy, suffering and pleasure. Our job is to appreciate, carefully consider everything that meets along the way, and keep our minds and hearts open.
Do no harm
One of the fundamental principles of Buddhism is harmlessness. This means not only not to kill, not to rob people, and not to lie to them, but also not to show aggression in deeds, words, and thoughts. The hardest manifestation of self-aggression is to remain in ignorance, not having found in yourself enough courage and respect to look at yourself openly, honestly, with kindness and compassion.
At some point, we may find ourselves unwittingly harming others. It hurts, and yet it’s necessary. Mindfulness allows you to see your desires, your aggression, envy, and ignorance without judgment. To see means to be able to do nothing.
The next step is abstinence. We need to learn not to grab a toy whenever we get bored, and not to fill a space with anything as soon as there is an emptiness in it. Abstinence helps us to see the gap that appears between the emotion and the habitual reaction to it and to pay attention to the feeling that we did not really experience before, because we tried to drive it away faster.
Paradoxically, the key to relaxation is a lack of support. Constantly distracting ourselves with conversations, deeds, and thoughts, we just can’t stop, and life literally rushes by. Having known the space where we have nothing to lean on and nowhere to hide from ourselves, we finally get the opportunity to exhale.
The essence of the concept of harmlessness is the ability to pause: through awareness, see the rising emotions and simply allow them to be, without filling this pause in the usual way. The result of a truly good relationship with yourself is peace. This does not mean that from now on you will not run, jump, laugh and fool around. The impulsiveness of actions will go away: you will no longer kill yourself at work, you will not smoke too much and indulge in other passions. In fact, you will stop harming yourself and others.
Eight worldly dharmas
The doctrine of the eight worldly dharmas will help you track your emotions and reactions to them. These are the four pairs of opposites that keep us suffering in samsara:
pleasure and pain;
acquisition and loss;
glory and shame;
praise and blame.
Four pairs of feelings – four coins with two sides, and the only thing that determines which side the coin will fall this time is our interpretation of the situation. For example, they say to you: “You look so grown up.” If you want to look mature, you rejoice in praise. If you are afraid of growing old, take it as an insult. It’s not about what you were told, but how you reacted to it. If you dig a little deeper, you can see that we enter into an emotional tailspin not because of the actions and words of others, but because of our own subjective reality. If we allow ourselves to see things as they are, our reaction to previous triggers can become completely neutral.
Don’t try to get rid of these feelings. A more practical approach is to get to know them, understand how they make us run in the same circle, how they determine our perception of reality and see that in reality, everything is not so simple. Thus, the eight worldly dharmas will not be a punishment, but a source of wisdom.
Six properties of loneliness
Loneliness is one of the most difficult human experiences. Usually, we perceive it as a threat and try to immediately fill the void in order to turn pain into pleasure.
However, by choosing the middle path, we can establish a new relationship with loneliness, making it a relaxing and soothing experience.
Such loneliness has six properties:
- Less desire. With the help of meditation practice, we learn not to run around in circles of our own thoughts but to mark them as a “thinking process” and let go. This helps us less likely to succumb to the desire to immediately fill the void inside in order to cheer ourselves up. Even if today you managed to sit quietly alone for only two seconds against one yesterday, this is already a success and great spiritual progress.
- Satisfaction. In fact, we have nothing to lose, but we are programmed to think that we still have. This notion is rooted in fear, and fear gives hope that there is a way to avoid loss and disappointment. But we can learn to feel completely satisfied in our solitude, being here and now, if we repeatedly give up the hope that by constantly avoiding loneliness, we can guarantee ourselves unchanging happiness, joy, and strength.
- Refusal of unnecessary activities. Unnecessary activities are all ways we suppress feelings of loneliness. Instead of daydreaming about true love, endlessly watching the news, and eating another meal, we can stop and listen, showing respect and compassion for our own feelings.
- Absolute discipline. In this case, discipline is a steady desire to gently bring yourself back to the present moment. It is not necessary to specifically practice loneliness. You can just sit still one day long enough to understand how things work. If you look fundamentally, we are alone in this world, we have nothing to hold on to, and this is rather good news.
- Refusal to wander in the world of desires. Not to wander in the world of desires means to accept things as they are. Not console yourself with food, drink, and people, but accept that loneliness is not a problem. There is nothing to decide and there is no need to console yourself.
- Refusing to seek refuge in your thoughts. In moments of loneliness, an inner voice becomes especially audible, whispering to us one thing or another. Instead of succumbing to its distortions, we can simply label it as a “thinking process” and remind ourselves that there is no objective reality in it.
Quiet loneliness allows us to honestly and without aggression look at our mind, discard ideas about the ideal version of ourselves, and embark on the middle path of liberation from samsara.
Three Properties of Existence
The three properties of existence are impermanence, suffering, and selflessness. And although these are integral parts of life, we tend to perceive them as a threat. All three properties of existence do not mean that something is wrong with us and the world but give a reason for joy.
Impermanence is the essence of everything. We are born, live, and die through impermanence. Instead of trying to stop the flow of life, we can celebrate it. In many cultures, it is customary to hold special rituals and arrange holidays to especially celebrate the transition from one state to another: birth, growing up, and death. We can apply this principle to our own lives.
Suffering also deserves recognition and respect, because without suffering there is no joy. Our world is dual: birth is painful and delightful, death is sick and delightful, and the end is always the beginning of something new. The meaning of this teaching is that pain is not a punishment, and pleasure is not a reward. They form a whole, allowing us to experience the fullness of life.
Selflessness is our true nature, usually hidden from us by the fog of ego. It is the unconditioned joy of existence that we begin to radiate whenever we forget about ourselves for even a second.
To celebrate the three properties of existence is to recognize them as such at the moment of experience. When someone dies, when your car is stolen, when a child is born and you fall in love, recognize it as impermanence. And then try to see how you respond to impermanence. Over time, our reactions become automatic, and we stop noticing them. Mindfulness, mindfulness, curiosity – whatever you call this practice, it will help you truly know yourself.
Do the same with suffering and selflessness. When you don’t get what you want or get sick, recognize it as suffering. When you suddenly have a keen sense of taste or smell, and clearly see your thoughts or emotions, recognize this as selflessness. And then look at your reaction with curiosity. Don’t try to force anything to change or fix it. Just watch.
We learn from obstacles and difficult situations. This is how the world shows us exactly where we are stuck. Whether we perceive what is happening as an enemy or as a teacher depends entirely on our perception of reality and our relationship with ourselves.
The night before he attained enlightenment, the Buddha sat under a tree. Suddenly he was attacked by the troops of Mara. They threw swords and arrows at him, but their weapons turned into flowers on the fly. The meaning of this story is that the swords and arrows of evil can fly at us both from the outside and from the inside, and only in our power to turn them into flowers.
In Buddhism, the powers of mara refer to how we avoid what is happening. The maras confuse us and we lose confidence in our natural wisdom. There are a great many ways to escape reality, but Buddhists identify four common ones for all of us:
- Devaputra mara is the pursuit of pleasure. When we are embarrassed, in pain, or in any other form of discomfort, we desperately seek to drown it out with pleasure: whether we eat, drink, take drugs, or simply listen to the radio. Some even manage to use meditation as a way to avoid pain. At first, this may seem like a nasty and harmful habit, but if you do not fight mara as an enemy, it will turn out to be a source of eternal wisdom. Instead of scolding ourselves, we can honestly observe our own reactions and compassionately open our hearts to ourselves. So the arrow will turn into a flower.
- Skandha-mara is how we react to the world when the ground falls from under our feet. Paradoxically, when our whole world collapses, leaving no stone unturned from the familiar environment, instead of taking it as the greatest opportunity and surrendering to the flow, we recreate the old walls with maniacal persistence. Pema Chodron’s teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, called it “nostalgia for samsara.” Again, if we don’t see this as a problem and look at our reactions without judgment, we can turn the arrow into a flower and calmly accept not knowing the future.
- Klesha-mara is characterized by strong emotions. The problem is that when we are caught up in really strong emotions, we are not up to the teachings and instructions. All our strongest beliefs fade under the onslaught of uncertainty, pain, disappointment, and resentment. Giving in to emotions, we try to deny that in fact, nothing is under our control and we do not know what will happen next. But if we manage to see the violent boiling of the feeling that has captured us, we can feel compassion and mercy not only for ourselves but for all living beings, because we all react the same way to the collapse of hopes.
- Yama-mara is rooted in the fear of death. We think that if we cultivate good qualities in ourselves, learn how to turn arrows into flowers, eat right, run and meditate, then life will come into perfect balance. We will finally be happy and will live like this until the end of time. But, from the point of view of the awakened one, it is nothing but death. In addition to the fact that by constantly controlling what is happening, we kill the sense of the moment, the very search for security through movement towards the ideal is doomed to failure. Something will still happen to us that we cannot control: a house burns down, a loved one dies, we are diagnosed with cancer, and a brick falls on someone’s head. The world is moving. Sometimes it brings joy, sometimes pain. Being human means constantly falling out of the nest, losing your footing, and facing something new and incomprehensible.
All maras help us wake up from sleep and feel alive. Being aware of them, we get the opportunity to pause and abandon the usual patterns of behavior. We can take a deep breath and not seek pleasure, not avoid pain, not recreate what has been destroyed, but instead allow ourselves to experience the present moment in its entirety.
Circles of Compassion
Nothing purifies the soul like compassionate fellowship. However, in order to feel compassion for others, you must first pay attention to yourself. We will not be able to have a truly open and heartfelt conversation with a child, a spouse, a parent, a client, or a homeless person on the street if we are not able to open our hearts to ourselves.
Opening your heart to yourself means accepting all your traits, even those that you don’t like. In Buddhism, this state is called emptiness – renunciation of attachment to anything. Only in an empty, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge how we really feel and truly hear what the other person has to say to us. We deny in others what we deny in ourselves. If we consider ourselves unworthy of care, incorrigible, and worthless, we will think the same about others. This is an irreversible addiction, so you should always start with yourself.
Take, for example, anger. When angry, we tend to respond in two ways: either to blame others for what happened or to blame and scold ourselves for being angry. Next time, try to take the middle path and clear the space for your anger, give it so much emptiness within yourself, to see that when we do wrong, deep down we do it in search of at least some security. And even when we do the right thing, we proceed from the same desire. Trying to divide the world into black and white, right and wrong is always a search for security, but truly honest, open communication is possible only in an open, label-free space.
The Tibetan spiritual practice of tonglen will help you awaken unconditional love and compassion in yourself and thereby get closer to bodhichitta – an enlightened state of mind and heart. Its fundamental principle is to take away suffering and give relief.
According to the instructions, having met suffering in any form, one should breathe pain into oneself with the wish that all living beings be free from it; and having experienced happiness, you need to exhale it with a wish so that all living beings feel the same. This practice helps not to fall into despair and not to fence off from one’s own and others’ suffering, alienating oneself from the world even more, but to transform what one feels and sees for the benefit of all that exists.
The practice of tonglen involves several circles of compassion, the first of which is ourselves. Feeling pain, fear, rage, envy, succumbing to another round of addiction, or showing cruelty, start practicing tonglen in relation to yourself and to all other people who are now experiencing the same thing. Breathe in the pain of all people captured by the same emotion, and as you exhale, wish them relief and liberation from suffering. Even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what you’re feeling, focus on the sensation in your body—heavy heart, stomach pain—and breathe it in for everyone who feels the same, and send relief as you breathe out. This practice helps melt the ice that binds our hearts and breaks through the armor we have built against the suffering that has condemned us to more pain of alienation.
You may not immediately be able to do this practice in relation to others. The habit of turning away from other people’s suffering can take over. If so, continue to practice tonglen on yourself. Breathe in the pain and fear of all people who are not able to treat their neighbor with compassion, and breathe out for everyone the calmness, confidence, and compassion that would bring you relief in this situation.
Then you can start practicing tonglen for loved ones. Start with one person and gradually expand the circle of compassion to all people in the same position. Include in the practice your enemies and all those who disgust you. Remember that they are caught up in exactly the same fears and emotions as you are. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.
The practice of tonglen can be expanded indefinitely. Even if right now you don’t even have the rudiment of compassion for anyone, over time you will feel that everything is not as simple as it was thought before. Gradually, you will begin to love people more and more and sincerely sympathize with them, even if now it seems completely impossible.
The word paramita means “crossing to the other side”. Paramitas are also called transcendental actions, as they help to overcome the limitations of dual perception and go beyond the usual perception of virtue and non-virtue. Meditation and tonglen are proven methods for working with a rigid mind and training flexibility. The six paramitas complement these practices and allow them to be applied in everyday life.
The five first paramitas are generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, and meditation. They are inseparable from the sixth paramita – prajna, “transcendental wisdom”, which allows us to avoid the suffering that we ourselves inflict on ourselves, trying to protect our territory.
Generosity. The habit of clinging to things is a consequence of the fact that we feel unworthy of love. We live with a feeling of poverty, but, holding on to “our own”, we fall into it even more strongly. As we learn to give – things, ideas, knowledge, compassion – we learn to relax as well. External actions provoke internal changes. We loosen the grip we hold on to our ego and old patterns of behavior and begin to see the world in its entirety.
Discipline. From the point of view of spiritual practices, discipline is not a soldier’s drill, mixed with the word “should”, but only a soft tool that allows us to experience what we aspire to. Beginners are not in vain advised to follow the formal instructions in the practice of meditation: how to sit, where to look, how many minutes to practice. Discipline allows you to be present in the present moment, without succumbing to changing your own moods. It gives us structure and gives us a shoulder to lean on when our emotions run high.
Patience. The paramita of patience allows us to stop and not succumb to a thoughtless reaction to any situation that arises. The opposite of patience is aggression, that is, the desire to immediately run, jump, bend reality with an effort of will, and fill the space, so long as it is not empty. Aggression does not allow us to see things as they are, but patience, on the contrary, gives us time to open our hearts to love and compassion. One of the best ways to learn patience is to practice tonglen.
Zeal. Like all other paramitas, diligence is not an inherent quality that we either have or don’t have, but a long learning process. Diligence is exactly the measure of effort that allows us to arouse our appetite for enlightenment. It gives us the strength to act, to give, and work with gratitude for everything that comes our way. Diligence can be thought of as the feeling we experience when we wake up on a sunny winter morning in a country house. On the one hand, we do not want to get out of a warm bed to heat the stove and warm the kettle. On the other hand, anticipation, and joy from the dawning day push us forward. To succumb to this inspiration is the zeal of the spirit.
Meditation. Perhaps meditation is the only paramita that does not bring anything new. It allows everything to be, flow, come and go. Meditation creates space for life, gives a respite in the endless whirl of thoughts and reactions, and makes it possible to simply be here and now and enjoy the moment.
Prajna. The sixth paramita turns all our actions into gold. Primal wisdom allows us to act spontaneously, not indulging the desires of our ego, but in obedience to a deep need.
Practicing the five paramitas, we take the path of bodhisattvas – “enlightened ones”, servants of the world, and connect with the sixth paramita of primordial wisdom. The world needs spiritual warriors of light—bus drivers, politicians, parents, and bankers.
Three Ways to Deal with Chaos
In Buddhism, there are three traditional ways of working with the chaos that helps you see the path to joy and enlightenment in difficult situations.
- Refuse to fight. Through the practice of meditation, we learn to accept thoughts as they arise without judgment and note them as a thought process, and then gently return our attention to the exhalation. This practice helps at least for a while to stop fighting with yourself, your emotions, moods, and circumstances. Gradually, we can learn to perceive everything that happens to us in this way. Whatever happens, we can stand in opposition to it, or we can just look at the situation, and slowly hang this or that label on it.
- Turn poison into medicine. We can use difficult situations as fuel on the path to enlightenment. This way of dealing with chaos is based on the practice of tonglen. When conflict arises, when we experience shame or pain, we inhale poison into ourselves, rather than close ourselves off from it, thereby turning it into medicine. The three most powerful poisons that affect a person are passion (including all forms of addiction), aggression, and ignorance. By practicing tonglen, we do not try to get rid of them, but allow history to unfold further, turning it into a healing elixir for all of humanity. This is how we awaken in ourselves primordial kindness and compassion for other people who, like us, experience pain.
- To perceive everything that happens as a manifestation of the energy of enlightenment. Such an approach breaks the habitual pattern of behavior when we try to avoid conflicts, make ourselves better than we are, smooth out the roughness, to prove that pain is a mistake and that it will disappear from our lives if only we learn to behave correctly. Instead, interpreting everything as a manifestation of the energy of enlightenment helps us look at the most unsightly things with interest and use them as stepping stones on the path to awakening.
From the point of view of everyday life, these ways help us to stop being ashamed of ourselves. Indeed, we have nothing to be ashamed of. The world we live in and the personality we think we have are the basis and material for our work. Life, as it is, is a manifestation of higher wisdom.
At any moment, in any situation, we have a choice of where we want to go and how we will work with the raw material of our existence. First, we can learn to let go and slow down enough to just be in the present moment—without judgment or struggle. Second, we can use each day to change our attitude towards suffering. Instead of pushing it away, we can learn to breathe it into ourselves, turning pain into joy. And thirdly, we can recognize that suffering and darkness exist. Chaos is the original energy, the manifestation of the highest wisdom. Whether we perceive our situation as heaven or hell depends only on our perception.
Finally, we can just relax.
Top 10 Thoughts
- Feeling fear, pain, anxiety, and anger when the whole world is collapsing is completely normal. It is important not to close yourself off from these feelings with external stimuli, but to learn how to pass them through yourself and try to see the situation as it is.
- The first step on this path is the practice of meditation. It allows you to notice the flow of thoughts without judgment and calmly let it go without dwelling on something specific.
- When practicing meditation, it is important not to forget about Maitri – loving kindness and unconditional goodwill towards oneself. In order not to become depressed from what you see, try to treat yourself with the curiosity of a researcher.
- Constantly distracting ourselves from unpleasant feelings with external stimuli, we ourselves do not notice how we harm ourselves and others. To break this vicious cycle, it is important to learn to pause between feeling and reacting to it.
- The doctrine of the eight dharmas will help you track your emotions and reactions to them. Depending on the perception, different people in the same situation will experience different emotions, but both extremes of feelings are unlikely to be relevant to the real situation.
- The world has three inherent properties of existence: impermanence, suffering, and selflessness. Despite the fact that we used to perceive them as a threat, in fact, they all give a reason for joy. To celebrate the three properties of existence is to recognize them as such at the moment of experience.
- We usually escape from reality in one of four ways: seeking pleasure, trying to recreate the past exactly, succumbing to emotions, or trying to control everything. Just by being aware of these ways and noticing them in ourselves, we are already embarking on the path of enlightenment.
- We deny in others what we deny in ourselves. Considering ourselves unworthy of attention and care, we will never be able to take care of loved ones, so first of all we ourselves need compassionate communication.
- The main practice that helps to awaken unconditional kindness and compassion is tonglen. Breathe in pain for yourself and others who feel the same way, and breathe out joy and relief.
- Three ways to work with chaos: refusal to fight, the ability to turn poison into medicine, and the ability to see everything as an opportunity for enlightenment. Chaos is a natural manifestation of life, and what it will turn into for us – into heaven or hell – depends only on ourselves.
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