Posts Tagged ‘Pema Chodron’



I first noticed it a short time ago while on retreat – I don’t like feeling empty.  This plays out in a number of interesting ways.  For instance, on this day, I realized that I never fully swallow my food before I reach for the next morsel, or place food in my mouth.  There is always something that remains in the space; it is never completely empty.  It’s been months since I made that discovery and still, every day, I catch myself doing this same thing over and over again.  Never empty.

I also do this in my daily practice.  I find myself not fully releasing the breath.  I begin to move towards the next pose or sequence before I’ve finished my full exhale.  I’m contemplating what comes next instead of being with what is in the moment.  Never empty.

Last week I handed in my final paper for my Yoga therapy training.  I waited on tenderhooks to hear back from my teacher, fully expecting to do revisions, almost hoping for them.  Nope.  Instead, I was congratulated on accomplishing the task and that was that.  There was nothing left to do.  No more reading assignments.  No more case studies.  No more exams or presentations or written reports.  Nothing other than the pure joy of going in to the studio to attend class, but that’s not work.  All my work is done.  What does that mean?  That means S  P  A  C  E.  Emptiness.  Great blocks of time with nothing in them.  It means the freedom to do as I wish.  It means…………panic.

Panic comes after the grand question, “So, what now?”  Sneaky beggar, that one.  It takes me away from my experience, away from how I’m feeling, and it provides me with the illusion of taking up space.  Instead of floating in the pause, as I often encourage my students to do, my mind goes straight into planning mode.  According to Overactive Mind, if we do not plan and pursue and strategize, why, we’ll end up being a Masters student working at Harvey’s.  *sigh*  And my Wiser Self says, “Oh dear.  This again?”  It’s not like we haven’t been here a bazillion times before.

Reaching into the future instead of easing into the uncomfortable sensation of floating into space.  Reaching for that morsel of soul food to fill the gap. Creating a new project so I don’t feel the deep sadness that comes with this ending, the loss, the fear, the loneliness, and the sudden sense of isolation. My heart is broken.  The future is full of possibilities that I have yet to realize.  There is no ground beneath me and I am aching to fill up space.

I caught myself in the midst of this yesterday, pacing around my room, unable to settle into any one task, and I had to smile.  I was at it again – creating illusions in order to avoid my fear.  For the first time ever, I found myself softening to the experience.  I heard myself say, “It’s okay.  I’ve got this.  I’ll take care of you.  I’m not abandoning you this time.  Let’s just breathe together.”  All the things I would say to a beloved student, I finally said to myself. I committed to caring for my own fear….and anger….and bitterness….and any other emotion or sensation that I dislike and wish to banish. Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:

To stay with that shakiness – to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge – that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.

I’m not certain I would ever call myself a “warrior” but I am getting the knack of catching myself, and staying with myself, when things feel tough. It’s still an awkward and uncomfortable experience but how can I not do this?  If not for me, then for my students and for my loved ones.  How could I ever sit with them through their grief and fear and discomfort if I continue to abandon my own?  We’re all in this thing together.

May we catch ourselves running away, and invite ourselves to stay.  May we catch ourselves when we cling, and invite ourselves to loosen the grip. May we cease trying to fix a situation that is not broken.  May we stay with ourselves in all situations.  May we float gently on the current of “being”. May we be free.

All the best, friends!


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teachable moments


It was Tuesday night, one of my teaching nights, and my students were all snuggled up, comfortable, lying on their mats as we moved through the opening meditation.  I heard myself say it, “Every moment is a teachable moment,” as I was relating my cat’s parasitic infestation to the parasitic thoughts, behaviours and patterns in our lives that rob us in the same way of our vitality and life force.

Every moment is a teachable moment.

I have had a wildly exhausting and emotional few months; hence my grand absence (Did you miss me?  heh heh).  It was a matter of nose and head down and go; that is, it was a matter of surviving the chaos of experience after experience after experience.  It’s virtually impossible to write during these stages.  Writing, for me anyway, requires an amount of distance from the subject so I can find the words to explain.  When you’re in the soup pot, you’re swirling about and simply do not possess the faculties to explore interesting descriptions of the potatoes’ texture.  Ya know what I mean?

I’m still not ready to get into the nitty gritty of it but today I found some words that needed to come out, so here I am.

These past few months have truly felt like a country and western song but I never found myself asking, “Why me?”  Why ask?  All of the stuff has been the stuff of life.  The achy, messy, complicated stuff of life.  It just so happens that it rained down in a shitstorm in a relatively short amount of time; that is what made the process almost unmanageable.  What I found myself asking instead was, “What can I learn from this?  What can I take away?”  Here is some of what I found:

– The sensation in my body as my stomach dropped to the floor.  My cat had been diagnosed with fatal kidney disease.  My mouth went dry, my breath became shallow, and I began to sweat profusely.

How many others were standing in a similar spot, having just received a diagnosis for themselves or for a loved one?  How did it feel in their bodies? How terrified were they at the idea of losing a loved one?

So I prayed for them.

–  Watching as my cat’s legs buckled beneath her and she began to shudder from intense physical pain.  Her eyes told me she had one foot here and one foot over on the other side.  I simply lay beside her, watched her breathe, and breathed with her.

How many people were right beside a loved one, desperately watching every breath, observing the suffering, wishing there was something they could do to ease the pain, wrestling with the horrible feeling of helplessness in the face of mortality?

I prayed for them.

–  Standing in the vet’s office with this bag of fur in my arms, eyes pathetically hopeful that if we could just put her on some medication she’d be okay, only to have the vet look at me and shake his head.  Standing there having to make the decision to end this suffering, to end this life that I had nurtured for 16 years.  And then making the decision to say goodbye.

How many people in how many hospital rooms, recognizing “the look” in the doctor’s eyes having to make the decision to pull their loved one off life support?

I prayed for them.

–  Wishing for one more day, one more moment.  One more opportunity to capture a scent, to hear a voice, to feel the warmth of another body.

How many people?

I pray for them.

Pema Chodron teaches a beautiful Buddhist compassion practice that goes like this:  Whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re experiencing, say to yourself, “Other people feel (experience) this.”  It is a profound yet simple teaching that opens your heart and reminds you that you are never alone.  This is what came to me throughout all that I trudged through this past summer–someone else somewhere was going through something, just like me.  Amazingly, instead of spending much time licking my wounds, I felt compelled to reach towards the suffering of others, to offer up something that might ease their pain, even for a moment.  What can you do about the suffering of countless, faceless millions?

You can pray for them.

May you be reminded, whenever you have those glorious moments of grace where you feel peace within your heart, that someone somewhere is sending blessings your way.  And may you send those blessings on.

Peace to you,


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