Lean In – An Alternative to Suffering

I came across this quote from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron the other day. It comes from her book, Taking the Leap, and it seems to me to be full of wisdom for the living of our days.

“The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you are feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction that Dzigar Kongtrul gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering – yours, mine and that of all living beings.” Taking The Leap

There are three pieces I want to lift up from her words.

Stay present and awake.

This may be the hardest work. When we feel any negative (or sometimes even positive feelings!) they can be hard to feel. We want to reject the feeling. There is the temptation to move quickly away from our feeling and to go to sleep. Sometimes we literally sleep, but more often we shut our eyes and hearts through distraction. TV, reading, drinking, Facebook – all are used to distance us from the moment.

A counter for some of us is we want to dwell on it – to obsess about how bad it is or how undone we are by what is happening. Sometimes we swing between the obsessing and avoiding.. All of these mental habits are ways to numb ourselves to what is going on.

Staying present and awake requires courage and compassion. Compassion for ourselves and the pain we are feeling. Courage to know this is what is – and we can face it and deal. We can.

Change the way you see it.

When we hear this advice we often get stuck. How can I change the way I see it? This is true. It is what is happening. My child is sick. I have this diagnosis. My husband left. The job is crumbling out from under me. I am all alone.

Yes, all of those events may be true – but what gets us stuck is the story we tell ourselves about the event – what we believe. Beliefs about our child may be: She will never get better. I can’t cope with her being sick. I am scared and angry that this is happening and I will never get over that.

The story – our beliefs and thoughts – become the way we are seeing her illness.

We could also say to ourselves – she is sick, but we are finding ways to live with it. I am finding such sweetness in our time together. I trust these good smart doctors, and all the health experts who are working on healing. Healing is a process and I am going to develop my stamina to be with her on the journey.

Try this with some difficult event in your life. How can you change the way you are seeing it? Working to adjust our perspective is a process that also requires courage and compassion. Be gentle with yourself.

Lean in.

Ahh – that’s the sweet spot. Lean in to the new way of looking at and thinking about this painful event. Lean in to a different belief. Let it soothe you, support you. You can lessen your suffering if you are willing to let go of one way of seeing the pain in your life, and allow other perspectives. One essential perspective is to see your own strength and love as you work with your suffering or the pain in someone you love. By being present to that pain, you are bringing light and heart. This is a major place where we can feel the breath of relief from our anguish. We can allow some space for our courage and compassion to shine.

Lean in. Breathe deeply. Let go, and see what comes.

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