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Book response 3 “Taking the Leap”

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Haley Kemper
Book response #3
29 November 2011

“Taking the Leap” by Pema Chodron was a book with a short but deep message about breaking free from the habits that guide our every action, and reaction. Chodron opens her book with a comparison between our hearts and that of two wolves: the mean, negative wolf and the wolf of loving kidness. She tells us that it is entirely up to us to decide which wolf to feed. When we are having a particularly hard time, perhaps we just broke our computer, or found out we got scammed in something, our natural response, our natural habit is to then nourish that anger and/or sadness with more of the same emotion. We may lash out at friends and loved ones, or do ourselves bodily harm, simply because this is what has been bred into us for so long. Human beings have been programmed to react in certain ways to the joys and obstacles that they face. When we find out we got an ‘A’ on a paper we want to go out and celebrate, but when we get an ‘F’ we want to mope around, blame ourselves or someone else, etc. Pema Chodron uses this book as a jumping off point for how to break out of these habits.

Chodron asks us to each look deeply within ourselves and beome more in touch with three natural states: natural openness, natural warmness and natural intelligence. We all have the ability to interrupt old habits, like snapping at a family member when we are angry about something, it is simply up to us to stop and recognize what we are doing or are about to do and take a moment to realie that we don’t HAVE to react that way. We all know how great it feels to treat someone kindly, to reach out to them and do something nice for them, and we can acknowledge that they have the ability to do the same. Now, if we think like this, we should also be aware that each and every person has the ability to react negatively, to yell, or be rude, just like we do! But like us, they also are able to break free of those habits. Most of us have gotten so good at feeding into our negative habits (we always react the same way when someone puts us down for example) that the nasty wolf within us is constantly being fuelded, but the positive wolf is simply sitting there waiting to be fed. Pema Chodron asks us to try and be more in touch with how we react. To take a step back and look at how we would LIKE to react and then decide what the best measure is to respond with. If we are able to take three deep breaths before we yell back at soeone who is yelling at us, perhaps then we will be able to look at the situation and instead of feeding that mean wolf, instead feed the other, and respond to that person with understanding and loving kindness.

Chodron does not say that all of this will be easy. She admits that it is a very very difficult process that has taken her decades and that she continually works on! Even if we are able to step back and change our way of response ONCE in a day, she encourages us to be content with that, for it is the breaking of a habit nonetheless.

Throughout the text Chodron also discusses impermanence as a basis for understanding ourselves. Nothing is permanent on this earth, not the trees in the forest, the computer we sit at, or our emotions/thoughts/responses to our environments. If you know someone very well, like a brother or sister, you will know when they aren’t feeling well by the changes in their attitude. The same goes for ourselves. One minute we are happy, the next we are upset. We change constantly and ALWAYS have the ability to catch ourselves before we do or say something that we will regret or will make us feel upset, guilty, angry, etc.

A concept that Pema uses in the book is one taught to her by her Tibetan teacher. It is that of shenpa, or the concept of getting ‘hooked’ by something. She uses the example of when someone says something mean about us. We are hooked by their words and get all worked up. We have feelings of anger, hurt, and sadness and we are of the habit of lashing back out at that person or responding negatively. Shenpa is that which keeps us in the cycle of our old habits…and we must learn to break free. Shenpa is the charge behind emotions, it is pre-emotion. When words are fueled by or triggered by shenpa they (often) turn into negative, hate words. Pema says that the only way to get rid of shenpa is to first learn to be with it. To sit and acknowledge that you have been “hooked”. To take a few short minutes to breathe and get to the root of your anger, sadness or other emotion. Only by understanding where these feelings of shenpa come from, will we then be able to set them aside, move past them. She gives us three steps for breaking free of shenpa and of our habits. Step one is awknowledging our feelings/emotions. Step two is taking three breaths and looking at these feelings. Just BEING with them. Step three then is to move past them, to choose a different reaction to the shenpa. To realize that they really aren’t that important, that there are much more important things in your life to put your energies towards. Simply move these emotions aside once you have accepted that they exist.

For me, reading this book came at the perfect time as I am starting to look back at my trip and work this quater and prepare to write my self evaluation. I think there was a lot of shenpa in me and in my work, mostly concerning my traveling with Kyle. Before I even read this book, I took it upon myself to practice patience and understanding, which in a way, is part of the three steps that Chodron put forth in her book. While I would occasionaly break from habit in my responses to him, for the most part shenpa ruled, as did my habits. So I broke off and traveled on my own and now after reading this book have a much better idea of what it was (and still is) within me that drove me to act around him the way I did. Giving words to the way we feel, and finding ways to deal with our emotions (both negative and positive) is always empowering…to know that there are others out there that experience the same feelings as we do, and that there are ways to end the kinds of behaviour we do not appreciate within ourselves.

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The temples and their people (style 2: sestina)

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The scarred, carved stone walls crumble
Before my eyes, much like the tears
That run down the faces of the people. How
Have they survived under this beating sun
The harsh and cruel world of death?
Strength, of both the people and the temples

Courses through the veins of the earth, where the temples
Stand and the men and women work away at the crumbling
Earth with hoe and scythe, fighting death
With rice and water beneath the scorching sun,
Each day a testament to their will to live. How

Is it that the Khmer Rouge killed so many? How
Is it that these ancient temples
Stand under the watchful eye of the sun?
This country has survived the crumbling
Of its very heart, the tears
Of its people filling the fields of death.

S-21 and its ghosts of torture and death
Was unknown for far too long, how
Did those men ignore the tears
So many shed that filled each temple
To the brim? The children watched their parents crumble
Under the heavy hammer of the Khmer Rouge sun.

And yet as I walk these corridors of Angkor, the sun
Beating upon my back, for a moment I am immune to the death
Around me, until I see a hungry child and my heart crumbles
For what that child must endure and how
These men and women managed to survive. These temples
Stand for them. For their strength, power, loss and tears.

Flowing from my soul, my tears
Are quickly dried from the heat of the noonday sun
As I wander the mossy temples
And think about Loung Ung and the death
Of her mother, father, and sister. And how
She never allowed her spirit to crumble.

An entire generation is absent from this country, where temples crumble
Beneath the sun. But its people greet me with smiles and are proud and full of love. How
Would you, or I, have stood to the horrors they faced, the loss, the hunger, and the death?

1. ABCDEF
2. FAEBDC
3. CFDABE
4. ECBFAD
5. DEACFB
6. BDFECA
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

A- crumble
B- tears
C- how
D- sun
E- death
F- temple

To the f***ing clocks at the meditation retreat:

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Last night (11/5/11) I wrote: should write a poem about how horrendous clocks are…so here goes:

Ticking our lives away
Clocks keep our schedules
Running, our hours of sleep in check.
Clocks dictate where we go,
When the food is grown,
And when the great bells toll.
But they have taken our freedom
With their imposed order.
Tick tick, tick tick,
They keep an eye on us from every
Room. Watching, waiting, until we
Look to them for guidance of
When we must go.
To the alarm clock in my room:
How I hate you. Your constant, loud,
Obnoxious breathing always
Whispering in my ear. I threw you
Against the wall last night,
So that I may sleep in peace.
And yet I heard from the dismantled
Organs of your green body the constant
Tick tick tick tick of your ever present
Laughter.

Wat Chana Songkhram

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I am sitting, cross-legged,
upon a rich red carpet.
To either side of me stand tall
white pillars, reaching up to
the red and gold painted ceiling.
Flowers adorn each wall, real
and fake alike. Before me,
beneath glittering diamond
chandeliers sits a large golden
Buddha, a marigold sash
draped across his left shoulder,
and upwards of ten other
gold Buddhas encircling him.
Two massive elephant tusks
stand on either side of the shrine,
one to two meters in length these
ivory sentinels stand watch over
the crowd of Buddhas.
A young Thai mother sits to
my left, deep in prayer. Her hands
clasped before her chest, she
doesn’t notice her two children
whispering and giggling beside her.
An older woman and what
appears to be her mother sit
beside them, engaged in hushed
whispers they exchange a few words
before each bending and placing
folded hands upon the floor.
Two men also kneel in the hall,
eyes closed, palms lifted,
they are now the only others left
on the red carpet other than myself.
I hear bells chime outside
the temple and I close my eyes
and say, “Listen, listen. This
wonderful sound brings me
back to my true self.”
Out in front of the temple,
next to many sets of flip flops
scattered upon the steps, tall
yellow candles flicker next to
hundreds of smoking incense
sticks. These candles are
wider than my arm, probably
the same circumference of
my head, and stand one meter
in height. Some are exquisitely
carved and some stand plain.
I get the same feeling of peace
in Buddhist temples as I do in
churches, but I feel much
more welcome here. Everyone
offers me a large toothy smile
and voices fill the space, making
you feel as if you are never
alone, never forgotten.
I raise my hands in prayer
and bow my head to the floor
in a message of love and thanks
to the Buddha for being with
me always.