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.