Reading from Class: Pema Chödrön on Dealing with Discomfort
“This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching on how to take the situations of your life and train- actually train- in catching yourself closing down, catching yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very point, or softening. In some sense reversing a very, very old pattern of the whole species, which is a pattern of armoring ourselves. It’s sort of like the essence of the whole Path is in that place of discomfort and what do you do with it?” — Pema Chödrön
This is taken from the text of a talk titled MAITRI-Cultivating Unconditional Friendliness to Oneself given by Pema Chödrön (Friday, 9.26.97, San Francisco).
This is really worth reading if you are breathing and living in this world of suffering. I have included additional highlights at the end of this post.
I am also including a link to entries I’ve made on Sutra 1.33
I.33 maitrî-karuñâ-muditopekæâñâä sukha-duïkha-puñyâpuñya-viæayâñâä bhâvanâtaå citta-prasâdanam
“Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad”. – Chip Hartranft
Cultivate these 4 attributes to help maintain some peace of mind as we navigate all of life – especially the more challenging thoughts, people and situations. A lot of the work and according to Pema “the Path” is dealing with the opposites of the 4 Limitless Ones. How do you deal with people, situations and thoughts and feelings that are the antithesis of loving kindness/friendliness, compassion, equanimity and joy?
Here are additional highlights from Pema Chödrön’s MAITRI-Cultivating Unconditional Friendliness to Oneself:
“…this unconditional friendliness to oneself, it seems to be what most of us do not have.
It seems to me in my experience and also in talking to other people that we come to a body of teachings like the Buddhist teachings or any spiritual path, to meditation in some way like little children looking for comfort, looking for understanding, looking for attention, looking somehow to be confirmed. Some kind of comfort will come out of this. And the truth is actually that the practice isn’t about that…
Practice is about that part of our being that, like that finally being able to open completely to the whole range of our experience, including all that wanting, including all that hurt, including the pain and the joy. Opening to the whole thing so that this little child-like part of us can finally, finally, finally, finally grow up…
But this issue of growing up, it’s not all that easy because it requires a lot of courage. Particularly it takes a lot of courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it,. You seize the moment? moment after moment? you seize those moments and instead of letting life shut you down and make you more afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and to open and to become more kind. More kind to yourself for starters as the basis for becoming more kind to others.
“Child, don’t let the world harden your heart.”
People’s lives, through all of time, have had a lot of difficulty in them The Buddha’s first teaching was that there is suffering in life, If you’re born as a human being , there’s suffering. At the very least, there’s the suffering of illness, of growing old and of death at the end. Not to mention that the more you love are able to open, there’s the suffering of not getting what you want and of losing what you do want. Just some inevitable sufferings.
I think the point is when our lives are difficult, in small ways or large ways, when we’re going through a lot emotionally, or when difficult things are happening in our environment, do those things cause us to become more uptight and afraid. or do those very same things, when the teachings are applied, soften us and can open us?
To me, this is how I practice and this is the most important thing. You never know what’s going to happen to us. In any day of our lives you never know what’s coming. That’s part of the adventure of it actually, but that’s what makes us scared, is that we never know. And we spend a lot of time trying to control it so that we could know, but the truth is that we don’t really know.
Really, I think a lot of people, like children, you’re wanting some kind of practice that’s not going to take you into anything uncomfortable but at the same time you want the practice to heal you. And it just doesn’t work like that.
The question is how do you relate when things are uncomfortable? That’s really the question.
As far as I’m concerned, in terms of spiritual path, that’s the main question: how do you relate with the difficulties? How do you relate with the feelings you have and the situations you find yourself in?
This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching on how to take the situations of your life and train- actually train- in catching yourself closing down, catching yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very point, or softening. In some sense reversing a very, very old pattern of the whole species, which is a pattern of armoring ourselves. It’s sort of like the essence of the whole Path is in that place of discomfort and what do you do with it?
When I said about us coming to spiritual things like children, so many of us think that if we come to a spiritual discipline or start to meditate, it means that everything is going to be OK.
Deep in our hearts, deep emotionally, we all feel somehow that it ought to be like that. We’re always feeling like we did something wrong. It isn’t like that. It just goes up and down. Maitri has a lot to do with a kind heart, but kind
heart towards what?
Kind heart towards the completeness of our being. That means if I go out of here tonight with a heavy heart or feeling of disappointment that instead of it spiralling into something like depression, or destructive behavior, or it can spiral into me yelling at everybody I meet in the rest of the evening, kicking cats.
Somehow we don’t just allow ourselves to feel what we feel and leave it at that. With some kind of kind heart or big space toward it. Personally, this is how I have been training for a lot of years. It adds up to a feeling that this life
that we have is not so bad after all. It has all these smells and textures and climates, and emotional ups and downs. There’s some sense. . . I don’t know– I think what it is for me, personally, it’s this sense that grows and grows that
we’re all in this together. How we relate with what comes towards us is our path to enlightenment. That’s how I was taught and that’s how I really feel about it. But that doesn’t mean that everything is rosy.
And Roshi said, “On good days, I’m OK. On bad days, I’m OK.”
It’s not easy, you know, to practice this way. What you’re doing is you’re really changing yourself at the most fundamental level. It seems to be that as a species, the human species, that it’s programmed in the genes that when
things are painful, we want to get rid of it. And the other side is that when they’re delightful, we fear losing it. This kind of practice addresses this kind of pattern, this deep-seated pattern. It’s shaking it up a little bit, turning it around a little bit.
If you don’t think that’s revolutionary, it’s revolutionary. It’s extremely difficult to do and it takes a lot of courage, but it changes you very deeply. The way it’s been expressed to me that made a lot of sense to me is it’s how the species can evolve from being stuck to being unstuck. From being uptight and stressed out and being mostly self-involved with our own pain to becoming open-hearted and compassionate and really there for each other.
These teachings on the Four Limitless Ones, and on maitri, are very much about tapping into the resources that we already have. In terms of this quality of maitri, Buddhist teaching always say that these qualities are inherent, that
they’re not something that we have to develop or import. That somebody else has it and we don’t. It’s actually there, but the courage comes in to tap into it and then nurturing it.
With maitri, it’s beginning to contact the feelings of good heart or love or appreciation or gratitude or any kind of tenderness: beginning to acknowledge those kinds of feelings in our lives. Even tiny moment of good heart, like you’re
cold and you get warm, or you’re very hot like we’ve been these few days and you feel a cool breeze: just small things like that when you feel some sense of relaxation or gratitude or appreciation all the way up to large things: beginning to really notice these things. “
— Pema Chödrön