When Things Fall Apart

When Things Fall Apart Book Cover When Things Fall Apart
Pema Chodron
Body, Mind & Spirit
Shambhala Publications
June 7, 2016

This is an excellent guide book. The teachings are a little (a lot) counter-intuitive. She teaches to “embrace the suck” (my term). Get into the pain, poke at it, ask it questions. Ask the monster in your closet to join you for tea. All in an effort to be a little kinder to YOURSELF. Figure out what is causing you pain, get comfortable with it and then work on reversing your negative habits.

I had taught endlessly about the same things: the great need for maitri (loving-kindness toward oneself), and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others. It seemed to me that the view behind every single talk was that we could step into uncharted territory and relax with the groundlessness of our situation. The other underlying theme was dissolving the dualistic tension between us and them, this and that, good and bad, by inviting in what we usually avoid. My teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, described this as “leaning into the sharp points.”

The main point is that we all need to be reminded and encouraged to relax with whatever arises and bring whatever we encounter to the path.

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

We cannot be in the present and run our story lines at the same time!

The kinds of discoveries that are made through practice have nothing to do with believing in anything. They have much more to do with having the courage to die, the courage to die continually.

The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment.

So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky. This is where the courage comes in. Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that they are intimate with fear.

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought.

Love. Buddha nature. Courage. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.

“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.

When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.

The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last—that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security.

Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it.

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.

“Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?”

“Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”

This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear. Through meditation, we’re able to see clearly what’s going on with our thoughts and emotions, and we can also let them go.

The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.

We don’t sit in meditation to become good meditators. We sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.

How we stay in the middle between indulging and repressing is by acknowledging whatever arises without judgment, letting the thoughts simply dissolve, and then going back to the openness of this very moment.

The point is still to lean toward the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than to protect ourselves from it.

Ultimately, it comes down to the question of just how willing we are to lighten up and loosen our grip. How honest do we want to be with ourselves?

Later he said that the out-breath was as close as you could come to simply resting the mind in its natural open state and still have an object to which to return.

We were encouraged to relax more completely with our environment and to appreciate the world around us and the ordinary truth that takes place in every moment.

I’d heard Zen teachers talk of meditation as the willingness to die over and over again.

So we would tell students to “touch the out-breath and let it go” or to “have a light and gentle attention on the out-breath” or “to be one with the breath as it relaxes outward.” The basic guideline was still to open and relax without adding anything extra, without conceptualizing, but to keep returning to the mind just as it is, clear, lucid, and fresh.

At the point when we realized we’d gone off, we were instructed to say to ourselves “thinking” and, without making it a big deal, to simply return again to the out-breath.

Saying “thinking” is a very interesting point in the meditation. It’s the point at which we can consciously train in gentleness and in developing a nonjudgmental attitude. The word for loving-kindness in Sanskrit is maitri. Maitri is also translated as unconditional friendliness. So each time you say to yourself “thinking,” you are cultivating that unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in your mind. Since this kind of unconditional compassion is difficult to come by, this simple and direct method for awakening it is exceedingly precious.

The word for loving-kindness in Sanskrit is maitri. Maitri is also translated as unconditional friendliness. So each time you say to yourself “thinking,” you are cultivating that unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in your mind. Since this kind of unconditional compassion is difficult to come by, this simple and direct method for awakening it is exceedingly precious.

So right from the beginning it’s helpful to always remind yourself that meditation is about opening and relaxing with whatever arises, without picking and choosing.

The point is not to try to get rid of thoughts, but rather to see their true nature.

The six points of good posture as a way to really settle down. The six points are: (1) seat, (2) legs, (3) torso, (4) hands, (5) eyes, and (6) mouth, and the instruction is as follows.

The six points are: (1) seat, (2) legs, (3) torso, (4) hands, (5) eyes, and (6) mouth, and the instruction is as follows. 1. Whether sitting on a cushion on the floor or in a chair, the seat should be flat, not tilting to the right or left or to the back or front. 2. The legs are crossed comfortably in front of you—or, if you’re sitting in a chair, the feet are flat on the floor, and the knees are a few inches apart. 3. The torso (from the head to the seat) is upright, with a strong back and an open front. If sitting in a chair, it’s best not to lean back. If you start to slouch, simply sit upright again. 4. The hands are open, with palms down, resting on the thighs. 5. The eyes are open, indicating the attitude of remaining awake and relaxed with all that occurs. The eye gaze is slightly downward and directed about four to six feet in front. 6. The mouth is very slightly open so that the jaw is relaxed and air can move easily through both mouth and nose. The tip of the tongue can be placed on the roof of the mouth.

1. Whether sitting on a cushion on the floor or in a chair, the seat should be flat, not tilting to the right or left or to the back or front. 2. The legs are crossed comfortably in front of you—or, if you’re sitting in a chair, the feet are flat on the floor, and the knees are a few inches apart. 3. The torso (from the head to the seat) is upright, with a strong back and an open front. If sitting in a chair, it’s best not to lean back. If you start to slouch, simply sit upright again. 4. The hands are open, with palms down, resting on the thighs. 5. The eyes are open, indicating the attitude of remaining awake and relaxed with all that occurs. The eye gaze is slightly downward and directed about four to six feet in front. 6. The mouth is very slightly open so that the jaw is relaxed and air can move easily through both mouth and nose. The tip of the tongue can be placed on the roof of the mouth.

The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. Yet it’s never too late or too early to practice loving-kindness.

It is said that we can’t attain enlightenment, let alone feel contentment and joy, without seeing who we are and what we do, without seeing our patterns and our habits. This is called maitri—developing loving-kindness and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.

We can get so caught up in being good to ourselves that we don’t pay any attention at all to the impact that we’re having on others.

What makes maitri such a different approach is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.

The trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go.

We carry around an image of ourselves, an image we hold in our minds. One way to describe this is “small mind.” It can also be described as sem.

Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds.

Practicing loving-kindness toward ourselves seems as good a way as any to start illuminating the darkness of difficult times.

Learning not to cause harm to ourselves or others is a basic Buddhist teaching on the healing power of nonaggression.

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.

The ground of not causing harm is mindfulness, a sense of clear seeing with respect and compassion for what it is we see.

The next step is refraining. Mindfulness is the ground; refraining is the path.

Through refraining, we see that there’s something between the arising of the craving—or the aggression or the loneliness or whatever it might be—and whatever action we take as a result.

Refraining is the method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear.

It’s a method for settling into groundlessness. If we immediately entertain ourselves by talking, by acting, by thinking—if there’s never any pause—we will never be able to relax. We will always be speeding through our lives. We’ll always be stuck with what my grandfather called a good case of the jitters. Refraining is a way of making friends with ourselves at the most profound level possible.

Because of mindfulness, we see things when they arise. Because of our understanding, we don’t buy into the chain reaction that makes things grow from minute to expansive. We leave things minute. They stay tiny.

It all comes through learning to pause for a moment, learning not to just impulsively do the same thing again and again. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.

The result is that we cease to cause harm.

A thoroughly good relationship with ourselves results in being still, which doesn’t mean we don’t run and jump and dance about. It means there’s no compulsiveness. We don’t overwork, overeat, oversmoke, overseduce. In short, we begin to stop causing harm.

Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice.

Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together.

Dharma isn’t a belief; it isn’t dogma. It is total appreciation of impermanence and change.

We’re all addicted to hope—hope that the doubt and mystery will go away.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong.

Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move.

As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.

Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other.

In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.

We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge.

The real thing that we renounce is the tenacious hope that we could be saved from being who we are. Renunciation is a teaching to inspire us to investigate what’s happening every time we grab something because we can’t stand to face what’s coming.

If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.

All anxiety, all dissatisfaction, all the reasons for hoping that our experience could be different are rooted in our fear of death.

When the day ends, when the second ends, when we breathe out, that’s death in everyday life.

motivation—proper motiviation for living an insightful, compassionate life. But most of the time, warding off death is our biggest motivation. We habitually ward off any sense of problem. We’re always trying to deny that it’s a natural occurrence that things change, that the sand is slipping through our fingers. Time is passing. It’s as natural as the seasons changing and day turning into night. But getting old, getting sick, losing what we love—we don’t see those events as natural occurrences. We want to ward off that sense of death, no matter what.

Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time—that is the basic message.

According to this very simple teaching, becoming immersed in these four pairs of opposites—pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame—is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara.

Many of our mood swings are related to how we interpret what happens.

We have a concept of ourselves that we reconstruct moment by moment and reflexively try to protect.

We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure so we can stop endlessly grasping. Then somehow our questions get bigger and our inquisitiveness more vast. We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart. We want to know about gain so we might understand other people when they are delighted or when they get arrogant and puffed up and carried away.

Knowing our own confusion, we’re more willing and able to get our hands dirty and try to alleviate the confusion of others.

The process of becoming unstuck requires tremendous bravery, because basically we are completely changing our way of perceiving reality, like changing our DNA.

Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood. Practicing this kind of loneliness is a way of sowing seeds so that fundamental restlessness decreases. In meditation, for example, every time we label “thinking” instead of getting endlessly run around by our thoughts, we are training in just being here without dissociation.

The second kind of loneliness is contentment. When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose. We don’t have anything to lose but being programmed in our guts to feel that we have a lot to lose. Our feeling that we have a lot to lose is rooted in fear—of loneliness, of change, of anything that can’t be resolved, of nonexistence. The hope that we can avoid this feeling and the fear that we can’t become our reference point.

The third kind of loneliness is avoiding unnecesssary activities. When we’re lonely in a “hot” way, we look for something to save us; we look for a way out. We get this queasy feeling that we call loneliness, and our minds just go wild trying to come up with companions to save us from despair. That’s called unnecessary activity. It’s a way of keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have to feel any pain.

Complete discipline is another component of cool loneliness. Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we’re willing to come back, just gently come back to the present moment. This is loneliness as complete discipline. We’re willing to sit still, just be there, alone. We don’t particularly have to cultivate this kind of loneliness; we could just sit still long enough to realize it’s how things really are. We are fundamentally alone, and there is nothing anywhere to hold on to. Moreover, this is not a problem.

Our habitual assumptions—all our ideas about how things are—keep us from seeing anything in a fresh, open way. We say, “Oh yes, I know.” But we don’t know. We don’t ultimately know anything. There’s no certainty about anything. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it. But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of our lives. We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness.

Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us—food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. That quality comes from never having grown up. We still want to go home and be able to open the refrigerator and find it full of our favorite goodies; when the going gets tough, we want to yell “Mom!” But what we’re doing as we progress along the path is leaving home and becoming homeless.

Not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts. The rug’s been pulled; the jig is up; there is no way to get out of this one! We don’t even seek the companionship of our own constant conversation with ourselves about how it is and how it isn’t, whether it is or whether it isn’t, whether it should or whether it shouldn’t, whether it can or whether it can’t.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment.

Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.

Ego could be defined as whatever covers up basic goodness.

It’s covering up our experience of just being here, just fully being where we are, so that we can relate with the immediacy of our experience. Egolessness is a state of mind that has complete confidence in the sacredness of the world. It is unconditional well-being, unconditional joy that includes all the different qualities of our experience.

Recognize impermanence as impermanence. Then we can recognize our reaction to impermanence. This is where curiosity comes in. Usually we just react habitually to events in our lives. We become resentful or delighted, excited or disappointed. There’s no intelligence involved, no cheerfulness. But when we recognize impermanence as impermanence, we can also notice what our reaction to impermanence is. This is called mindfulness, awareness, curiosity, inquisitiveness, paying attention. Whatever we call it, it’s a very helpful practice, the practice of coming to know ourselves completely.

When suffering arises in our lives, we can recognize it as suffering. When we get what we don’t want, when we don’t get what we do want, when we become ill, when we’re getting old, when we’re dying—when we see any of these things in our lives, we can recognize suffering as suffering.

Then we can be curious, notice, and be mindful of our reactions to that.

When we perceive the spaciousness in our lives, when we sense a gap in the continual conversation we have with ourselves, when we suddenly notice what’s in front of us, when we take a fresh, clear, unedited look at reality, we can recognize it as egolessness.

The well-being that comes when we can see the infinite pairs of opposites as complementary. If there is beauty, there must be ugliness. If there is right, there is wrong. Wisdom and ignorance cannot be separated.

Don’t believe everything you’re told. Without being cynical or gullible, look for the living quality of the dharma.

What we habitually regard as obstacles are not really our enemies, but rather our friends. What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck.

Own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.

It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.

There are four maras. The first mara is called devaputra mara. It has to do with seeking pleasure. The second one, called skandha mara, has to do with how we always try to re-create ourselves, try to get some ground back, try to be who we think we are. The third mara is called klesha mara. It has to do with how we use our emotions to keep ourselves dumb or asleep. The fourth one, yama mara, has to do with the fear of death. The descriptions of these four maras show us four ways in which we, just like the Buddha, are seemingly attacked.

When we feel embarrassed or awkward, when pain presents itself to us in any form whatsoever, we run like crazy to try to become comfortable.

When pain arises, we reach again and again for something that will blot it out. Maybe we drink or take drugs or just chew gum or turn on the radio.

However, we don’t have to consider seeking pleasure as an obstacle. Rather, seeking pleasure is an opportunity to observe what we do in the face of pain. Instead of trying to avoid our uneasiness and offcenteredness by running away, we could begin to open our hearts to the human dilemma that causes so much misery in this world. We could realize that the way to turn this devaputra arrow into a flower is to open our hearts and look at how we try to escape.

When everything falls apart and we feel uncertainty, disappointment, shock, embarrassment, what’s left is a mind that is clear, unbiased, and fresh. But we don’t see that. Instead, we feel the queasiness and uncertainty of being in no-man’s-land and enlarge the feeling and march it down the street with banners that proclaim how bad everything is.

We use our emotions. We use them. In their essence, they are simply part of the goodness of being alive, but instead of letting them be, we take them and use them to regain our ground.

We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect.

To live is to be willing to die over and over again.

We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest.

Bodhidharma is a fat, grumpy-looking man with bushy eyebrows. He looks as if he has indigestion. The calligraphy reads, “Pointing directly at your own heart, you find Buddha.”

By looking directly into our own heart, we find the awakened Buddha, the completely unclouded experience of how things really are.

It seems that, without clarity and honesty, we don’t progress. We just stay stuck in the same vicious cycle. But honesty without kindness makes us feel grim and mean, and pretty soon we start looking like we’ve been sucking on lemons. We become so caught up in introspection that we lose any contentment or gratitude we might have had.

Honesty without kindness, humor, and goodheartedness can be just mean.

Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important.

When we discover the Buddha that we are, we realize that everything and everyone is Buddha.

When we begin just to try to accept ourselves, the ancient burden of self-importance lightens up considerably.

There’s nothing more advanced than relating with others. There’s nothing more advanced than communication—compassionate communication.

Emptiness—not fixating or holding on to anything.

Only in an open, nonjudgmental space can we acknowledge what we are feeling. Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.

What we hate in ourselves, we’ll hate in others. To the degree that we have compassion for ourselves, we will also have compassion for others.

“When it hurts so bad, it’s because I am hanging on so tight.”

When we stop blaming long enough to give ourselves an open space in which to feel our soft spot, it’s as if we’re reaching down to touch a large wound that lies right underneath the protective shell that blaming builds.

This middle way involves not hanging on to our version so tightly. It involves keeping our hearts and minds open long enough to entertain the idea that when we make things wrong, we do it out of a desire to obtain some kind of ground or security. Equally, when we make things right, we are still trying to obtain some kind of ground or security.

Trying to find absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable.

We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us.

Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.

Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel, not to be ashamed of the love and grief it arouses in us, not to be afraid of pain.

Tonglen is a practice of creating space, ventilating the atmosphere of our lives so that people can breathe freely and relax. Whenever we encounter suffering in any form, the tonglen instruction is to breathe it in with the wish that everyone could be free of pain. Whenever we encounter happiness in any form, the instruction is to breathe it out, send it out, with the wish that everyone could feel joy. It’s a practice that allows people to feel less burdened and less cramped, a practice that shows us how to love without conditions.

We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person whom we know to be hurting and wish to help. For instance, if we know of a child who is being hurt, we breathe in with the wish to take away all of that child’s pain and fear. Then, as we breathe out, we send happiness, joy, or whatever would relieve the child. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open—breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever we feel would bring them relief and happiness.

We simply contact what we are feeling and breathe in, take it in, for all of us—and send out relief to all of us. People often say that this practice goes against the grain of how we usually hold ourselves together.

The practice dissolves the walls we’ve built around our hearts. It dissolves the layers of self-protection we’ve tried so hard to create. In Buddhist language, one would say that it dissolves the fixation and clinging of ego.

Bodhisattva training—or training for servants of peace.

The word bodhisattva refers to those who have committed themselves to the path of compassion.

The real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachment and give away what we think we can’t.

It starts with seeing our opinions of ourselves and of others as simply our take on reality and not making them a reason to increase the negativity on the planet.

One piece of advice that Don Juan gave to Carlos Casteneda was to do everything as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all. That

How to continue to speak and act without aggression is an enormous challenge. The way to start is to begin to notice our opinions.

Finally, never give up on yourself. Then you will never give up on others. Wholeheartedly do what it takes to awaken your clear-seeing intelligence, but one day at a time, one moment at a time.

The main point of these methods is to dissolve the dualistic struggle, our habitual tendency to struggle against what’s happening to us or in us. These methods instruct us to move toward difficulties rather than backing away. We don’t get this kind of encouragement very often.

When we sit down to meditate, whatever arises in our minds we look at directly, call it “thinking,” and go back to the simplicity and immediacy of the breath.

Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions, or moods.

We can stop struggling with what occurs and see its true face without calling it the enemy.

It helps to remember that our practice is not about accomplishing anything—not about winning or losing—but about ceasing to struggle and relaxing as it is. That is what we are doing when we sit down to meditate. That attitude spreads into the rest of our lives.

When anything difficult arises—any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful—instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in.

The three poisons are passion (this includes craving or addiction), aggression, and ignorance (which includes denial or the tendency to shut down and close out).

We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame—it’s part of the human condition.

Everything that occurs is not only usable and workable but is actually the path itself.

We don’t experience the world fully unless we are willing to give everything away. Samaya means not holding anything back, not preparing our escape route, not looking for alternatives, not thinking that there is ample time to do things later.

The key is changing our habits and, in particular, the habits of our mind. I remember the day I understood without question that we create our situation by how we use our mind, by how we keep patterning our responses to life in the same old, very dusty, utterly predictable way.

Sometimes you just have to let everything fall apart.

My first step was to decide I wasn’t going to act on my habitual momentum. It was a test, an exploration of the Buddhist teaching that says we create our own reality, that what we perceive is our own projection.

One time when I was teaching in Austin, Texas, a man came up to me after the weekend and told me how much he appreciated the instruction to notice our tone of voice when we label our thoughts “thinking” and, if it’s harsh, to say it again with gentleness. “I really took that to heart,” he said, “and now when my mind wanders off, I just say to myself, ‘Thinkin’, good buddy.’”

The dharma can heal our wounds, our very ancient wounds that come not from original sin but from a misunderstanding so old that we can no longer see it. The instruction is to relate compassionately with where we find ourselves and to begin to see our predicament as workable. We are stuck in patterns of grasping and fixating which cause the same thoughts and reactions to occur again and again and again. In this way we project our world.