making much ado about nothing and suffering from it tremendously

#50 – Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön

dear kafka,

i’m not a buddhist but there’s a lot to learn from buddhist philosophy and practice.

let’s start with some great sentences:

“I remember explaining to myself that the whole world consisted of people just like me who were making much ado about nothing and suffering from it tremendously.”

“There’s a whole other way to look at one another—and that is to try dropping our fixed ideas and get curious about the possibility that nothing and no one remains always the same.”

“It is moving in the direction of seeing our life as a teacher rather than as a burden. This involves, fundamentally, learning to stay present, but learning to stay with a sense of humor, learning to stay with loving-kindness toward ourselves and with the outer situation, learning to take joy in the magic ingredient of honest self-reflection.”

Feeding the right wolf

“There was a story that was widely circulated a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001… A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, “The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.”

Taking the leap

it’s a challenge to be understanding and kind in a cruel and selfish world.

i hate the idea of being taken advantage of. what is normal for me is to be careful, skeptical and reciprocal (“an eye for an eye”).

the author chooses another way to live and invites us to take the leap.

“Taking the leap involves making a commitment to ourselves.. to let go of old grudges, to not avoid people and situations and emotions that make us feel uneasy, to not cling to our fears, our closedmindedness, our hard-heartedness, our hesitation.”

What must we do to take the leap

1. Pause

in a difficult or emotional situation, “stop, breathe deeply, and slow the process down… Chögyam Trungpa used to refer to this as the gap. You pause and allow there to be a gap in whatever you’re doing.”

“You can just be here. Instead of being not here, instead of being caught up, absorbed in thinking, planning, worrying—caught in the cocoon where you’re cut off from your sense perceptions, cut off from the sounds and the sights, cut off from the power and magic of the moment—instead of that you could choose to pause. When you go out for a walk in the country, in the city, anywhere at all, just stop now and then. Punctuate your life with these moments.”

2. Be open by staying present

the idea that we’re always rushing to something more important resonates with me. thich nhat hanh refers to this as “abandoning the present moment”.

very often, we rush through the present (e.g. lash out at someone when we are criticised instead of pausing to reflect) because we want to feel safe.

“One of the metaphors for ego is a cocoon. We stay in our cocoon because we’re afraid—we’re afraid of our feelings and the reactions that life is going to trigger in us. We’re afraid of what might come at us. ”

We’re terrified of uncertainty.

“The Buddhist explanation is that we feel this uneasiness because we’re always trying to get ground under our feet and it never quite works. We’re always looking for a permanent reference point, and it doesn’t exist. Everything is impermanent. Everything is always changing—fluid, unfixed, and open. Nothing is pin-down-able the way we’d like it to be. This is not actually bad news, but we all seem to be programmed for denial. We have absolutely no tolerance for uncertainty.”

How do we stay present?

“One way to practice staying present is to pause, look out, and take three deep breaths. Another way is to simply sit still for a while and listen. Simply listen to the sounds in the room. For one minute, listen to the sounds close to you. For one minute, listen to the sounds at a distance. Just listen attentively. The sound isn’t good or bad. It’s just sound.”

What is the reward?

“What I’ve noticed about the people whom I consider to be awake is this: They’re fully conscious of whatever is happening. Their minds don’t go off anywhere. They just stay right here with chaos, with silence, with a carnival, in an emergency room, on a mountainside: they’re completely receptive and open to what’s happening.”

3. Embrace our discomfort

“The message here is that the only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn to stay. Learn to stay with uneasiness, learn to stay with the tightening, learn to stay with the itch and urge of shenpa (the urge to react in a negative way).”

“In the Buddhist teachings we’re encouraged to work with the wildness of our minds and emotions as the absolute best way to dissolve our confusion and pain.”

“we can acknowledge the powerful energy of our fear, of our rage—the energy of anything at all that we may feel—as the natural movement of life, and become intimate with it, abide with it, without repressing, without acting out, without letting it destroy us or anyone else.”

We often tell stories to ourselves to feel better.

“In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight, she points to scientific evidence showing that the life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes. After that we have to revive the emotion and get it going again. Our usual process is that we automatically do revive it by feeding it with an internal conversation about how another person is the source of our discomfort.”

“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.”

When we’re scared and uncomfortable, we go inward.

“We have the habit of automatically going inward. Taking a moment to look at the sky or taking a few seconds to abide with the fluid energy of life, can give us a bigger perspective—that the universe is vast, that we are a tiny dot in space, that endless, beginningless space is always available to us. Then we might understand that our predicament is just a moment in time, and that we have a choice to strengthen old habitual responses or to be free. Being open and receptive to whatever is happening is always more important than getting worked up and adding further aggression to the planet, adding further pollution to the atmosphere.”

join me. let’s practise together.


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here: https://isaiahlim.wordpress.com/category/isaiahlim_newsletter/

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3 thoughts on “making much ado about nothing and suffering from it tremendously”

  1. Its really interesting and good ….i just read this blog , its adorable …….i’m new to this can you plzz help me to understand and how to work on it for getting attention …

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