TALKING TO OURSELVES
Shambhala Mountain Center, 8.19.03
And the helpful hint is when you're feeling uncomfortable, first of all, you can guarantee there's shenpa involved,
and you could contemplate the truth or untruth of whether or not it's because you're bubble of security has just
been popped. But the real core instruction is, whenever you're feeling uncomfortable, don't believe what you're
saying to yourself. Right then is the time to not believe what you're saying to yourself.
And what we're saying to ourselves at those times are really old habits. We're reinforcing really old habits.
That's what we do when we're uncomfortable. We don't leave it with just hooked or triggered. We seek to get
the bubble back together— or whatever language you want to use— by talking to ourselves, in a way
that really strengthens old habits. And they're usually very self-destructive habits.
Student: What is the way to stop that cycle?
Pema: This whole week is about that.
However, you've got to use it. You've probably already heard everything you need to know in the other dharma
teachings you've received, but the point is, you have to use it.
And that's why you'll hear a lot this week. It's good to just distill it down to something that really
resonates with you. Otherwise, your life is falling apart because a mosquito has bitten you, someone has cut
in front of you, or because someone you love very dearly has just left forever. And you're thinking, "What did they
say? What did they say?" And it doesn't seem like much of a branch to hold on to.
So you really have to find what really helps. Know that whatever it is... it is also just a stage. It's not some
final thing, it's just a stage. But we need something that really works for us.
What happens is that by finding these branches and knowing that they're just temporary, we begin to be able to have
more and more confidence in our own innate wisdom and intelligence. The Dharma, or the teachings, and our own experience begin to mix more and more. It becomes like good food or the air we breathe. It's like a way that you work with things.
I'm just going to make a blanket statement, and then it will probably be a subject of a lot of conversation:
There's no way to stay stuck in misery without talking to yourself about it. And that includes knowing
that you're going to die next week, or knowing that you're loved one is going to die next week.
It isn't the things that are happening to us that cause us to suffer, it's what we say to ourselves about the things
that are happening. That's where the suffering comes from.
In our lives we never know what the outer circumstances are going to bring. And you never really know,
ultimately, whether it's bad news or good news.
For me, the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life, in terms of relative circumstances, that threw me
into the deepest pain that I've ever experienced in my life that was unshakable for about three years. It was
gradually getting a little more workable during those three years, but it was unshakable. It was what I would
consider the worse thing that ever happened, [but, if it hadn't happened,] I wouldn't be teaching the Dharma or
enjoying my life the way I am today. That's what freed me completely. It was like being put in a cannon and
blasted into outer space, and I ended up in a new place.
As a result of that new place, of course, I wanted to nest there, but then the next challenge came along, and the
next challenge and the next challenge. And each one pops a bubble. And you become more and more able to groove
with bubblelessness. [Laughter] And you can quote me on that. [Laughter]
So, the only thing to really fear, I think, in our lives, is that we'll harden, and that we'll justify our
Because, when the bottom really falls out of our life, we know we're in a tender place. And we know that it's
actually very rich. But it hurts so much, that the habits that we've used in the past to keep ourselves
comfortable are going to rise up strongly.
And if your thing is to be a victim, you're going to buy the shenpa logic of I'm a victim. And if your thing is to say, I couldn't care less about anyone, and get hard and tough, then that habitual pattern and the shenpa logic that supports that particular identity is going to get really strong. And don't kid yourself, these shenpa logics get really strong.
When there's the greatest potential for awakening and soft spot, there's also the greatest potential for the habitual hardening and tightening and the shenpa logic to get its teeth in you.
Photo by Gregg Eller.