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Lions Roar : November 2009
46 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 joys and sorrows just like mine, as people who have parents and neighbors and friends and enemies, just like me. I also begin to have a heightened awareness of my own fears and judgments and prejudices that pop up out of nowhere about these ordinary people that I’ve never even met. I’ve gained insight into my sameness with all these people, as well as insight into what obscures this under- standing and causes me to feel separate. By increasing our aware- ness of our strength as well as our confusion, this practice uncovers natural warmth and brings us closer to the world around us. When we go in the other direction, when we remain self- absorbed, when we are unconscious about what we are feeling and blindly bite the hook, we wind up with rigid judgments and fixed opinions that are throbbing with shenpa, a Tibetan word usually translated as “attachment,” but more generally describing the energy that hooks us into our habitual patterns. This is a setup for clos- ing down to anyone who threatens us. To take a common example, how do you feel about people who smoke? I haven’t found too many people, either smokers or nonsmokers, who are shenpa-free on this topic. I was once in a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, when a woman from europe who didn’t realize you couldn’t smoke in- side, lit up. The restaurant was noisy, bustling with conversation and laughter, and then she lit her cigarette. The sound of the match striking caused the whole place to stop. You could hear yourself breathe, and the righteous indignation in the room was palpable. I don’t think it would have gone over very well with the crowd if I had tried to point out that in many places in the world smoking isn’t viewed negatively and that their shenpa-filled value judgments, not this smoker, were the real cause of their discomfort. When we see difficult circumstances as a chance to grow in bravery and wisdom, in patience and kindness, when we become more conscious of being hooked and we don’t escalate it, then our personal distress can connect us with the discomfort and unhap- piness of others. What we usually consider a problem becomes the source of empathy. recently a man told me that he devotes his life to trying to help sex offenders because he knows what it’s like to be them. as a teenager he sexually abused a little girl. another ex- ample is a woman I met who said that as a child she had hated her brother so violently that she thought of ways to kill him every day. This now allows her to work compassionately with juveniles who are in prison for murder. She can work with them as her equals because she knows what it’s like to stand in their shoes. The Buddha taught that among the most predictable human sufferings are sickness and old age. now that I’m in my seventies I understand this at a gut level. recently I watched a movie about a mean-spirited seventy-five-year-old woman whose health was failing and whose family didn’t like her. The only kindness in her Pema Chödrön WaS Born deirdre Blom- field-Brown in new York City in 1936. She has said that she had a pleasant childhood with her Catholic family, but that her spiritual life didn’t begin until she attended boarding school, where her intellectual curiosity was cultivated. at age twenty-one, Pema got married. over the next few years, the couple had two children, and the young family moved to California. She began studying at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in english lit- erature and a master’s in elementary education. In her mid-twenties, Pema’s marriage dissolved and she remar- ried. Then, eight years later, that relationship also fell apart. “When my husband told me he was having an affair and wanted a divorce,” she said in an interview with Bill moyers, “that was a big groundless moment. reality as we knew it wasn’t holding together.” In an effort to cope with her loss, she explored different therapies and spiritual traditions, but nothing helped. Then she read an article by Chögyam Trungpa rinpoche that suggested working with emotions rather than trying to get rid of them, and this struck a chord. She has said, however, that at the time she didn’t know anything about Buddhism, and wasn’t aware that the article was even written by a Buddhist. Continuing her exploration, Pema met Tibetan Buddhist teacher lama Chime rinpoche and had what she has described as a “strong recognition experience.” he agreed to her request to study with him in london, and for the next several years she divided her Becoming Pema AndreA Miller on the life & spiritual journey of one deirdre Blomfield-Brown. With her children Edward and Arlyn Bull in Sonoma, California, 1967. Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in Berkeley in the mid-1960s. PhoToSCoUrTeSYoFarlYnBUll