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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2009 45 change to happen. 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 feed- ing it with an internal conversation about how another person is the source of our discomfort. maybe we strike out at them or at someone else—all because we don’t want to go near the unpleas- antness of what we’re feeling. This is a very ancient habit. It allows our natural warmth to be so obscured that people like you and me, who have the capacity for empathy and understanding, get so clouded that we can harm each other. When we hate those who activate our fears or insecurities, those who bring up unwanted feelings, and see them as the sole cause of our discomfort, then we can dehumanize them, belittle them, and abuse them. Understanding this, I’ve been highly motivated to make a prac- tice of doing the opposite. I don’t always succeed, but year by year I become more familiar and at home with dropping the storyline and trusting that I have the capacity to stay present and recep- tive to other beings. Suppose you and I spent the rest of our lives doing this? Suppose we spent some time every day bringing the unknown people that we see into focus, and actually taking an inter- est in them? We could look at their faces, notice their clothes, look at their hands. There are so many chances to do this, particularly if we live in a large town or in a city. There are panhandlers that we rush by because their predicament makes us uncomfortable; there are the multitudes of people we pass on streets and sit next to on buses and in waiting rooms. The relationship becomes more intimate when someone packs up our groceries or takes our blood pressure or comes to our house to fix a leaking pipe. Then there are the people who sit next to us on airplanes. Suppose you had been on one of the planes that went down on September 11. Your fellow passengers would have been very important people in your life. It can become a daily practice to humanize the people that we pass on the street. When I do this, unknown people become very real for me. They come into focus as living beings who have From Taking the leap: Freeing ourselves From old habits and Fears, by Pema Chödrön. © 2009 by Pema Chödrön. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications.