9-12-21 Self-reflecting and the Habit of Suffering

Excerpts from Let’s Be Honest

Published in LION’S ROAR – JANUARY 1, 2014

Let’s Be Honest

A conversation between Pema Chödrön and Dzigar Kongtrül (student and teacher).

Dzigar Kongtrül: …Buddha said to his own students: “I’ve shown you the path, but now it is entirely up to you to walk the path.” To make this possible, you can’t be afraid of your own mind. Therefore, you need to be able to self-reflect. By self-reflecting, you can honor your innate intelligence and wisdom. You can do this because every one of us has the intention to be free from suffering and to be happy.

…Self-reflection is the key to marrying our intention to specific actions. By self-reflecting we can see how we are not able to bring the intention to be free of suffering to our everyday actions. We need to be like a researcher doing research on a very important matter. We must ask ourselves, “What are the different conditions that give birth to the afflicting emotions and reinforce our habits?” When we have the deep yearning to become free, do our actions work out as we actually intend? And when we do that kind of research, that kind of self-reflection, we can appreciate both our positive qualities and the challenge of working with our own habits, afflicting emotions, and confusions. 

Pema Chödrön: One of the things I’ve learned from both you and Trungpa Rinpoche is that when we feel pain, it is a moment of truth. Instead of saying something’s wrong, that something bad has happened, we can say, “Oh! I am seeing and feeling very old karmic seeds ripening. Right now is the moment when I could do something different.” At that moment of truth, we could choose to do the habitual thing or we could choose not to sow those same old seeds again. At that very point, we can notice our opportunity to practice, rather than being preoccupied with feeling that we just messed up again.

Dzigar Kongtrül: That’s quite right. Your attitude in the moment will determine whether you use the experience to manifest positive qualities or enhance your negativity.

To have positive attitudes under negative circumstances undercuts the power of the negative circumstances. Rather than falling down and then trying to get up again out of desperation, only to slip on the same thing, except harder, you can take a positive attitude toward your suffering and pain. The problem is that when you are hit with pain, it is so easy to act automatically. So, you need to go through a little bit of a withdrawal process, to learn to simply be with the experience rather than react or try to fix it. Once you get some strength to just be with the experience, then the experience of the pain will begin to lose some of its solidity and power, which gives you a chance to reorganize your whole mind. In the end, you might actually come to appreciate the pain.

Pema Chödrön: …When you have intense emotional pain, you can treat it like a bell going off. When the bell goes off, that’s the signal that you could shift the pattern. We can burn up lifetimes and lifetimes of karma that way, instead of just digging the hole deeper by doing the same old thing. The self-reflection you have been talking about, Rinpoche, enables you to familiarize yourself with your patterns, so that you can let go of them when the opportunity presents itself.

In self-reflecting, after a while, you come to see that there are not so many storylines. …You begin to see that there’s a set of…patterns that you replay over and over. You don’t have to be a brilliant person to figure out what your habitual response to pain is going to be. Nor do you need to be a brilliant person to know that the habitual response never brings you the happiness you seek. But without the self-reflection, you will never catch the habitual response. You will never realize that you’ve done it countless times and that it’s going to be painful and not bring you what you want anyway. Without self-reflection, you will go on doing it and thinking it is something new.

Dzigar Kongtrül: Self-reflection is not an end in itself. It is the key that opens the door to your innermost qualities, to buddhanature. It also shows you the strength and confidence you have as a result of those innate qualities and that allow you to live with a sense of richness.


Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

From AA Big Book “Into Action “The spiritual life is not a theory. We have to live it.” “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half-way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.”

With the view, that we aspire to not suffer, and with contemplation, meditation (self reflection) and right effort, right action can occur. We decrease our suffering and increase our happiness and joy in life. We need to reflect on what brings us unhappiness and make the consistent effort to stop feeding that negativity, and be courageous enough to step out of habitual patterns and open a fresh new experience every day, every hour and minute. Pause, reflect, breathe and connect. Any effort to be more peaceful and courageous will bring results that opens our eyes and hearts. 

We have all done a lot of reading, heard teachings and practiced. How much have we forgotten and let rust away because of not using them??? If we don’t use it we lose it. How much have we read about, heard, memorized, talked knowingly about, but not truly put into practice???

An effort is needed to bring about change.

The “goal,” so to speak, the path, is to end ignorance and overcome fear, laziness and pride. When you feel yourself sliding into fear, pride or laziness, remind yourself, you are so much more, you are capable of rising above the muck you are famaliar with, and walking in the sunlight of the spirit. 

MAKE THE EFFORT! Every day many times.

How do you fill your bucket? One drop at a time

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step

The great arises out of small things that are honored and cared for

May you be well. May you be happy. May you find peace.

Heart Of Recovery website  — fcheartofrecovery.com