Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears

Pema Chodron is one of the most direct spiritual authors I know. In the first paragraph of ‘Taking the Leap’ for instance she says:

We have the capacity to wake up and live consciously, but, you may have noticed, we also have a strong inclination to stay asleep. It’s as if  we are always at a crossroad, continuously choosing which way to go. Moment by moment we can choose to go toward further clarity and happiness or toward confusion and pain. (p. 1)

Right. That puts us in our place, doesn’t it? However, it also gives hope.

Taking the leap involves making a commitment to ourselves and to the earth itself – making a commitment 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 hardheartedness, our hesitation. Now is the time to develop trust in our basic goodness and the basic goodness of our sisters and brothers on this earth; a time to develop confidence in our ability to drop our old ways of staying stuck and to choose wisely. (p. 3,4)

As we’ve come to expect of Buddhist teachers, this is basically a meditation manual. However, it’s one that talks about the lows as well as the highs, which is refreshing.

The truth is, anyone who’s ever tried meditation learns really quickly that we are almost never present. (p. 13)

Again: take that and chew on it.

There is really only one term from Tibetan Buddhism that Pema Chodron uses in ‘Taking the leap’, it’s shenpa.

Generally the Tibetan word shenpa is translated “attachment”, but that has always seemed too abstract to me, as it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect it has on us.

An alternate translation might be “hooked” – what it feels like to get hooked – what it feels like to be stuck. Everyone likes to hear teachings on getting unstuck because they address such a common source of pain. In terms of the poison-ivy metaphor – our fundamental itch and the habit of scatching – shenpa is the itch and it’s also the urge to scratch. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, to have one more drink, to say something cruel or to tell a lie. (p. 22)

The fundamental, most basic shenpa is to ego itself: attachment to our identity, the image of who we think we are. When we experience our identity as being threatened, our self-absorption gets very strong, and shenpa automatically arises. Then there is is the spin-off – such as attachment to our possessions or to our views and opinions. For example, someone criticizes you. They criticize your politics, they criticize your dearest friend. And shenpa is right there. As soon as the words have registered – boom, it’s there. Shenpa is not the thoughts or emotions per se. Shenpa is preverbal, but it breeds thoughts and emotions very quickly. If we’re attentive, we can feel it happen. (p. 23)

I could go on quoting Pema Chodron here, but I would urge you to get the book yourself. It’s really a great reminder to get back to basics and meditate. And as we meditate, things change. They just do. Whether it’s because of decisions that just have to be made, that suddenly get easier, or because it’s no longer such a big deal if people disagree with us.

  • Title: Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears
  • Author: Pema Chodron
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; Reprint edition (December 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590308431
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590308431
  • ASIN: 1590308433
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 4.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces

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