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Reaching Underneath Our Protective Shell

--by Pema Chodron (Nov 04, 2013)


There's a slogan in the Mahayana teachings that says, "Drive all blames onto oneself." The essence of this slogan is, "When it hurts so bad, it's because I am hanging on so tight." It's not saying that you should beat yourself up. It's not advocating martyrdom. What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way, and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame.

We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don't like about our associates or our society. It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.

The slogan is a helpful and interesting suggestion that you could begin to shift that deep-seated ancient habitual tendency to hang on to having it on our own terms. The way to start would be first, when you feel the tendency to blame, to try to get in touch with what it feels like to be holding on to yourself so tightly. What does it feel like to blame? What does it feel to reject? What does it feel like to hate? What does it feel like to be righteously indignant?

In each of us, there's a lot of softness, a lot of heart. Touching that soft spot has to be the starting place. This is what compassion is all about. When we stop blaming long enough to give ourselves an open space in which to feel our soft spot, it's as if we're reaching down to touch a large wound that lies right underneath all that protective shell that blaming builds (...)

Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.

This place, if you can touch it, will help you train yourself throughout your life to open further to whatever you felt, to open further rather than shut down more. You'll find that as you begin to commit yourself to this practice, as you begin to have a sense of celebrating the parts of yourself that you found so impossible before, something will shift in you. Something will shift permanently in you. Your ancient habitual patterns will begin to soften and you'll begin to see the faces and hear the words of people who are talking to you.

If you begin to get in touch with whatever you feel with some kind of kindness, your protective shield will melt and you'll find that more areas of your life are workable. As we learn to have compassion for yourself, the circle of compassion for others - what and who you work with, and how - widens.


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16 Previous Reflections:

 
On Nov 10, 2013 Austin wrote:

love



On Nov 6, 2013 Mamta Nanda wrote:

I love the Buddhist mindfulness technique of 'Breathing in - I am aware of the feeling, breathing out - I send it love'. This helps me to accept and acknowledge what is coming up without judgement and hopefully helps it to flow through me rather than get suppressed.
Thanks for this article Pema, just what I needed to be reminded of today.



2 replies: Sarah, Cynthia | Post Your Reply
On Nov 5, 2013 Ganoba wrote:

 why do we need to protect ourselves from the others?
This tendency begins with the superficial notion that we are separate from the others. having accepted this mistaken notion we distance ourselves from them. This distance produces misconceptions and then fear. This sets up a vicious cycle of fear and suspicion. building a protective shell is then the wise thing to do.
How do we get out of this trap?
If for a change we look inwards at the effect this defensive strategy has on us, we will realise the enormous damage it is causing our wellness. Removing or dismantling the shell then becomes the obvious wise thing to do.
We then set ourselves free.



3 replies: Boom, Jagdish, Boom | Post Your Reply
On Nov 5, 2013 Lorna wrote:

 Wow this happens in most familys..



On Nov 5, 2013 Subhasree Yuvakumar wrote:

 Dear Prema Chodron,                                          Namaste. Your piece of wisdom is really excellent. You explained it in such a simple manner that any body can understand it. As for me, I follow a path called "Oneness Movement". Here I learnt exactly the same thing...... i.e. I should accept every aspect of myself without judgement and condemnation. Just see the "What is" and accept the What is without fighting it or trying to run away from it. Now I do that all the time without effort......... this our Guruji, Sri Bhagawan, calls as a state of "AWAKENING". As I have been following this path for the past 16 years, now it is a way of life for me to "Just See" what ever is present within me, be it anger, jealousy, comparison & so on and stay with it. This is how our mov  See full.

 Dear Prema Chodron,
                                         Namaste. Your piece of wisdom is really excellent. You explained it in such a simple manner that any body can understand it.

As for me, I follow a path called "Oneness Movement". Here I learnt exactly the same thing...... i.e. I should accept every aspect of myself without judgement and condemnation. Just see the "What is" and accept the What is without fighting it or trying to run away from it. Now I do that all the time without effort......... this our Guruji, Sri Bhagawan, calls as a state of "AWAKENING". As I have been following this path for the past 16 years, now it is a way of life for me to "Just See" what ever is present within me, be it anger, jealousy, comparison & so on and stay with it. This is how our movement is helping to TRANSFORM humanity through inner transformation of the individual which will impact the collective consciousness very soon.

If you wish to know more about this please feel free to contact me. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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On Nov 2, 2013 david doane wrote:

It means accepting qualities about me and others that I don't like, rather than hiding them, denying them, repressing them, demonizing them.  It means allowing and getting to know those disliked and unwanted parts of myself and others rather than separating from them and turning them into an other that I declare bad.  It means being open rather than closed.  It means being kind and loving rather than judgmental and hateful.  I create the shadow side of me by disowning some of me, and we create 'them' by separating them from 'us.'  The shadow side of me is still me, and it is part of my whole, and it is important that I accept all of me and be whole.  'Them' is still part of the human family, and it is important that we accept 'them' and work and live together rather than demonize and make war and kill each other.  Learning to accept more of me and more of others is a celebration.  What has helped me better connect with me and others is a growing  See full.

It means accepting qualities about me and others that I don't like, rather than hiding them, denying them, repressing them, demonizing them.  It means allowing and getting to know those disliked and unwanted parts of myself and others rather than separating from them and turning them into an other that I declare bad.  It means being open rather than closed.  It means being kind and loving rather than judgmental and hateful.  I create the shadow side of me by disowning some of me, and we create 'them' by separating them from 'us.'  The shadow side of me is still me, and it is part of my whole, and it is important that I accept all of me and be whole.  'Them' is still part of the human family, and it is important that we accept 'them' and work and live together rather than demonize and make war and kill each other.  Learning to accept more of me and more of others is a celebration.  What has helped me better connect with me and others is a growing deeper realization that I am one and that we are one which seems to flow naturally into being more kind.  Alan Watts said, "We divide in thought what is one in nature."  One is kind. 

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2 replies: Amy, Jo | Post Your Reply
On Oct 31, 2013 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Growing  up is not always easy for anybody. The most difficult part of growing up for me when I was going through my young adulthood, a time to be connected with someone romantically and passionately. I went trough an agonizing relationship experience. It took almost a year from me to bounce back from my depression. As long as I was focusing on finding fault, blaming, others for my misery and suffering, I could not really free myself from my suffering. I did not blame myself for my  chronic and crippling  emotional pain. I also tried to console me by attributing my unhappiness to fate and destiny. That brought a little solace but did not alleviate my deep suffering. Support of a couple of  my close friends and my deep passion for learning helped me to get out of the deep whole of depression. Real healing slowly happened to me by mindfully embracing my suffering-owing it, contemplating on it and accepting it. I grew from my unforgettable experience. It he  See full.

 Growing  up is not always easy for anybody. The most difficult part of growing up for me when I was going through my young adulthood, a time to be connected with someone romantically and passionately. I went trough an agonizing relationship experience. It took almost a year from me to bounce back from my depression. As long as I was focusing on finding fault, blaming, others for my misery and suffering, I could not really free myself from my suffering. I did not blame myself for my  chronic and crippling  emotional pain. I also tried to console me by attributing my unhappiness to fate and destiny. That brought a little solace but did not alleviate my deep suffering. Support of a couple of  my close friends and my deep passion for learning helped me to get out of the deep whole of depression. Real healing slowly happened to me by mindfully embracing my suffering-owing it, contemplating on it and accepting it. I grew from my unforgettable experience. It helped me to understand clinical depression and helped me to cultivate  compassion for me, accept me as a human being and feel genuine empathy for others. This experience was an awakening call for me. It paved my way to be psychotherapist to serve others who  like me go through the inevitable cycle of suffering. I am at peace within me and with me. Life offers not only to deny but to also blossom.

Jagdish P Dave

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1 reply: A | Post Your Reply
On Oct 31, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 Wow! I have read Pema Chodron but I did not read this piece before. I was  touched by this one. I frequently write about how closed schools and universities are for doing excessive training and little education for self-direction, openness, and development of curiosity and love of learning. I notice I am not open when I blame others for their closedness. I'm surprised that I have not realized this before. In conversations with Somik Raha, he has tried to help me be more open regarding this matter. I understand what he was trying to do more clearly now after reading the above. I do not know what I will do now except waddle in what I now experience as not knowing how to transform schools from training places to places where openness, self-direction, and love of learning can flourish. I will stick with this "not knowing" for now. Thank you for the opportunity to respond.Warm and kind regards to everyone, even those teachers and professors whom I previously blamed.  See full.

 Wow! I have read Pema Chodron but I did not read this piece before. I was  touched by this one. I frequently write about how closed schools and universities are for doing excessive training and little education for self-direction, openness, and development of curiosity and love of learning. I notice I am not open when I blame others for their closedness. I'm surprised that I have not realized this before. In conversations with Somik Raha, he has tried to help me be more open regarding this matter. I understand what he was trying to do more clearly now after reading the above. I do not know what I will do now except waddle in what I now experience as not knowing how to transform schools from training places to places where openness, self-direction, and love of learning can flourish. I will stick with this "not knowing" for now. Thank you for the opportunity to respond.Warm and kind regards to everyone, even those teachers and professors whom I previously blamed.


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