August 23, 2012

Poison as Medicine. {Pema Chödrön Book Club}


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“In the Buddhist teachings, the messy stuff is called klesha, which means poison.

Boiling it all down to the simplest possible formula, there are three main poisons: passion, aggression, and ignorance. We could talk about these in different ways—for example, craving, aversion and couldn’t care less. Addictions of all kind come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting—feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution. Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred, and negativity of all kind, as well as garden-variety irritation. And ignorance? Nowadays it’s called denial.”

(Start Where You Are, “Poison as Medicine.”)

It’s a little silly, but whenever I think of klesha, I think of this:

Klesha, pushing down on me, pushing down on you, no man ask for…”

Okay, silly. But accurate, too. We crave things and push things away. We long for and complain about. We itch, we lust, loathe and become indifferent and bury our heads in the sand. That is klesha. So what do we do? What’s the answer? How can this possibly be “medicine”?

They are the medicine because they give us the juiciest, richest opportunities to connect with our vulnerability:

“Acting out and repressing are the main ways that we shield our hearts, the main ways that we never really connect with our vulnerability, our compassion, our sense of the open, fresh dimension of our being. By acting out or repressing we invite suffering, bewilderment, or confusion to intensify.”

For most of my life, I thought that acting out and repressing were the only available options. Either you do “the right thing” and repress any negative feelings or you do the “wrong thing” and act on them. What if there was another option? What if it was completely unhelpful and counterproductive to label any of these feelings as good or bad? What if all that these things stir up actually serves as a wonderful opportunity to deepen, to soften and develop patience and kindness?

“Feel the wounded heart that’s underneath the addiction, self-loathing or anger. If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and to relate to that wound…They give us the chance to work on patience and kindness, the chance not to give up on ourselves, and not to act out or repress. They give us the chance to change our habits completely. This is what helps both ourselves and others.”

What if when someone hurts us, instead of reacting or repressing, we look honestly at the hurt and address it? I love how Thich Nhat Hanh talks about this same idea in relationship to dealing with anger:

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put the fire out. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

We don’t need to pretend there is no fire and let our houses burn down. We don’t need to chase down the arsonist. We need to deal with the reality of the fire. What if when craving for some person, thing or situation comes up, we dug deeper and were honest about the sadness and rawness beneath that craving? That’s where compassion starts. When we can honestly look at the tender parts of ourselves, the three “poisons” can become the three seeds of virtue.

When we can be still and not act out or run away, we start to awaken. We are able to really understand what maitri is and how to treat ourselves gently. When we start to awaken to these things in ourselves, then we can start to have true compassion and loving-kindness for others.

So all that klesha? Keep it coming. It’s going to keep coming anyway. Why not start looking it in the eye?

If you’ve been reading along and haven’t commented yet, this is a good place to start. We all have messes. We all want. We all get irritated. We all want to ignore those feelings. How do you deal with it? How would you like to deal with it?

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