Taking the Leap, by Pema Chodron

Taking the Leap, by Pema Chodron
I love and often recommend the writings of Pema Chodron, and among her books, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, is my favorite because it addresses our daily experience of getting 'triggered.' Ani Pema ('Ani' is the traditional honorific for a Tibetan Buddhist nun) excels at making teachings from the Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhist tradition of Chogyam Trungpa accessible to anyone and relevant to daily life. Born in 1936, she is American, and married and had children prior to encountering Tibetan Buddhist teachings shortly after a divorce. She has been a nun since 1974, and is currently the resident teacher of Gampo Abbey, a monastery in rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada.

In Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron presents teachings on 'shenpa', which is often translated as 'attachment' but which she suggests might better be understood as "what it feels like to get hooked." As she puts it:

"Somebody says a harsh word and something in you tightens: instantly you're hooked. That tightness quickly spirals into blaming the person or denigrating yourself. The chain reaction of speaking or acting or obsessing happens fast. Maybe if you have strong addictions, you go right for your addiction to cover over the uncomfortable feelings."

The focus of Taking the Leap is how we can learn to recognize when we are hooked, and how we can work with and transform the energy generated when this occurs. Instead of judging or battling within ourselves, we can learn to see each occurrence of shenpa as an opportunity - an opportunity for awakening. This process is about more than just our personal happiness, for shenpa is the source of bigotry and violence in our world. Ani Pema says:

"Each of us can be an active participant in creating a nonviolent future simply by how we work with shenpa when it arises. How individuals like you and I relate to being hooked, these days, has global implications."

The key to working with shenpa in a different way is to remain open and even curious about the energy that arises when we are 'hooked', instead of acting out or seeking to distract ourselves. Pema Chodron references a Tibetan metaphor of a peacock, whose feathers become more brilliant and glowing when it eats certain plants that are poisonous to other animals. If we can learn to simply accept the energies that arise in us, without judgment, we can explore them, and ultimately transmute them. This is the true essence of the Tantric Buddhist approach.

Pema Chodron always keep her writings straightforward and personal, referencing stories from her own life and those of people she has known. One particularly powerful story for me was about a Jewish couple who befriend an elderly Ku Klux Clan member who has been harassing them, and transform the situation, the man, and themselves in the process. She describes several specific techniques for working with shenpa, including some sitting meditations, but an individual certainly does not need to be Buddhist or even be familiar with Buddhist writings to understand this book. In fact, if I have any criticism (and it's not really a criticism) it's that I find her writings are always deceptively simple - they are so digestible it’s easy to underestimate the transformative power of the teachings within them.

So I highly recommend Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, and suggest working with it for some time. It is a small book, and appropriate for both non-Buddhists and Buddhists of any lineage.

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