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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
buddhadharma| 27 |winter 2005 the opportunity to practice when it presents itself. This enables you to work with whatever circum- stances arise. When people come on retreats, their knee is hurting or their whole body is hurting, so why, they ask, can they not just get up and move and make it easier? I’ll often say in response, “Well, you could get up and that would be fine, but at some point in your life there’s going to be a time when you are in great pain – or maybe you’ll be sitting at the bedside of someone you love who’s in a lot of pain – and if you haven’t learned to find some graciousness and capacity to be with what’s difficult, things are simply going to get worse and worse. One of the great blessings I see in people who have commit- ted themselves to a Buddhist practice is that their capacity for both joy and for dealing with the sor- rows and the pain of life grows. Practice opens the door for both. Pema Chödrön: When I was in my late thirties, I was reading a book about Confucius and it said something like, “If you have been training up until the age of fifty to not resist what happens in your life, to open to it, then by the time you reach fifty, life will support you and make it easier. Conversely, if you’ve been training to shut down and try to get away from difficulties, then when you reach fifty, you’re going to become more and more cranky.” I remember vowing right then to choose the path of not resisting. I am a little more optimistic now and think that a person can start at fifty, if that’s when they notice the need to change. As I get close to seventy, I can see the kind of challenges that physical deteriora- tion can bring. I can see how in one’s eighties one could definitely become very irritable and impa- tient. So I feel more committed than ever to avoid any kind of cozy nest. I’m anti-nest, because it feeds the propensity to resist being open. If you live alone – and I am often alone in a retreat cabin or a similar setting – you have everything just the way you want it. So it’s really good to have people come in and mess things up. Otherwise, you think the meaning of life is just to get everything working the way you want it. But lo and behold, life becomes increasingly irritating as soon as you add even one more thing into your life. Michael Krasny: Let’s take this conversation to a bigger sphere. If you had the most powerful man on the planet, George W. Bush, on a retreat with you, and he was willing not only to listen to what you had to say but also be mindful of what you had to say, what would you say to him about what compassion really means? Jack Kornfield: First, I would look at him and say, “You know, it must be very difficult feeling that you have so much responsibility for the world.” I would want to start there. If I were to look at him and try to imagine myself in his place, I think I would see that he is just like all of us. He’s try- ing to do what he thinks is right and to lead his life the way he thinks he should. I would want to respect that and acknowledge how very hard it must be to have the responsibility he has. I would need to be able to really listen to him, and have a dialogue with him, before I could give any advice. Most people, including my teenage daughter, for example, are not so interested in my advice. But maybe they want to be listened to, so that’s where I would start. Maybe out of that conversation, some questions might arise about the effects of his actions on both himself and other people. That would be a good beginning. Pema Chödrön: In previous years, if I were address- ing a large audience like this and made a comment about President Bush, I would simply assume that everyone was of one view. Then I read a letter to the editor in Tricycle where somebody said that they were a practicing Buddhist and supported the government wholeheartedly. They found it christinealicino Difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the surface. And that becomes the moment of truth. You have the choice to launch into your lousy habitual patterns, or to stay with the rawness and discomfort of the situation and let it transform you. — Pema Chödrön