As a recovery coach, I often see my clients need some help getting through the tough times, without using drugs, picking up a drink or acting out. Recently, I personally encountered some rough patches in my own life, so I went to my library of recovery books. Reading books on recovery is an import tool I use regularly in my practice. Several years ago, I was curious about Buddhist recovery, so I became an avid reader of the books by Pema Chodron.
Pema Chodron Celebrates 80 Years
Pema Chodron, is a Buddhist nun, she was born in 1936, in New York City, and is celebrating her 80th year. After a divorce, in her mid-thirties, Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Buddhist teacher Lama Chime Rinpoche, and she studied with him for several years. She became a novice Buddhist nun in 1974. Pema moved to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1984, to be the director of Gampo Abbey and worked to establish a place to teach the Buddhist monastic traditions (waking before sunrise, chanting scriptures, daily chores, communal meals and providing blessings for the laity). In Nova Scotia and through the Chodron Foundation, she works with others, sharing her ideas and teachings. She has written several books, and in my time of deep spiritual need, I went to her book “When Things Fall Apart”.
Drawn from traditional Buddhist wisdom, Pema’s radical and compassionate advice for what to do when things fall apart in our lives helped me. There is not only one approach to suffering that is of lasting benefit, Pema teaches several approaches that involve moving toward the painful situation and relaxing us to realize the essential groundlessness of our situation. It is in this book, I discovered a simple breathing exercise I can use during these chaotic times so I can move into a better space. Pema advocates this tool as a breathing exercise, although this exercise could also be considered a mindful meditation.
I use Chodron’s tool whenever and wherever life hits me below the belt. I share this tool with my clients. It is all about breathing and consciously repeating words to yourself to accompany the breathing. Since we breathe every day, it is indiscernible whether you are using this tool as you travel on the bus commuting home from work, in a conference room with your boss, or when you are feeling low and want to curl up in a ball and die.
Pema explains in her book, when things get way too complicated; step back and breathe. When the force of the world, the politics of the U.S., Great Britain or Italy start weighing heavily on your mind, breathe. When you look at all the pain around you and feel powerless to do anything, breathe.
Pema explains, inhale and say silently to yourself breathe in the pain, then exhale and say breathe out relief. Then, inhale, and say silently to yourself breathe in the relief, and exhale and say breathe out the pain. I find I need about 15 minutes of conscious breathing in this way. After doing this, I find I have new energy or something else crosses my path to move me into a different space.
If I continue to be in that negative space of worry or feeling powerless, then absolutely nothing will be accomplished that day. I know we all have something to accomplish every day, whether it is just getting out of bed, taking a shower and brushing our teeth or running a Fortune 500 company, this exercise gets us from zero to ten in fifteen minutes. Chodron’s exercise moves me to the space I need to be in, so I can function. It is what I need.
So, I invite you to try this simple exercise…and remember…keep breathing.