happy birthday pema

The topic of Pema’s teaching for the retreat was the slogan, “Drive all blames into One.”

One of the things I like best about Pema Chodron is that she gets that a lot of the talk about “ego” in the Buddhist teaching is confusing to us Westerners. For us, she says, it’s hard to separate “ego” from “self.” So, we hear that slogan as “blame yourself.” Which is not the point at all.

She says that what we need to learn is how to distinguish between what is causing us to suffer and what is the trigger for our suffering.

We have pre-existing propensities stored in our subconscious. It is these propensities that cause the suffering we feel, not the trigger.

This is easier to see in our friends than in ourselves. We all have friends that react in predictable neurotic ways to certain triggers. So we say, I can’t believe that Fred doesn’t see that. Or there Zoe goes again.

Say for example that Charlie says something that hurts our feelings. That triggers a pre-existing propensity to feel inadequate or like we’re a bad person or to beat ourselves up. Or maybe it triggers anger and rage and I blow my top really fast.

So, where do we work with that as someone who wants to be free of suffering (dukkha, remember?)?

When someone hurts my feelings, the focus goes to that person and it seems like they are the cause of my suffering. My internal dialog is all about how that person doesn’t like me, how I am inadequate, etc. It seems that they are the cause of my suffering.

But actually, that person is just the trigger for activating my pre-existing propensity. What I need to work on is my pre-existing propensity to feel bad (my automatic reactions I would say). So I note that the person has triggered my pre-existing propensity to feel inadequate. The people who trigger our automatic reactions are everywhere in our lives, it’s not possible to get rid of all of them. So, that’s why we have to focus on our own propensities, not the external trigger.

So the slogan becomes “Drive all blames into your pre-existing propensity.” And really, it’s not so much “blame” as recognize and acknowledge your automatic reaction. Be conscious of the fact that your pre-existing propensity causes your suffering. And that’s what we need to work on.


1) I’m starting to feel bad about myself triggered by someone’s words, facial expression, or whatever

2) Let the storyline go.
> Notice what I’m thinking
> Acknowledge what I’m feeling
> Go back to the meditation

3) Try to locate in my body where the pain is that turns into “there’s something wrong with me.”

4) Send my unconditional love – rather than blame the ego/propensity

5) Be present, allow the feeling to be there, send it warmth, kindness, unconditional love

The ego or pre-existing propensities are afraid, are based on a fear of danger. The way to work with them is to help them relax by sending unconditional love.

Timing. Timing sometimes messes with my life and sometimes kind of points it’s fingers at me. I find that I am not ready to sit quietly in meditation. The act of meditating itself, it seems, triggers my automatic reaction to feel inadequate. So clearly what I need to be doing is to sit quietly in meditation and acknowledge that pre-existing propensity to feel inadequate. To feel the feeling, think the thoughts, and send it unconditional love. But, for the moment, I am going to do more of a “walking” meditation and explore the concept, think about it. I’ve been aware of automatic reactions before, it’s not really a new concept. But this approach is a little foreign for me. I’m all about blaming the propensity, but not in the way that Pema Chodron is talking about it here. I’m about beating it, and myself, to death. I want to kill it, to get rid of it, to banish it. Or to run away from it, to deny it’s existence. Unconditional love? How does that even work with the parts of myself I don’t like.

So that’s where I am today, on Pema’s birthday. I’m at a “thinking meditation” place, moving and doing stuff and thinking. And writing. Perhaps that’s not “right.” It’s my pre-existing propensity to think I need to do things the “right” way. So maybe that just means I need to do this my way for now. And maybe I will be able to sit quietly and do the meditation part later.


5 thoughts on “happy birthday pema”

  1. I’m not evolved enough to let go of some of the negative emotions; luckily, I generally vent about them very fast and try to get them out of my system, so I can move on. I’ve been having some trouble lately with it but I’m assuming it’s because I’m on edge emotionally anyway.


    1. I don’t think any of us can say to another, this is where you need to be – this is what you need to do. This is a different perspective, is all. If it speaks to you, great. If it doesn’t, no harm, no foul.


  2. Years ago a yoga instructor taught us to always say: “well, isn’t that interesting?” She meant it in two ways: 1) as a way of not judging ourselves as we learned new asanas; and 2) as a way of approaching the doubts in our lives. Not as deep as what Pema is suggesting, but it has been a good way for me to learn to stop myself in mid-doubt– and detach my ego from the situation. It’s always that sneaky ego that gets us into trouble, isn’t it?


    1. I’m sorry Ally, I’ve got Dana Carvey in my head… “Now, isn’t that special?

      But I like the idea. It acknowledges our automatic reactions in a non-judgmental way, which is far superior to my critical “you’re doing it again!” reaction.


      1. Well, the instructor was a woman so far removed from the Church Lady that I never put the two together. But I see where you’re going with that.


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