A former elementary school teacher, Pema Chödrön, 73, was the first American woman to be ordained in the Tibetan tradition. As principal teacher at Gampo Abbey, a monastery in Nova Scotia, she has written accessibly and movingly about integrating Buddhist practice into daily life. The following passage is adapted from her 11th book, Taking the Leap.
If right now our emotional reaction to seeing a certain person or hearing certain news is to fly into a rage or to get despondent or something equally extreme, it's because we have been cultivating that particular habit for a very long time. But as my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, we can approach our lives as an experiment. In the next moment, in the next hour, we could choose to stop, to slow down, to be still for a few seconds. We could experiment with interrupting the usual chain reaction, and not spin off in the usual way. We don't need to blame someone else, and we don't need to blame ourselves.
Pausing is very helpful in this process. It creates a momentary contrast between being completely self-absorbed and being awake and present. You just stop for a few seconds, breathe deeply, and move on. Chögyam Trungpa used to refer to this as the gap. In the middle of just living, which is usually a pretty caught-up experience characterized by a lot of internal discussion, you just pause.
And once you start doing it, pausing nurtures you; you begin to prefer it to being all caught up.
More: Read the Pema Chödrön O Interview