By Pema Chödrön from Shambhala Sun, excerpted from their March print magazine:
Developing unconditional friendship means taking the very scary step of getting to know yourself. It means being willing to look at yourself clearly and to stay with yourself when you want to shut down. It means keeping your heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful.
The hallmark of this training in spiritual warriorship, in the bodhisattva path, is cultivating bravery. With such bravery you could go anywhere on the Earth and be of help to other people because you wouldn’t shut down on them. You would be right there with them for whatever they were going through. But the first step along this path is looking at yourself with a feeling of gentleness and kindness, and it takes a lot of guts to do this. If you’ve tried it, you know how difficult it can be to stay present when you begin to fear what you see.
If you do stay present with what you see when you look at yourself again and again, you begin to develop a deeper friendship with yourself. It’s a complete friendship, because you are not leaving out the parts that are painful to be with. It’s the same way you would develop a complete friendship with another person. You include all that they are. When you develop this complete friendship with yourself, the parts you’re embarrassed about—as well as the parts you’re proud of—manifest as genuineness. A genuine person is a person who is not hiding anything, who is not conning themselves. A genuine person doesn’t put up masks and shields.
We know what it’s like to look at someone and feel we are just seeing their mask, that we’re not really seeing their genuine heart, their genuine mind. Their speed or their laziness, their fear, takes the form of a mask. They hide behind their roadrunner or couch potato persona. But when someone is present for all of their uncertainties, for the scary places within, they become genuine, and the mask, the persona, drops away. You feel you can trust them because they’re not conning themselves, and they’re not going to con you. Their genuineness manifests because they have seen all there is to see about themselves. It doesn’t mean that they’re not still embarrassed or uncomfortable about things they see, but they don’t run away. They don’t avoid experiencing what they are feeling through some form of suppressing, like drinking, drugs, or another addiction. They don’t become fundamentalist to avoid feeling what they feel about themselves. They do not strap on the armor.
When we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, Trungpa Rinpoche said that we develop an “iron heart.” When someone develops a true friendship with themselves, the iron heart softens into something else. It becomes a vulnerable heart, a tender heart. It becomes a genuine heart of sadness, because it is a heart that is willing to be touched by pain and remain present.
Excerpted from the March 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.