June 17, 2012

New Found Awareness

I’ve been doing really well lately, despite some of the difficulties that I have expressed in my posts.  As I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chodron.  Her writings aren’t an introduction to Buddhism for me.  Obviously, having OCD, I’ve read a TON about mindfulness, and have tried to use it as a way of coping with my compulsions.  However, one of her books in particular has had a tremendous impact on me.  It’s titled: “Taking the Leap:  Freeing ourselves from old habits and fears”.  I highly recommend the book - especially for those of us who suffer from any sort of anxiety-related disorder. 

I had a few epiphanies while reading “Taking the Leap”. The first one relates to something Pema calls “shenpa”.  She describes this as the moment in time when we get “hooked” on something (usually a situation), and things begin to spiral downward.  We react – and do something - and that makes the situation worse.  This could apply to getting angry, or it could apply to doing a compulsion.  This isn’t a new idea for me, or perhaps for anyone, but perhaps it was the context, or what is going on in my life.....but the whole notion of “shenpa” really fit for me.  Reading about “shenpa” helped me to see that so often in my life, if I am able to be mindful, and slow some of the moments down, I have the choice to react in a different way.  Pema speaks of "remaining open" during difficult times and not shutting down.  This is something I did all the time!  My anxiety, and my lack of ability to experience this difficult emotion would cause me to very subtly shut down.  And this was my way of keeping myself safe, but still keeping the cycle going.  Of course, being able to practice making a different choice in the moment requires practicing mindfulness too, which I have become more skilled at in the last year.  Pema is a Buddhist, so she advocates practicing meditating, which I have tried to add into my life throughout the last few years.  It’s a very difficult thing to do!!!  But I have seen what a difference mindfulness makes for me, so I will continue to try to make room in my life for meditating. 

The second topic that Pema discusses in “Taking the Leap” is western culture’s strong aversion to feeling and experiencing difficult feelings.  Wow!  Did that one hit me like a ton of bricks!  As I’ve said in previous posts, I struggle with allowing myself to feel MANY feelings, but mostly all of the difficult ones for sure.  Feelings like shame, guilt, anger, sadness, hurt all get pushed away or rationalized. So my second epiphany related to just that – if I wasn’t willing to feel the anxiety associated with my OCD - IN THE MOMENT – I just wasn’t going to get better.  My mind was so well trained to stealthily avoid all of the discomfort relating to my OCD, that I felt stuck. 

Finally, Pema writes about the need for discipline in our lives in order to become spiritually enlightened (which is what she is encouraging in the book).  Discipline?  Really?  Again, I don't know if it was the way she wrote about the topic, or just the timing in my life right now, but as I've mentioned in previous posts - discipline in any way was something that was lacking in my life.  I think I was giving myself a "get out of jail free" card, given everything that had occurred in recent months.  Discipline is also something that is needed in order to recover from OCD.  Because so often - our ERP opportunities come in the moment, without any warning.  And if we're not going to be discplined enough to sit with the anxiety for the spontaneous exposures, then all the planned exposure in the world won't help.  I've taken Pema's comments about discipline even further.  I've realized that I need more discipline in many areas of my life - eating, exercise, finances etc.  You know what I've realized?  That discipline promotes confidence which promotes courage. 
Every bit of “Taking the Leap” made sense to me.  I feel like a light bulb went off in my head.  Combine Pema Chodron’s wise words, with my new-found motivation, and I have had MANY wins in the last few weeks.  My experience hasn’t been easy – now that I’m allowing myself to feel some of these difficult feelings – I’ve had a lot of emotion to process.  But as she writes about in the book, not getting caught up in the “storyline” is key, and simply watching, recognizing, and leaning into the experience helps us to realize how strong we actually are.   I’m beginning to find some faith in myself and the process. 


  1. Nice post. It really seems that for me, as for you, all roads are leading to "learn to deal with tough emotions." Hard!

  2. I just signed up to get your posts through my email..I had lost track of you there for awhile. In catching up, I am glad to to see you write that you have found some principles to help you in processing emotions and the like. I think the book is right is right, we are a lot stronger than what we realize. I think I need to pick up this book..it sounds really good and may be helpful to me also.

  3. I stumbled across your blog last night - I don't know exactly how, but I am really glad I did, as I too suffer from ROCD and have suffered from HOCD, and other forms of oure O OCD since I was a child. I am a few years older than you, also female. I really enjoyed this posting, as it speaks to something positive that may come from dealing with OCD, and shenpa, namely the cultivation of discipline, which is important not only for day-to-day life, but for spiritual cultivation as well. So often, I have dwelled on the negative aspects of my OCD, and have wondered "why me," and "if only I didn't have it," which only lead to more suffering. It is a great reminder to me that the ERP process can lead to spiritual discipline, deeper insights, and moments of liberation, if not an odd kind of mastery (one day.)

    I like your reminder to apply this discipline in a spontaneous way, whenever faced with a "spike," and not just during one's official practice time.

    Thanks for your insights!


  4. This post is so encouraging to me. I have Pure O, and I have not really been dealing with it - right now, I am in the gathering information mode, and I feel like your blog lays a road map for those struggling with Pure O. I've been interested in mindfulness for the past few years - currently reading Kabat-Zinn's "Wherever You Go . . .", so it is especially encouraging to read about your experience with this. Thanks for giving me hope and focus.

  5. I'm so glad I can be of help for others who suffer from Pure O!!! I am grateful that you read my blog!!!

  6. I really like this: That discipline promotes confidence which promotes courage. How true! I'll have to remember this.

  7. Pure O Canuck, it is a pleasure and a relief to see that you and others out there in the OCD blogging community are still around! I'm glad you're still plugging away at fighting your OCD and applying what you read to your fight. I can certainly relate to giving yourself a "get out of jail free" card - I feel like I've done a remarkable amount of that in the last several months as work has taken over my life. By the time I get home, I'm in no mood to fight compulsions. Funny thing is, since I haven't been actively fighting my OCD very much, I forget that I'm doing just that - giving in. I'm hoping to return to treatment a bit more seriously and to get back into following you and others who have inspired me. I hope in general that you're doing well and I look forward to going back an reading some of the many posts I've missed!