Getting Out of Our Own Way

Or Practicing Peace In Times of War ala Pema Chodron

By Ann-Marie McKelvey, LPCC, MCC

It was an August evening in 2008. I was deep in the Colorado Rockies at Shambhala Mountain Center and, except for a skeleton staff, I was alone. 

I had purposely arrived two days before the retreat seeking rest, alignment, and stillness. But to be truthful I was seeking refuge from my mind. A troubling experience three weeks before was keeping my MonkeyMind rigid and swirling.

Bottomline: There was a war inside of myself and I was unable to get out of my own way.

After dinner I walked an unknown path that went up into the forest. It was well worn and yet carefully groomed. I could hear the wind blowing fiercely from one mountaintop to the next as it made its way toward me. 

When the summer wind found me it whipped through my hair and left my body chilled to the bone. I felt raw, exposed and with an uncomfortable Beginner’s Mind. I kept walking.

A wooden bridge appeared and seemed to welcome me with colorful Tibetan prayer flags but I couldn’t let them in. I kept walking.

The forest opened into a large field of wild flowers. In the center was a beautiful white Stupa touching the stormy gray skies of the Rockies.  I knew it was an auspicious moment and yet I couldn’t let it in. I kept walking.

Looking downward I walked up the steep steps to the Stupa and began circa-ambulating doing kinhin, a very s-l-o-w walking meditation. The quietness held me and I began weeping. 

I was exhausted from this war inside me. I was flummoxed as to what to do. It seemed as though none of my Buddhist practices or trainings were helpful. I felt alone as the wind whipped through me once again. I kept walking.

With my eyes downward I watched the tears hit the ground. Then I heard gravel crunching slowly and steadily behind me.  A strong arm looped through mine and we quietly kinhin-ed together with our eyes downward.

No words were spoken. No direct eye contact experienced. Yet being witnessed in my suffering diffused the suffering. My mind began to settle. My heart began to melt. My eyes began to see color again. We kept walking.

We walked together. The tears flowed more, but now it was tears of gratitude for this precious life with so many teachings. I felt a squeeze on my arm, looked up into the gentle eyes of Pema Chodron.

Two days later as Pema began the teachings from her book, Practicing Peace In Times of War, she shared this Cherokee (Those Who Live In the Mountains) story. 

In many ways this story is the foundation of all our teachings at Mindfulness Coaching School… 

Which Wolf to Feed?

The grandfather and his grandson are sitting on a large boulder overlooking the valley. The grandfather begins telling his grandson the story of the two wolves which live within us. 

“There is a war inside of you, my grandson.  It is a war between two wolves. One wolf is greedy, ignorant, vengeful, cruel and oblivious to the hearts of others. The other wolf is compassionate, understanding, kind, resourceful and generous.”

The grandson closes his eyes and thinks about these two wolves inside of him. 

After many minutes he opens his eyes and asks his grandfather, “But which one will win the war?”

And the grandfather without hesitation says, “It will be the one you feed.”


So, how do we get out of our own way and feed the right wolf?

Take Refuge From Monkey Mind…

The Inner Skirmish:
Are you experiencing an Inner Skirmish? 

• Sit on your cushion and watch your thoughts. Even if for five minutes.
• Bear witness.
• Listen deeply.
• Once your mind has settled ask, “What is my next step?”

The Inner War:
Are you experiencing the Inner War?

• Meditate as above.
• Change your physical location to encourage a reset.
• Walk the Unknown Path.
• Keep walking even when it is edgy.
• Trust what arises.
• Speak the truth to yourself.
• Be open to surprises.
• Let your heart soften.
• Steep yourself in gratitude.
• Connect in the silence.
• Keep walking…


What happens when we get out of our own way and we become committed? 

Below is an action plan in the form of a credo. We study this in our classes because it is more than motivation, more than courage, it’s surrendering to the Unknown Path.

Until One is Committed…

…there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation),
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then Providence moves, too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

– W.H. Murray

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