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In Western society, we often classify things in black or white: Good or bad, strength or weakness, success or failure. But in Tibetan Buddhism, there’s a saying: The peacock eats poison and that’s what makes the colors of its tail so brilliant. In the metaphor, “poison” refers to all the particular characteristics that trip us up as we strive to be better. We’re conditioned to disparage these parts of ourselves as flaws or shortcomings, but Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön offers another take. She simply calls this “the messy stuff.” Or sometimes, even better: “The juicy stuff.”
In her book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Chödrön writes, “In the Buddhist teachings, the messy stuff is called “klesha,’ which means poison. Boiling it all down to the simplest possible formula, there are three main poisons: passion, aggression and ignorance. We could talk about these in different ways—for example, craving, aversion, and “couldn’t care less.’ Addictions of all kinds come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting—feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution. Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred and negativity of all kinds, as well as garden-variety irritation. And ignorance? Nowadays it’s usually called denial.”