on November 16, 2002
In the current age of anxiety, Pema Chödrön is both a refreshing and challenging voice. Basically, she encourages us to see problems as spiritual opportunities. Instead of trying to run from discomfort, she advocates staying put and learning about ourselves. Instead of habitually reaching for whatever palliative gives relief -- always temporary -- she suggests feeling and observing our discomforts, becoming more fully present in our lives, learning how to be truly here now. Only through this process, she says, can we experience the deep joy of being alive.
This is a great companion volume to her book "When Things Fall Apart." It elaborates on themes introduced there, describing several practices of Tibetan Buddhism, some ancient and long forgotten, which help us not only cope with anxiety but use it to overcome fearfulness. This is an important spiritual effort because while we typically think of hate as the enemy of love, it is really fear that makes love difficult. Fear immobilizes us, makes us pull the covers over our heads, and isolates us from others.
Chödrön, a student of Chögyam Trungpa, encourages the consistent practice of meditation. And she discounts the usual results-driven expectations people associate with it, pointing out that as we confront our true selves in meditation, it often becomes more and more difficult, not easier. And for those who have found meditation fiercely frustrating, as I have, she has alternatives. The practice of "tonglen" is one simple spiritual ritual that can be done anywhere, anytime, providing a dramatic and freeing shift in emotional perspective. Learning not to let disappointment, anger, and hurt trigger our personal melodramas, which sap our energy, we can find our way to greater equanimity and become a less destructive presence in the world.
I strongly recommend this book as a welcome spiritual tonic in troubled times, whether that trouble originates elsewhere or from within. As with her other books, you can read and reread it, each time discovering much to learn and reflect on -- and in her words, "this is news you can use."
on April 20, 2002
I've read this book three times in two weeks. I read so many books about wisdom. The Four Agreements (not so good), meditation by Jack Kornfeld books, Nietzche, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. I've read Pema Chodron's previous books, and those didn't speak to me as deeply as this one does. I don't read just to pass the time. I read to find wisdom. This book contains deep wisdom.
The author lays out ways to analyze ourselves, our emotions and our thoughts. She discusses how we as humans react to our thoughts and pain. Her book analyzes the causes and roots of suffering. She then asks "why do must people suffer in such a similar way?". Decades of acquired wisdom are then offered.
The causes and roots of suffering are our fleeing from pain, running for comfort. Fleeing without knowing why, fleeing without knowing where we are going. The descriptions of human behaivor are spot on accurate. This describes so many Western philosophers, political reformers, talented artists, and many people who are looking to find 'the one true way'.
After laying out the causes of suffering, she distills her understanding of human behaivor, and gives us ways to approach these problems. Practical, approachable ways that you can build on over time. This isn't a set of principles of "Look at the world with happiness, and you too will be happy", or a collection of trite sayings to convince yourself "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you". Slogans don't allow us to analyze and understand the root causes of our pain and suffering. This book lays out those causes. And it lays out ways we can study suffering, and use our efforts to transform our lives from unsure, troubled beings to people who have a firm grasp of themselves. This self understanding leads to lots of confidence. And she uses a scientific method for this analysis.
There are two books i read over and over. "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", which i've been learning from regularly for 4 years. And now this one.
Suzuki Roshi said 'We are always looking for something, without knowing what we are doing'. We are looking for happiness. This book studies what is happiness, what is suffering, why is it so temporal, and what can i do about attaining it.
And it helps us understand what we are doing.
May you benefit from this wisdom as much as I have.
"Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work."
on February 26, 2002
This book is a good one, and as challenging as one would expect. Practical, down to earth, funny, and honest. No dogma. The author is a compassionate person and it comes through in her writing. Pema Chodron, like another of my favorite authors, Taro Gold, simply invites us to think deeply. Also read 'Open Your Mind, Open Your Life: A Book of Eastern Wisdom' by Taro Gold. Excellent!
on March 11, 2009
Buddhist nun Pema Chodrön wrote this great book about techniques for mentally surviving and living gracefully in difficult times. With the appocalyptic messages about "crisis" flying hard and fast at the moment, Chodrön's words of advice might not be a bad addition to the bookshelf!
The Places that Scare You is all about learning fearlessness in the face of the things that are frightening. Cultivating compassion and accepting the impermanence of things are just some of the lessons Chodrön draws from the Shambala Buddhist tradition. She writes also about how important it is to take life with equinimity -- that is, accepting the pleasant with the unpleasant and letting all forms of experience arrise in our existence.
No matter how good we are at living, explains Chodrön, we aren't able to avoid what we don't like and keep only what we do like. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is the type of behavior at the root of human suffering. Furthermore, simple human reality implies taking the good with the bad.
Chodron's writing is simple, cutting and at times, a bit bleak. But her advice is to the point and very useful. If this is the first book of hers you're considering, go ahead. Her voice will remain with you.
on July 22, 2003
This is the second copy of this book I have bought, since I gave one copy to the local library because it is so wonderful. The whole book is overflowing with wise, gentle advise or wisdom as I prefer to call it. So many of the Chapters have added value to my life. Especially The Facts of Life which reminds us that life is fluid and never static so learn how to go with the flow and not have you canoe capsize. Or Learning to Stay when one is more apt to want to run away from a challenge. Finding the Ability to Rejoice was an excellent chapter because we humans, especially we Americans are all to apt to be self-centered and looking for what we think we want that we fail to see just how blessed and happy we really are.
The Chapter on the Three Kinds Of Laziness is one most Americans need to read. The first kind of laziness the author shares is based on our tendency to want to avoid inconveniences. Second kind is loss of the heart, or the "poor me" habit. The third kind is the "couldn't care less" type which is often related to resentment. Or giving the world the obscene finger gesture. It's either the world owes me something and I'm not getting it or the idea that because we aren't getting what we think we want we get mad and basically say screw the world and we shut ourselves off from others.
When the Going Gets Rough is also a great chapter because its a good kick in the pants reminder that life is both glorious high peaks where we can savour everything we see, as well as valleys with bogs and tough terrain, which if we would just stop complaining and instead become more observant, could provide wonderful life changing experiences just as great as the mountain top.
In fact I am reminded of how the most successful and happy people often love the process of getting the success more than the success and in fact once they obtain success in something they aren't prone to sit on their buttocks but are quick to seek a new challenge that will provide more life changing and positive lessons.
on December 28, 2001
Pema Chodron's latest book, "The Places That Scare You," was released just before the world experienced the embodiment of all the places that scare us: the inconceivable catastrophic events of September 11 and their aftermath. Of course, we must not pass over the monumental suffering cause by these events. However, the real message of September 11 is to point out the insecurity that constantly lies beneath the surface of our existence, the groundlessness that we fear and either try to ignore or to flee. Fear ordinarily shuts down our hearts and minds; it makes our world smaller. But when we begin to relate to our fear fully and properly, the vulnerability that we ourselves experience is transformed into genuine caring for others and for our world. In her book, Pema presents various tools for facing up to fear as a springboard for giving birth to bodhichitta, the awakened heart of love and compassion. These include mindfulness meditation, training in the four limitless ones (loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity), and the practice of tonglen (exchanging ourselves for others). For people interested in learning more about tonglen, Pema has written another book called "Tonglen: The Path of Transformation," which is available from Vajradhatu Publications.
on September 18, 2001
Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhis nun, is the one inspirational person you would choose to have with you when your world falls apart. Being a follower of Buddhist Philosophies for many years, I have found inner peace, strength, love and fulfillment through my beliefs. Each one of us must find "enlightenment" from whatever source we alone believe in, but for me, personally, Buddhism has been the answer. As the author reminds us, "Loving kindness comes from opening ourselves to vulnerability."
Meditation, mindfulness and practices such as "tonglen" (taking in the pain and suffering of others while sending out happiness) can be key tools in ridding ourselves of negativity, anxiety and fear. Each of us has within us the power to overcome that which causes us fear. Chodron explains how we can use these tools to overcome almost any obstacle or challenge.
Another book by the same author which is highly recommended is "When Things Fall Apart." Both offer excellent words of wisdom and advice and both are deserving of a five-star rating. Chodron is a teacher, a sage, an inspirationalist, a mentor and a prime example of one who is good, compassionate, understanding, kind and loving.
on August 25, 2001
"I offer this guide on the training of the compassionate warrior," Pema Chodron writes in the Prologue of her newest book. "May it help move us toward the places that scare us. May it inform our lives and help us to die with no regrets" (p. 2). Chodron is a Buddhist nun, and the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. Chogyam Trungpa was her teacher. When Chodron was about six years old, an old woman told her, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart" (p. 3). Chodron offers this "pith instruction" as the central teaching of her this book. She writes, "we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice" (p. 3).
Chodron quotes Albert Einstein, who observed "a human being . . . experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty" (p. 9). To escape this prison, Chodron encourages us to live life with an enlightened heart and mind ("bodhichitta"), and by analogy, with the "rawness of a broken heart" (p. 4). "This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all" (p. 4). "Each of us has a variety of habitual tactics for avoiding life as it is" (p. 15), Chodron writes. She teaches us that through the heart practices of sitting meditation (the "natural seat" and "home ground" of bodhichitta training, p. 23), loving-kindness, compassion, tonglen, joy, and equanimity, wherever we are, we can train as a bodhichitta warrior. "Bodhisattva training encourages us to have a passionate involvement with life," Chodron says, "regarding no emotion or action as unworthy of our love and compassion, regarding no person or situation as unacceptable" (p. 115).
"Warriors-in-training need someone to guide them," Chodron says, "a master warrior, a teacher, a spiritual friend, someone who knows the territory well and can help them find their way" (p. 113). For some people, reading this book along with Chodron's previous books, START WHERE YOU ARE and WHEN THINGS FALL APART, may be enough. Chodron is a wise teacher. Rather than praising these three books all day, I'll conclude by saying this book is sure to become one of the most trusted dharma resources on my bookshelf. ...
on February 9, 2002
As a psychotherapist and writer dealing with fear from a psychological perspective (Embracing Fear, HarperSanFrancisco 2002), I am delighted to discover Pema Chodron, an author who both supports and challenges my beliefs from a spiritual point of view.
Chodron speaks directly and clearly to our hearts, but never fails to attend to our minds in this thoroughly enjoyable and immensely helpful book. She goes beyond teaching us what it means to be brave; she shows us how to make courage a daily practice. I am especially impressed with what Chodron has to say about the value of moving toward (rather than hiding from) what scares us. She validates what I have experienced --- professionally and personally --- time and again: that fear is a tremendous teacher.
And last but certainly not least: if an excellent sense of humor is really a sign of intelligence, this woman is brilliant.
on July 1, 2004
Pema Chodron seems to get mostly favorable reactions from reviewers, although a few are turned off by what they see as her complacency and hard-edged analysis. To the latter, I suggest reading "traditional" self-help books (there are plenty out there) that are either squishy (John Bradshaw and Wayne Dwyer come to mind) or tell you to "Just Do It" (Eat That Frog, Who Moved My Cheese).
I like Chodron and this book because I think she takes a middle path between compassion and "tough love". So many books tell us to be in the moment and experience life just as it is, warts and all. I think this book goes into a little more depth regarding the many aspects of awareness and the mind-games we play with ourselves. I also get a sense that Ms. Chodron has been through a lot in life, from both a personal and a spiritual perspective. That makes her writing a little more down to earth than, say, Deepak Chopra (many of you will cringe that I even mentioned his name in this review).
An interesting insight that I got from this book is the concept of groundlessness. In 12-step programs and some Christian circles they talk about being "spiritually grounded", which means to have beliefs that are not whimsical or based on hunches, but are well-established principles espoused by your program/religion. Chodron would appear to disagree with this description somewhat, and I'm on her side, in that you should always question what the truth is, even the Buddha's teachings. Even enlightenment is not the end, she says, but really is just the start of truly living. Groundlessness, then, is being able to be in the moment with no pre-conceived ideas or desires for a particular outcome. It could also be called egolessness.
Where this book comes up short is that it is highly repetitive, especially in the middle chapters. She basically repeats the same exercise for practicing lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. I didn't get as much as I would like out of those sections; I think they're more for someone who's in a heavy-duty meditation practice.
I think this book could be easily misinterpreted by someone who picks it at random from a library or bookstore. The stuff that's talked about in here may seem simple or even counter-intuitive, but I believe it's the result of the author's long spiritual journey. Many self-help books and religions advertise that they can cure whatever your problem was in X easy steps (and have testimonials to prove it). The Places That Scare You says that there is relief from suffering, but finding relief is just the beginning.