In search on inspiration recently, I turned to my trusty iPad. With a deep inhale I opened the first book my finger took me to: The Wisdom of No Escape.
“Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for the practitioner or spiritual warrior – people who have a certain hunger to know what is true – feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we would rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers who show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we are stuck. This moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
Her words remind me the path is always present.
Ane Pema Chodron was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren. Her exploration of the spiritual life began as a result of her divorce from her husband. She credits this experience with being the catalyst for her exploration of Buddhist teachings.
While in her mid-thirties, Ane Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. She received the ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.
She has written five incredible books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and The Places That Scare You and No Time to Lose are available from Shambhala Publications.
Her spiritual guidance on the topic of meditation is loving and gentle. She shares her own stories of rage and pettiness and shares techniques to deal gracefully with all that is.
On the topic of fear, she tells this story of her own teacher. “One boy asked him if he was ever afraid. Rinpoche answered that his teacher had encouraged him to go to places like graveyards that scared him and to experiment with approaching things he did not like. Then he told a story of travelling with his attendants to a monastery that he had never been to before. As they neared the gates, he saw a large guard dog with huge teach and red eyes. It was growly ferociously and struggling to get free from the chain that held it. The dog seemed desperate to attack them. As Rinpoche got closer, he could see its bluish tongue and spittle spraying from its mouth. They walked past the dog, keeping their distance and walked through the gate. Suddenly the chain broke and the dog rushed at them. The attendants screamed and froze in terror. Rinpoche turned and ran as fast as he could – straight at the dog. The dog was so surprised that he put his tail between his legs and ran away.”
In this simple story we learn to face our fears and see that it holds only the level of charge that we allow.
In addressing fear, Pema Chodron says “There has to be some kind of respect for the jitters, some understanding of how our emotions have the power to run us around in circles. That understanding helps us to discover how we increase our pain, how we increase our confusion, how we cause harm to ourselves.”
And in this act of accepting what is, we give ourselves the strength of a spiritual warrior. And with these simple teachings, Pema helps to point the way to liberation and sovereignty.
I learned a powerful technique from these books – Tonglen meditation. The practice involves breathing in an uncomfortable emotion like anger, rage or jealousy. This is open us to humanity, inhaling for anyone in the world who might be having the same experience. On the out breath, exhale the remedy – love, acceptance, peace. In many ways this goes against or natural inclination which is to turn and run from that which is uncomfortable. In this practice, we stand still and we embrace it for ourselves and each other. In being with what is we develop courage, patience and love. Steadiness in the face of uncertainty is the way of the spiritual warrior. Also known as You.