A friend suggested I write a post on what it is about Pema Chodron’s work that I love so much. I have read all her books, and as you can see from the photo attached, I don’t just read them, I dig in! I have learned from many wonderful teachers, but there is something about Pema’s communication style that cuts through my resistance. The question my friend asked was, “Why Pema?”
My answer is a two-parter, I guess. The first part is about Buddhism itself. The second part is Pema’s personal style.
That old adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come,” is certainly true, in this case. Though I am not a Buddhist, I became deeply immersed in the teachings of Buddhism through Pema’s eyes, and one of the first things I came to see was that through meditation and Buddhist teachings I was becoming more deeply attuned to the teachings of Jesus as well.
Love is ultimately the main message in Buddhism, as in Christianity. The thing that makes Buddhism so valuable to me, though, is that it teaches HOW to love when love doesn’t simply bubble up, or when love is blocked by anger, judgment, fear, etc. Buddhism is a methodology, a deep and detailed methodology on how to open ourselves to love.
The idea of practice came to life for me in studying Pema’s works. We don’t just throw a switch and become better people. As a child in a fundamentalist Christian culture, I was confused by this because I was taught that accepting Christ would change my heart on the spot. But that wasn’t my experience. I accepted Jesus, but my heart still held judgment, anger, fear, jealousy, deceit, sorrow, loneliness.
In Buddhism, though, detailed instructions are given as to how to practice changing our hearts, how to work with and accept our human characteristics, (both negative and positive aspects), without being slaves to them. If I can recognize and accept my anger, for example, and if I develop the muscle to catch myself in a flare of anger BEFORE it has manifested into a reaction from me, then in that pause, I can choose what to do that is best for all concerned, rather than striking out in knee-jerk fashion.
So that is what drew me to Buddhism…the detailed instructions that would, with a committed practice, move me toward the person that I wanted to be in my heart…and in my case, that was to be more like Jesus! One of the things often said in Buddhist studies is not to take any of this information at face value. Try it out. See how it works for you. I have done that. And it has indeed worked for me. I have grown from this work.
As to Pema’s personal style (for there are lots of wonderful Buddhist teachers)…I think it is because she not only teaches the undoing of shame through compassionate self-acceptance, but she exhibits it in her own personal examples. She is a world-renowned nun, but she makes mistakes, even to this day, and instead of hiding them or downplaying them, she highlights them as examples of the teachings she offers. I find this incredibly helpful. She displays non-shame! Not only does it take the theoretical and bring it into practical, every-day experience, but it also creates a human link, a way for me to relax and breathe with my own faltering “becoming.” If Pema Chodron still has to work with anger, or depression, or aging, or any other of ego’s illusions, maybe it is okay if I still have to work with them too! I don’t have to deny them. I don’t have to bury them under a false smile. Nor do I have to give in to the outward aggression that ego so often tries to trigger. I can simply be with myself, without judgment. I can breathe in and out. I can learn. I can witness emotions, thoughts, and physical challenges shift, change and dissolve. By simply being compassionately present with ourselves, we can learn to experience the fullness, the totality of our lives.
There is much more I could say on this subject! I love her humor, her light-heartedness, her practicality, her succinctness, her wisdom. But the blog-gods are shouting, “Wrap it up! Not another paragraph!” So I will close with simply expressing gratitude for Ani Pema and encouraging you to read one of her many wonderful books. See if she speaks to your soul the way she does to me! The first of her books I read was Comfortable with Uncertainty. The title alone pulled me in! Check it out!