Before I left California late last year to join the Shambhala Sun, I called a Buddhist friend to share my excitement. “Ooooooo!” she exclaimed. “You’re going to see Pema!” I said, “Well, I don’t know about that.”
as it turns out, I did. Not privately, but in a large room where Ani
Pema Chödrön gave a public talk in May. It was my first time in her
presence, and I was deeply moved by her warmth, wisdom, and humor, her downright realness.
The insights offered then, and in her books and other teachings, helped me realize I could no longer turn away from painful experiences. I could no longer try to avoid them with masks and dodges, or suppress them with the numbness of shutting down.
my second marriage fell apart, I tasted the rawness of grief, the utter
groundlessness of sorrow, and all the protective shields I had always
managed to keep in place fell to pieces,” writes Pema in her teaching
in this issue.
Last year, my second marriage also fell apart. The day before I moved out, the Los Angeles Times
called to tell me that I, like so many others at that troubled paper,
had been downsized out of my job. It was the first time I had gotten
the boot in more than thirty years of daily newspaper journalism that
had taken me from Canada to a decade in America, first on the New York Times national desk and then on the foreign and national desks in L.A.
spiritual crisis that had gripped me six months before—the realization
that I was just going through the motions and had to change my life
into something that had meaning for me—manifested in a very real,
double-barreled way, and it hurt like hell. There was nowhere left to
hide. Actually, there was nowhere left even to stand.
recalls that when she met Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche, now her teacher, he
talked about the importance of pain. Ten years in North America had
shown him that students took his instructions on a superficial level
“until they experienced pain in a way they couldn’t shake,” she writes.
“When their lives fell apart, the teachings and practices became as
essential as food or medicine.”
Since 1977—when a friend in Vancouver introduced me to the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and I took vows with the Sixteenth Karmapa,
the embodiment of the Tibetan Kagyu lineage—I had considered Buddhism
my core. It was a source of joy, a secret thread in the tapestry of my
being. But somehow I perceived it as separate from my everyday life,
which was pretty much a whirlwind of fear-based confusion kept at bay
by my well-developed armor and self-affirming reclusiveness.
that all changed in the blink of an eye. No exit, as Pema likes to say,
while she reminds us to practice loving-kindness—however uncomfortable
it feels— toward ourselves and others as we learn to embrace emotions
like pain and fear, and to work with them.
Trungpa, Pema’s original teacher, says facing yourself in such a way is
being a warrior, one who acts with gentleness, fundamental bravery, and
is based on overcoming cowardice and our sense of being wounded,” he
teaches in this issue. “The ground of warriorship is fear itself. Fear
is nervousness; fear is anxiety; fear is a sense of inadequacy, a
feeling that we may not be able to deal with the challenges of everyday
life at all.”
know those feelings only too well. I had built my life on trying to
banish them. I found over the years that despite the brittle shell of
journalistic cynicism, I could easily tap into compassion for others,
empathize with their difficulties, and provide warm encouragement. But
often I didn’t feel compassion, or even simple kindness, toward myself.
All my attempts to see with my heart foundered on the battleground of
Here at the Sun I am immersed in dharma every
day. My dream of integrating meaningful work and my spiritual calling
has come true. While it is still somewhat unsettling that the people
accept me as I am and care about me on a deep level, their
loving-kindness is transforming me. I am opening, even though it is
sometimes very scary. I have finally come home—to a place I had never
Chödrön is one of the most prominent women teachers of Buddhism. She is
resident director at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia and the
author of several books, including The Wisdom of No Escape, When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, and No Time to Lose, a commentary on the classic text, Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. The Shambhala Sun offers the best selection of her teachings available on the web.
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