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Shambhala Sun | November 2009

Editorial: The Long Road Home

by Liam Lindsay, Associate Editor of the Shambhala Sun

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.”

But, 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.

“When 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.

The 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.

Pema 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.

But 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.

Chögyam Trungpa, Pema’s original teacher, says facing yourself in such a way is being a warrior, one who acts with gentleness, fundamental bravery, and fearlessness.

“Warriorship 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.”

I 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 that dichotomy.

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 here truly 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 been before.


Pema Chödrön

Pema 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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