Pema Chödrön

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How we live is how we die

Discover newfound freedom in life’s ever-constant flow of endings and beginnings with the wise words of Pema Chödrön, beloved Buddhist nun and bestselling author of When Things Fall Apart

As much as we might try to resist, endings happen in every moment—the end of a breath, the end of a day, the end of a relationship, and ultimately the end of life. And accompanying each ending is a beginning, though it may be unclear what the beginning holds. In How We Live Is How We Die, Pema Chödrön shares her wisdom for working with this flow of life—learning to live with ease, joy, and compassion through uncertainty, embracing new beginnings, and ultimately preparing for death with curiosity and openness rather than fear.

Poignant for readers of all ages, her teachings on the bardos—a Tibetan term referring to a state of transition, including what happens between this life and the next—reveal their power and relevance at each moment of our lives. She also offers practical methods for transforming life’s most challenging emotions about change and uncertainty into a path of awakening and love. As she teaches, the more freedom we can find in our hearts and minds as we live this life, the more fearlessly we’ll be able to confront death and what lies beyond. In all, Pema provides readers with a master course in living life fully and compassionately in the shadow of death and change.

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Our birthright

When we cling to thoughts and memories, we are clinging to what cannot be grasped. When we touch these phantoms and let them go, we may discover a space, a break in the chatter, a glimpse of open sky. This is our birthright — the wisdom with which we were born, the vast unfolding display of primordial richness, primordial openness, primordial wisdom itself. All that is necessary then is to rest undistractedly in the immediate present, in this very instant in time. And if we become drawn away by thoughts, by longings, by hopes and fears, again and again we can return to this present moment. We are here. We are carried off as if by the wind, and as if by the wind, we are brought back. When one thought has ended and another has not begun, we can rest in that space. We train in returning to the unchanging heart of this very moment. All compassion and all inspiration come from that.

The Pocket Pema Chödrön by Pema Chödrön, page 14

Waking Up

As uncertainty and groundlessness increase, as we lose control of external circumstances, we find ourselves with our backs to the wall. One response is to cower in the corner, hoping that chaos and suffering will just go away. But in our heart of hearts we know that will never happen. The alternative is to use this opportunity to start waking up. Which is the more sane approach to our life? If we do decide to start surrendering to our uncontrollable situation and letting go of resistance and resentment, we will have no shortage of opportunities to learn and grow. Our world, no matter how crazy and unreasonable it gets, will become our greatest teacher and ally.

When Things Fall Apart Heart Advice for Difficult Time by Pema Chödrön, page 147


“As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis. This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky—that’s called liberation.”

Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chödrön============

Standing at the Center of the World

When we talk about mindfulness and awareness, we’re not talking about something stern, a discipline that we impose on ourselves so that we can clean up our act and be better and stand up straighter and smell nicer. It’s more that we practice some sense of loving-kindness toward microphones and oryoki bowls and our hands and each other and this room and all the doors we go in and out of. Mindfulness is loving all the details of our lives, and awareness is the natural thing that happens: life begins to open up, and you realize that you’re always standing at the center of the world.

Excerpted from:

The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön, page 29–30

Embracing the Unknown - incl. bardo

Even though it is an intrinsic and unavoidable part of life, our culture as a whole doesn’t like to talk about death. For many of us, the concept is not only frightening, but nearly taboo—a grim shadow overhanging everything, silent and dreadful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t. When you’ve engaged in deep Buddhist practice for as long as I have, it’s impossible not to become familiar with The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This extraordinary text—part of a much larger cycle of foundational teachings—details a specific Buddhist view on what happens to you after death. Specifically, the Book of the Dead explores the concept of bardo, the in-between space that opens beyond death and leads eventually into reincarnation. The bardo is not simply a Buddhist analogue to the Christian concept of Purgatory. Indeed, the state of bardo does not wait for you at some unknown moment in the future; it is already here, woven throughout the liminal spaces of our days. And when you come to understand that, enormous opportunities for awakening become available to you. This is why I created Embracing the Unknown, an online course devoted to exploring the context and meaning of the Book of the Dead, grasping the bardo of the everyday, and cultivating the courage necessary to face change head on. When you realize that every moment is a “between” moment, you also begin to recognize the immense power available in present-moment awareness. ENROLL NOW >>

Embracing the Unknown is a potent entry point to Buddhist philosophy, but its thorough exploration of the bardo also makes it ideal for advanced practitioners. Not only will you hear my own thoughts on death and change, you’ll also learn directly from Timothy Olmsted, one of my favorite and most frequent collaborators. Change is inevitable. Fear of change is not. Join me in Embracing the Unknown to discover why we really do need to talk about death, and thus come to appreciate the rebirth available in every single moment of life.

With you on the journey, Ani Pema Chödrön

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The Ultimate Unknown

For those who spend their lives learning to relax with groundlessness, death is liberating. Death is the ultimate unknown that we are forever avoiding; it’s the ultimate groundlessness that we try to escape. But if we learn to relax with uncertainty and insecurity, then death is a support for joy.

Becoming Bodhisattvas: A Guidebook for Compassionate Action by Pema Chödrön, page 45


Illusion of Permanence

Holding on to the feeling of permanence also happens with our emotional states. Whether we feel good or bad, happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, we tend to forget that feelings are fleeting. It’s as if there’s a mechanism that blocks us from remembering everything is always in flux. Our current state of anxiety or elation just seems to be how our life is. When we’re happy, we become disappointed when our good feeling fades away; when we’re unhappy, we feel stuck in our unpleasant emotions. So whether we feel good or bad, our illusion of permanence leads to problems.   How We Live Is How We Die by Pema Chödrön, Page 6


"Over time, as the thinking mind begins to settle, we start to see our patterns and habits far more clearly. This can be a painful experience. I can't overestimate the importance of accepting ourselves exactly as we are right now, not as we wish we were or think we ought to be. By cultivating nonjudgemental openness to ourselves and to whatever arises, to our surprise and delight we will find ourselves genuinely welcoming the never-pin-downable quality of life, experiencing it as a friend, a teacher, and a support, and no longer as an enemy."

From Pema's book Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change


Pëma Chodron:

“We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have cancer, a brick is going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head, somebody’s going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit, or we’re going to arrive at our favorite restaurant and discover that no one ordered produce and seven hundred people are coming for lunch.”

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought.

Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”



If right now our emotional reaction to seeing a certain person or hearing certain news is to fly into a rage or to get despondent or something equally extreme, it’s because we have been cultivating that particular habit for a very long time. But as my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, we can approach our lives as an experiment. In the next moment, in the next hour, we could choose to stop, to slow down, to be still for a few seconds. We could experiment with interrupting the usual chain reaction and not spin off in the usual way. We don’t need to blame someone else, and we don’t need to blame ourselves. When we’re in a tight spot, we can experiment with not strengthening the aggression habit and see what happens.

Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön, page 5

Stop Hiding from Yourself

Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways. You can know all that with some sense of humor and kindness. By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things. We are all in this together. So when you realize that you’re talking to yourself, label it “thinking” and notice your tone of voice. Let it be compassionate and gentle and humorous. Then you’ll be changing old stuck patterns that are shared by the whole human race. Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.

Excerpted from:

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

by Pema Chödrön

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