As the year draws to a close …

I was introduced to Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher, back in 2014 on an Oprah Winfrey show, Super Soul Sunday. I  was instantly enthralled, just loved what she had to say and have been following her ever since, although not religiously (no pun intended).

Last Saturday she showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. She was the subject of a story from a Brain Pickings newsletter.

Brain Pickings, which I’ve been subscribing to for several years, was founded by the writer and MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow, Maria Popova.

The topic of Popova’s piece is When Things Fall Apart: Tibetan Buddhist Nun and Teacher Pema Chödrön on Transformation Through Difficult Times —  taken from the book Chödrön has written on the same subject — in which she “draws on her own confrontation with personal crisis and on the ancient teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to offer gentle and incisive guidance to the enormity we stand to gain during those times when all seems to be lost.”

Considering the state of the world, it sure seemed timely to me. What made it even more timely, and more personally relevant, is the fact that 2017 has been a pisser of a year. It’s been a struggle from the get-go and, at times, it’s felt like everything I’ve touched has turned to shit. One step forward, three steps back.

So I must say, it seemed serendipitous that this showed up in my newsfeed; and, if I’m going to be completely honest, a little creepy. I know “big brother” watches our every move on the Internet and plays it back to us in online ads — which is bad enough — but is there now an algorithm that reads your mind?

A discussion for another day, perhaps.

In the meantime, the Brain Pickings story, like the book, talks about loss and fear, unforeseen change and learning how to befriend ourselves. And while nothing this past year has made me feel afraid I just love what Pema Chödrön says about “fear” and, as it turns out, it gave me an awful lot to think about:

“Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bottles of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

This clarity is a matter of becoming intimate with fear and rather than treating it as a problem to be solved, using it as a tool with which to dismantle all of our familiar structures of being, a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking.”

What I now realize is, 2017 is a year I should celebrate. I survived it. I lived in it and I lived through it and I’m still here, intact. Stronger, more resilient and, therefore, better for it. It made me think and re-think. I dealt with issues that were long overdue and I cleaned house — and I don’t mean my closets and drawers.

What I now realize is, 2017 has been all about “dismantling all of my familiar structures of being,” it’s been all about “undoing my old ways.” It was all necessary, because it was all about preparing for what comes next. Onward …










20 thoughts on “As the year draws to a close …

  1. 2017 hasn’t been that good a year for us either, but like you say, we’ve survived it, come through, and got on top of the bad stuff together.
    2018 is on the horizon which we hope will be better. We shall enter it with an open mind.

    • 2017 has been tough for a lot of people. You know what they say — “that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It’s true. And I agree, we must enter the new year with an open mind — leave last year at the door.

      • I generally prefer “that which does not kill me better start running” 🙂 but I get the sentiment.
        Yes, it was a tough year and it’s not yet over. Right now I get to watch as my government gives a ‘yuge’ reward to their wealthy paymasters. Over the protests of a majority of the American people, without a sliver of bipartisan support.
        But I also see the pendulum swinging. People are paying attention. They’re getting involved. I certainly am.

        So, thanks for the timely post! Fear is indeed a healthy, normal response to danger – it’s what we do with it that matters.

      • I sure hope you are right about the pendulum swinging. I am horrified at what is going on in your country and cannot wait for Trump and the rest of the thugs to finally get theirs!

      • Well, I obviously don’t claim to know anything for sure 😉

        But there’s already been a shift in our society – one that has, at this point, exposed the deeply entrenched positions of our opposing philosophies. It’s nothing new, we’re just being rather harshly confronted with it.
        And being Americans, we’re kicking up a fuss. Asking us to keep calm and rationally discuss the matter over a cup of tea is like asking a Labrador Retriever to sit still and watch with mild interest while you launch three dozen tennis balls.

        In a way, I think we needed this. Had it coming for a while, even. Nothing like being a superpower with only two neighbors – neither of them a threat – to become complacent and self-congratulatory. Maybe if you guys weren’t so darn nice and would poke us every now and then … but I understand. It’s not your job to make us take a look at ourselves and face who we REALLY are, rather than the pleasant fantasy we like to tell ourselves. Chances are, we’d not listen anyways.

        Well, right now we are looking at ourselves. It’s messy, and painful, and as always in such situations the most vulnerable bear the brunt of it. It’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. And being the self-absorbed dumb*sses we are, we’re scaring the hell out of everyone else, too.

        So, to Canada, on behalf of your neighbor the United States: “We’re terribly sorry about the noise. Please stand by while we sort out the mess we made. Again. PS: send more whiskey”

      • Something has got to happen, it just does. And I agree it will probably have to get worse before it gets better. Sorry about that, but it’s the way life seems to work. Whiskey’s on the way. Want some beer? Ours is more potent than yours 😀

      • Don’t I know it 😉 My hometown is near Lake Placid, NY and going North for a weekend of (fittingly) beer league hockey and Canadian beer is somewhat of a rite of passage there. Must be why we lose all the time. Can’t handle the fine brews…
        Personally I’ve developed a taste for Crown Royal, but I’m currently stationed in Germany and they’re no slouches in the beer department.

      • Crown Royal, you’ve got good taste; and yes, very good beer in Germany. I’m originally from Montreal — spent many a weekend in Lake Placid and also Vermont. Good memories. Are you in the military?

      • Looks like we did a lot of mutual visiting – I love Montreal (and am now experiencing a terrible craving for poutine) 🙂
        And yes, I am. Another reason to keep an eye on my elected representatives.

      • I love the frites stands. There is something to be said for using oil that’s been used over and over and over again 😊 yes, you definitely have a very good reason for keeping an eye on your elected officials. To see what this president is doing to your country breaks my heart. I can only imagine what it’s doing to yours. If anyone can tell him what it takes to make America great it’s you and all those who serve their country. Unfortunately he wouldn’t know anything about that because he’s spent his entire life serving his own best interests. I wish you well.

  2. Fear stifles and immobilizes which of course, makes it hard to shake off. But once we realize what is happening, we can make change – it’s all about awareness.

    • It is all about awareness. I have never subscribed to fear for the very reason you mention — it paralyzes you and also because it’s negative and blocks anything good from getting in.

    • Thanks so much Patrica; and the very same to you. And we must get together when you’re back from Florida. Have a great winter.

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