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 …