More wisdom from Pema Chödrön

Photo: Several Small Sculptures of the Buddha.

In her “Smile At Fear” Retreat (2010), Pema Chödrön spoke to the challenges of living with uncertainty —and the fear it produces — during difficult times such as ours. (I also shared about the retreat in this post.) Here are a few more pearls of wisdom from Pema’s teachings:

• Fearlessness starts with unconditional acceptance of your basic goodness. When you live from such a place of unconditional friendship with yourself, you begin to manifest genuineness. This genuineness is a very attractive quality in a person. When we experience people as genuine, it is because we sense they are not hiding from anything; they are not afraid to feel what they feel about themselves. We know we can trust them. Since the genuine person is not conning herself, we can trust she is not conning us.

• As we start staying with our fear, other unexpected emotions also arrive. For instance, we may experience anger before we find the softness, sadness, and tender-hearted bravery that come with being genuine and fearless.

• Three tools are useful for cultivating fearlessness:

  • Discipline (“Sun”)
  • Meditative Awareness (“Echo”)
  • Prajna (“Bow and Arrow”)

Discipline: The discipline of fearlessness is the practice of staying open to experience. It requires noticing when your mind is closing because you are judging people and situations as good or bad in an attempt to protect yourself from painful feelings and self-doubt. The practice of discipline is very simple, yet it is also very unsettling when you are used to creating an iron heart. The practice involves noticing when you are compartmentalizing and judging and then just letting go — without judging the judgment. The analogy for discipline is the sun: like the sun is always present, you always practice letting go and opening.

Meditative Awareness: The meditative awareness associated with cultivating fearlessness is best understood through its analogy, the echo. Through meditative awareness, we see how everything we do, say, and think produces an “echo” in the environment. Pema spoke of the echo as the “atmospheric” quality of our emotions that is sensed by others in our environment — and then comes back to us! Sometimes the echo is strong, for example, when there is an accompanying action, such as when we hug someone affectionately or shout at a person in anger. Other times it is subtle, for instance, when we are feeling aggression but are not witnessing what we are feeling. At such times, we might feel we are the victim of the world’s aggression without witnessing that we too had a hand in things (albeit an unconscious one). Through meditative awareness, we get to know what we are feeling in terms of how the world seems to be responding to us. This echo stops when we are ready to feel our emotions rather than continually projecting them onto the world.

Prajna:  The term prajna, which means “intellect,” arises from discipline and meditative awareness. With practice, rather than judging situations and unconsciously projecting our emotions, we begin to cultivate the ability to be curious about what is happening both in and around us. No longer is so much energy devoted to producing defenses and iron heart. We start approaching the world and our emotions with nonjudgmental curiosity. The analogy given to prajna is the bow and arrow: clear seeing is the arrow, while practicing prajna in our relationships is the bow.

© 2010 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).