Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Loving Pema Chodron

Love is a pretty big word.  And we no doubt make it small by applying it to things like chocolate.  (I don't actually believe this. I put it in there to raise my righteousness quotient.  Chocolate is an elevation of love.  We just don't like to admit it.)  Oh, anyway.  Love is good.  Let's go ahead and spread it around, even on the trivial.

Pema, though, Pema is not trivial.

Here's why I love Pema though we've never met and likely never will. 

The other day I was agitated to a degree I almost never achieve.  Anxious.  Unstrung.  The physical experience was not unrelated to pure, curled-up, 'possum-in-the-headlights panic. The encouraging things I usually say to myself when I feel like that (Shut up, Ann, you dope.  Sit down.  Chill out.) were not working.  So, I figured:  Go to the grocery store, Ann.  That will fix you right up.  Silly moi.

So semi-fear-frozen in my car, I remembered that in my iPhone I had a brand new recording of a retreat Pema Chodron led on The Three Commitments at Gampo Abbey. (Doesn't that sound so lovely and calm?  I don't think it really is.  At least not all the time.  People are there.  Enough said.)  So I found it (Woo!  It had downloaded.  Technology works sometimes.) 

Right off the bat, Pema started talking about the essential groundlessness of the human experience.  And death, of course.  You'd think this would have been the straw that drove me right off the road.  But no.  The Truth, the Real Truth, can be da balm.  Even if the real truth is "Change Happens." Even when the change that happens is not that cool, uplifting Obama Change we still believe in. ( I do. I do.  You go, Mr. President.)   Even if the real truth is "Death Happens."  Because it appears that is so.

Pema also holds out the interesting idea that emotions and states of mind clock in at about 1 1/2 minutes per :-) :-( .... :-) :-(   That's us there to the left of this sentence.  Happy. Sad. Worried. Crazy. Cheered.  Pissed.  All over the place.  And, listening there in my car, I noticed that, oops, the unstrungness that I was so INTERESTED in, had crept away without even saying hasta la vista, Annie. 

My interpretation of some Pema advice I've encountered from time to time is that if you approach every moment and its mood or its thoughts with a spirit of gentle curiosity -- if you don't try to push it away or shut it down or exchange it for a mood or a thought you might prefer, you can do this sort of surfing thing.  You can ride the present moments, the very NOWs of your life, staying awake, not being in a war with whatever's there, tending to your balance, being kinder than is my innate nature....  If you can do this, you can then experience it All.*

And, in this moment of calm reflection -- which, as noted, is now and not necessarily a minute and a half from now -- I ask myself what better could we reasonably hope for in a world of change and inevitable death than to experience our lives moment by moment?  To live while we're alive.

This is probably the most ridiculous interpretation of Pema's teachings ever, ever, ever in the world.  However, one of the things I love about her is her generosity and compassion for those who try.

Thanks, Pema.  Love you,  XOXOXO Annie

*An important corollary, which I also believe Pema would agree with, is that when you find yourself UNDER your Surfboard of Life and skinning your nose on a coral reef, you should be neither surprised, dismayed nor disempowered.  Just try to re-find your board and climb back on, all the while being very Pema-Kind-and-Forgiving to yourself.


  1. Bravo for a new post. A courageous one at that. You've spared our reader(s) the banality of what I was about to post this morning, when the phone rang. (bad excuse, but there you have it.) Haven't forgotten my place here... though it's been a week of weak links and distractions.

    And no, I've never heard of, read or experienced Pema Chodron. Will now google or amazon or search for her, out there somewhere in the galaxy... or the jetstream of your thought process.

    Ann, it's not an insignficant feat to get yourself out of a possum-in-the-lights down- and-out panic attack. To find comfort and truth and grace in that state is ... a sign of stability and wisdom and creativity.
    More power to you. And to Pema, whoever she is.

  2. I think you might enjoy Pema. She wrote a book called When Things Fall Apart which I read so long ago that Lynn was occupying the office next to mine and the Ripster was one more door down. (Some good old days. I miss Rip like crazy several times a week. I miss you and Lynn, too. But in a much better way.) As noted, Pema's teachings are so darned kind. It's like, "If you could be a better person for maybe ONE minute a day, that would be a wonderful." And I say, "Wow, Pema, how about 30 seconds?" But that's just how I am. You'd do better, I bet.

  3. A wonderful THING. Actually.

  4. Oh, I see you've added a new photo, a visitors' center and some comment at that. A refreshing change -- still feeling like the road trip. A good thing.
    Can we stop at a Stuckey's? (Never have, never will, but anyway) Pecan logs. Wondering, do they still exist, or did Starbucky's take them all over and grind them into the coffee?

  5. OMG! You've never stopped at Stuckey's? Put that on your Bucket List right now. I haven't been in one for years. Oh, crap. Decades. There used to be one at the Ravenswood stop on the way to Bill's mom's. And The Pecan Log. Type 2 Diabetes in a roll. On a roll. Wish I had one for BREAKFAST.

  6. Funny about the photos I've used in the header for the blog. They were almost all taken in May of 2007 on the the trip John and I took from Cleveland to Las Vegas. We had come over the mountains in vicious snow and ice with SUVs upside down all over the place.

    On the western side of the mountain? A lovely cool, crisp, beautiful afternoon. Sun coming through. Rain drying out. Got off at a rest stop somewhere east of Grand Junction and took a bunch of pictures for The Artist's Way. Just didn't know it at the time ....

  7. We should take a Stuckey's Grand Tour... traveling as many miles as calories in a pecan log . . . and come up with another blogsite...

    A-Way-wise, are we not on "Week 10?". . . themed "dangers on the trail"-- oh, yes, I concur, it's perfect timing for "Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection." And a Stuckey bar, yes?

    In the words of J.C. (that would be Julia Cameron): "CREATIVITY IS GOD ENERGY flowing through us, shaped by us, like light flowing through a crystal prism. When we are clear about who we are and what we are doing, the energy flows freely, and we experience no strain, When we resist what that energy might show us or where it might take us, we often experience a shaky, out-of-control feeling."

    Hmmm... will shake on that. And brake.