We always have a choice, Pema Chödrön teaches: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. Here Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness. This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is.
Pema Chödrön may have more good one-liners than a Groucho Marx retrospective, but this nun’s stingers go straight to the heart: “The essence of bravery is being without self-deception”; “When we practice generosity, we become intimate with our grasping”; “Difficult people are the greatest teachers.” These are the punctuations to specific teachings of fearlessness. In The Places That Scare You, Chödrön introduces a host of the compassionate warriors’ tools and concepts for transforming anxieties and negative emotions into positive living. Rather than steeling ourselves against hardship, she suggests we open ourselves to vulnerability; from this comes the loving kindness and compassion that are the wellsprings of joy. How do we achieve it? Through meditation, mindfulness, slogans, aspiration, and several other practices, such as tonglen, which is taking in the pain and suffering of others while sending out happiness to all–emphasis on theall. Chödrön introduces each of these practices in turn, backing them up with succinct practical reasoning and a framework of ideas that offers fresh interpretations of familiar words likestrength, laziness, and groundlessness. Chödrön is the type of person you’d like to have with you in an emergency, and to deal with the extremes of daily life. In her absence, The Places That Scare You will do nicely. —Brian Bruya