Pema Chodron vs. Self-Help.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Aug 23, 2011
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“When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve.” ~ Pema Chodron

Maitri: loving-kindness toward ourselves.

Click here for video.

You’re basically good. So am I. We all are.

The Cosmic Joke is, of course, when we stop thinking so much about ourselves, we do improve—life becomes more vivid and genuine:

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”


This is why we call our Religion / Spirituality / Philosophy department “Non New Agey Spirituality.” Yes, we’d be fine with a more elegant term. But I appreciate the humor and precision of what it’s called, now, too.


“When we start out on a spiritual path we often have ideals we think we’re supposed to live up to. We feel we’re supposed to be better than we are in some way. But with this practice you take yourself completely as you are.

Then ironically, taking in pain – breathing it in for yourself and all others in the same boat as you are – heightens your awareness of exactly where you’re stuck.”

Cosmic Joke, via Trungpa Rinpoche:

The attempt to confirm our solidity is very painful. Constantly we find ourselves suddenly slipping off the edge of a floor which had appeared to extend endlessly. Then we must attempt to save ourselves from death by immediately building an extension to the floor in order to make it appear endless again. We think we are safe on our seemingly solid floor, but then we slip off again and have to build another extension. We do not realize that the whole process is unnecessary, that we do not need a floor to stand on, that we have been building all these floors on the ground level. There was never any danger of falling or need for support. In fact, our occupation of extending the floor to secure our ground is a big joke, the biggest joke of all, a cosmic joke. – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche


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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


25 Responses to “Pema Chodron vs. Self-Help.”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    God, I love that quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Cosmic joke indeed 🙂

  2. yogiclarebear says:

    Great post Waylon.

  3. Lezlee says:

    :o) Good article too; food for thought…..

  4. Suri kate says:

    Awww Pema such a nice old lady…gotta love her 🙂

  5. Jeffrey says:

    Enjoyed this one a lot, Waylon. Thanks.

  6. Harleigh Quinn says:

    This is precisely WHY I love Pema Chodron. 🙂

  7. Molly says:

    Good quote from CTR… where's it from? Love to use this in a talk sometime.

  8. […] much. God, so much. Not waste time beating myself up. Repair the relationship with him the best I can with my skills. This definitely doesn’t […]

  9. […] So many spot-on quotes: “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” ~ Pema Chödron […]

  10. […] in. We’re reading because we are interested in living compassionately. We must start with maitri. We must start by extending compassion to ourselves and being fully present instead of trying to […]

  11. […] we can be still and not act out or run away, we start to awaken. We are able to really understand what maitri is and how to treat ourselves gently. When we start to awaken to these things in ourselves, then we […]

  12. Julie Martin says:

    I have seen the term 'Not New Agey Spirituality' many times, and it gives me the impression that it is something to avoid. But I don't know what it means, can anyone put me straight, what does 'New Agey' mean, I am in the UK so perhaps it is an American term.
    It is always a joy to read what Pema has to say.

    • James Spencer says:

      "New Age" is a term that applies to many things…It all started in the 60's, when people, mostly the "hippies" were questioning the status quo…
      New age spirituality is a means of investigating the unknown that doesn't involve the traditional religious institutions…Substitute " the universe" for God, "putting out positive vibes" for praying,and you pretty much have it…Same basic framework…

  13. […] wars on the internet. It probably has more to do with letting go of anger. Or being grateful. Or being compassionate to yourself and others. Or realizing that all of this isn’t something to take seriously—so let’s […]

  14. […] to make us “better.” But what we need to do is shift from the idea of becoming better, or of self-improvement, to becoming […]

  15. […] In small doses that kind of thinking is fine. It’s good to push yourself after all, to raise the bar in steady increments; you get better that way. That’s the way you attain your goals. […]

  16. […] “When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often th…. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by brantredux. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  17. […] Helping others had become a way of life for me, as I continuously and simultaneously pursued my own healing; I had studied psychology and nursing during the years of my son’s absence, determined to make a better life for myself, to not let life take me to my knees and was very familiar with the grieving process after years of psychotherapy working through the loss of my son. […]

  18. Deanna says:

    It’s like dieting, right? We feel all this pressure to be thin and so we are always dieting to improve out physical body, but if we just accepted who we are, physically and in that moment, we are free.

    There’s a song by Amanda Palmer- In My Mind- that sums this up beautifully.


  19. Sophia says:

    Endless wisdom from Pema Chodron. What a lady 🙂
    Meditation does teach us this acceptance (of ourselves and all the things we feel) eventually (may take a long time though), so even if people begin meditating in order to improve themselves and later come to realise that that is not the goal, it might not have been such a bad place to start…?

  20. Jen says:

    Pema Chodron changed my life. Seriously. If you haven't read 'When Things Fall Apart' or 'The Wisdom of No Escape,' do it. NOW. 😉

    Realizing that you're okay just as you are is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It took me many years of suffering to realize that this "perfect self" without any problems I was imagining did not exist. As soon as I did, a huge weight was lifted and my life was finally able to begin. Because the more time you spend trying to achieve something that doesn't exist, the less time you have to appreciate what does 🙂

  21. elephantjournal says:

    "Compassion isn't some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we're trying to live up to.

    Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don't even want to look at."

    ~ Pema Chodron

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