“No Escape, No Problem.” {Pema Chödrön Book Club}

Via Kate Bartolotta
on Jul 24, 2012
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“When we hear about compassion, it naturally brings up working with others, caring for others.

The reason we’re often not there for others—whether for our child or our mother or someone who is insulting us or someone who frightens us—is that we’re not there for ourselves. There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away.” (Start Where You Are: “No Escape, No Problem.”)

In chapter one of Start Where You Are, Pema dives right 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 escape from parts of reality and parts of ourselves.

The intention to be present is a great starting point. Pema includes three essential tools for giving up our escape plots: Shamatha-Vipashyana meditation, Tonglen and working with slogans or lojong.

In Western culture, we like the slogan idea. We love sharing inspirational quotes (especially on Facebook!), but we often gravitate towards the superficial, happy “everything is great” style slogans. The idea of working with these slogans to train our minds is not the five-second happy contemplation we give Facebook photos and tweets. The purpose is to work with these ideas, to let them awaken our hearts and minds.

“All these practices awaken our trust that the wisdom and compassion that we need are already within us. They help us to know ourselves: our rough parts and our smooth parts, our passion, aggression, ignorance and wisdom. The reason that people harm other people, the reason that the planet is polluted and people and animals are not doing so well these days is that individuals don’t know or trust or love themselves enough.”

This is not a self-help book. This is not a book that’s intended to “make you over” or change you into someone new. This is about giving us tools to work with who we already are. This is about learning to be fully present with whoever we are and whatever is going on. That is the basis for our compassion.

If you don’t have a meditation practice, or would like help with your meditation practice, Pema’s explanations of both Shamatha and Tonglen are some of the simplest and most thorough I’ve read. My personal practice is Shamatha in the morning, and usually Tonglen before bed or when dealing with something difficult.

One important thing to note is how we grow in our compassion during our meditation practice by learning to be patient with ourselves. When thoughts come up (which they like to do) we can label them “thinking” and return to our breath. The idea isn’t that we treat ourselves like naughty children when our minds wander, but that it be another way to cultivate patient compassion. It’s another way to truly look at who we are and work with that instead of trying to escape:

“Use the labeling part of the technique as an opportunity to develop softness and compassion for yourself. Anything that comes up is okay in the arena of meditation. The point is, you can see it honestly and make friends with it. Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself.”

What comes up for you when you are meditating? Do you fight with it, or do you label it and let it go? I find myself much more distracted during my nighttime meditation than my morning meditation. In the morning, everything is new. I haven’t spun out into the day’s busy-ness yet. I haven’t checked email and coffeed up yet. But nighttime…hmm. But then, chaos is good news! We don’t meditate because we are calm or “zen.” We don’t do it to become someone different. We do it to work with who we are and where we are. Tonglen is a great way to work with our difficult times.

After looking at the basics of meditation practice, Pema brings us to the heart of the book’s purpose: lojong practice. The purpose here isn’t to soothe away the “bad” stuff in life. The purpose is to connect to our bodhicitta, our awakened hearts, which are already in there waiting for us to discover them.

In order to do this practice, to work with the lojong teachings and wake up, we need to do the opposite of all our happy silly Facebook slogan sharing. When things are difficult or painful—that’s when we lean in, open our eyes and make friends with the present moment. That is how we soften and awaken bodhicitta.

“Lojong introduces a different attitude toward unwanted stuff: if it’s painful, you become willing not just to endure it but also to let it awaken your heart and soften you. You learn to embrace it…Whether it’s pain or pleasure, through lojong practice we come to have a sense of letting our experience be as it is without trying to manipulate it, push it away or grasp it. The pleasurable aspects of being human as well as the painful ones become the key to awakening bodhicitta.”

What did you take away from the preface and first chapter? For those who are on a first read, what questions came up? For those who are re-reading, what jumped out at you that you needed to be reminded of this time around? Anything resonate? Anywhere you disagreed or had trouble with the ideas?

For next week we will be reading chapter two: “No Big Deal.”

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About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven. She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. Kate's books are now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives. You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.


16 Responses to ““No Escape, No Problem.” {Pema Chödrön Book Club}”

  1. Great start, Kate. Well done. You know how much I love that we've got a new book club on elephant.

    I suggest you or someone search for all the buddhist and spirituality groups on LinkedIn. I've found that LinkedIn groups are involved and thoughtful and they love being informed about significant conversations like this. Perhaps put a person exclusively on spreading the word in social media. This series will be well worth the effort and attract many new readers.


  2. karlsaliter says:

    Hi Kate! I love that when talking about how to approach labeling our thoughts "thinking", Pema also mentions humor. It helps me to remember that my wandering attention is kind of funny. This feels like an affectionate place to come from.

    Her overview too, that this is the basic human condition, and the condition for many beings, led me to think our work in meditation is so important. Perhaps in working on ourselves, we are creating new doorways for all beings.

  3. LynnBonelli says:

    I was familiar with Pema (not this book) but it has already made me look at things differently. I recently blogged about the very subject of 'self-help' & how the industry, in my opinion, has led to the wide spread belief that we are not good enough and never will be…there will always be something we need to work on or change. During a long run it dawned on me that a better thought might be that rather than trying to continually change who I am (into what? I don't know) why can't I accept those things that make me who I am…love the person I am right now. Anyway, you can read it here http://learningcurvesblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/wh… .

    Things that resonated with me: "Affirmations are like screaming that you're okay in order to overcome this whisper that you're not." "If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them." and the first 2 paragraphs in Chapter One…I want to tear it out of the book and read it everyday (but it's a library book). I think I need to buy my own copy!

  4. @gmc0201 says:

    Found it! (Wasn't clear to me how to get from the info page to this first entry, but maybe that was me.) anyway, I'm looking forward to the reread and discussion.

  5. Glad you found it! I will be sure and list/link up each week to the info page, thanks.

  6. Yay! So glad you are reading with us, Lynn! I love that statement about standing fully in our own shoes. I think sometimes we are reluctant to consider the idea of self-compassion as a starting point, because we believe our compassion towards others needs to come first. It's our compassion for ourselves that enables us to have true compassion for others.

  7. Thanks Bob! I don't use Linkedin much so thanks for the heads up—will take a look at that later today. Will you be reading with us?

  8. Yes! I love that too. I remember having the realization once that I would never ever talk to my kids the way I was talking to myself. Love that idea of pointing out our silliness instead of beating ourselves up about it.

  9. #YOBC #ELEJ: My morning meditation is what primes me for the day ~ sometimes my mind is quiet and other times is gets a little busy, which is fine. I don't label or judge, I just let it flow with my breath. I've never followed any particular practice discipline but I like to read about them. I like Pema's style, she's firm in her words, yet soft at the same time. That I can relate to.

    In the evening I like to do something relaxing like beading or reading over seated meditation, but there are times I sit. Depends on the day.

  10. Sandy says:

    This is so great! After reading your article last week, I went online to look at the book, read the whole first chapter and loved it. I find Pema so refreshing and real, I love how she writes. Previously I had not read many of her books, but I think I will now.
    Start where you are is great at showing us how important it is to have a practice and take the time to connect with ourselves and cultivate awareness within. The point I love most in the first chapter is her teaching us about having compassion for ourselves and others. When I first started on the path, it took a long time for me to find compassion for myself. So these words really hit home. its the perfect place to start! I am now going out this weekend to buy the book and look forward to reading more! Thanks Kate. 🙂

  11. Yes, definitely. My wife Jane was a big Pema fan before I even met her. I just had to walk in and pick it off her shelf.


  12. […] I was meeting with a woman yesterday who has become a fantastic friend in my life outside of the counseling world, as well as a cherished mentor. […]

  13. Thanks Meredith! I am going to explain a bit more about the idea of labeling our thoughts in today's post. There is no judgmental component to it. You may find it helpful!

  14. […] thought that I could escape from my life and my problems when I first began practicing meditation. I wanted to become enlightened since the moment I heard […]