October 4, 2013

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty & Change by Pema Chodron. {Review}

I have run across Pema’s books in the Eastern Religion section of bookstores in the past but I have not yet read any of them.

Her writing tends to center around dealing with unexpected life events such as divorce and grieving and how to handle these with grace. I’m not quite sure why I haven’t bought one in the past since I have found myself navigating through these bumpy roads as well.

When I saw this book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, available to review it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get to know Pema’s writing. I can see why people rave about her books.

This is not a book one can rush through. At least, that’s how I felt about it. Many nights I would read and re-read sections to let the lessons truly sink in. Each chapter contains nuggets of advice that builds on each idea.

Pema outlines The Three Commitments and how to utilize them in stressful times:

1. The First Commitment: Committing to Not Cause Harm.
2. The Second Commitment: Committing to Take Care of One Another.
3. The Third Commitment: Committing to Embrace the World Just as it Is.

The Three Commitments, Pema explains, yield much more power because we take a vow.

“When we make a commitment, we set our intention clearly and know what we’re vowing to do or not do. This is why it’s so powerful…For us, however, taking a vow—making a commitment—allows us to not act reflexively when we have an urge.”

She continues by exploring these commitments further by reflecting on each one and demonstrating how to apply these principles in daily life. For example, she illustrates how the people that frustrate us the most—the people causing strife—are the ones that teach us how to cultivate patience. Pema suggests using these experiences in short bursts to practice accepting discomfort and building a habit of accepting these feelings when they occur.

“If you never met your match, you might think you were better than everybody else and arrogantly criticize their neurotic behavior rather than do something about your own.”

Along with words of advice on dealing with unexpected changes, Pema outlines the practice of tonglen. The Tibetan meditation technique means “sending and receiving.” She explains how we can practice it in simple forms, like when we are frustrated about something small, we breathe in all the frustration people feel in that similar situation and breathe out patience.

For example, if you are waiting in a slow-moving line at the grocery store and feeling irritated that the cashier is taking so long, simply breathe in all of the frustration the people in line are feeling. Imagine you are taking all of their pent-up emotions and then breathe out patience for each of them.

At first I thought doing this would intensify the emotions I didn’t want and so I had reservations even practicing this technique. The first time I tried it, however, I was amazed at how much better I felt. Yes, the emotions were intensified for a few minutes, but then I noticed a calming sensation after a few breaths.

Pema breaks down Buddhist philosophy into easy to understand practical methods for the average lay person. This is tremendously beneficial for anyone looking to learn how to deal with life in a spiritual way.

I most certainly recommend this book as a handbook in how to navigate life’s bumps, twists and turns and how to get through it with acceptance.

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Note: elephantjournal.com received these review items for free, in return for a guarantee that we would review said offering.  That said, we say what we want—good and bad, happy and sad.

Ed: Bryonie Wise

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