The Buddhist Way of Pema Chödrön: Mindfulness and Meditation Guides
As Buddhist practices of mindfulness and meditation gain traction in the West, Pema Chödrön has become a central figure for those seeking guidance from Eastern spiritual traditions. The New York City-born Buddhist has written numerous books of nontheistic wisdom on everything from self-confidence to global political conflict with her signature blend of pragmatism and wit. Her latest, "How to Meditate," provides a comprehensive guide to meditation, and explains how the practice can help us "honestly meet and openly relate with the mind." With summer around the corner, and opportunities for relaxation and alone time in abundance, it's the perfect book to have on hand when you want to add tranquility to your day. Here's a look at other classic works by Chödrön, which show how mindfulness and meditation—however simple—can be applied to achieve specific goals.
Build inner peace
In "When Things Fall Apart," Chödrön argues that the inner peace we all seek is within reach but that we can be blind to it. Preoccupied with our attempts to avoid suffering, we can miss out on the joy of the present moment. Chödrön suggests that leaning in to—instead of away from—our fears and insecurities is the most direct path to contentment. While taking into account the harsh realities of modern life, Chödrön tells readers that no difficulty is too grim to confront directly in order to achieve inner peace. “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth," she writes.
In “Start Where You Are,” a modern-day classic, Chödrön elaborates on her philosophy that the joy we seek when we turn away from pain is actually best secured when we confront suffering head-on. By accepting the essential transience and unpredictability of things around us, she argues, we discover the indestructible core of the self. The book lays out a more concrete program for attaining this insight, with 59 Buddhist maxims, as well as meditation exercises.
Shying away from discomfort in our lives not only blinds us to joy and contentment, Chödrön says—it also debilitates our love and compassion for others. In “The Wisdom of No Escape,” she advises readers on how to cultivate maitri, or “loving-kindness.” Adopting an attitude of curiosity and inquisitiveness toward problems, she argues, gives us the strength to face our fears and the sturdiness of spirit required to open our hearts to others.
Plant seeds of peace
"War and peace starts in the hearts of individuals," Chödrön writes in the politically-oriented volume "Practicing Peace in Times of War." "Strangely enough, even though all beings would like to live in peace, our method for obtaining peace over the generations seems not to be very effective: we seek peace by going to war." With an eye toward the violence in the Middle East and the often-volatile nature of peace movements, Chödrön teaches that global conflict is only the end-result of a chain reaction of that begins in each of us. "War begins," she writes, “when we harden our hearts, and we harden them easily."
Break bad habits
In “Taking the Leap,” Chödrön focuses on the Buddhist concept of shenpa, which is roughly defined as the way we cling to painful memories, stories and beliefs about ourselves that reinforce our bad habits. Drawing on mindfulness and meditation practices, she offers simple techniques and thought exercises to help readers “take the leap” and seize the “freedom from the destructive patterns that bind us.”
In "Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change," Chödrön's most recent bestseller, she returns to her classic philosophy of confronting difficulty and accepting impermanence, offering readers a framework for finding peace called the “Three Commitments.” They are: Pratimoksha, or the commitment to love oneself and do no harm to others; Bodhisattva, the commitment to alleviate others’ suffering; and Samaya, the commitment to accept the world as it truly is.