In Conversation: Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker

October 18, 2014

What happens when a beloved spiritual teacher and a brilliant author come together to talk about the most tender, compelling aspects of our human experience? The following exchange, excerpted from Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation, offers some unexpected answers—and an introduction to the healing practice that has transformed both women’s hearts and lives.

Alice Walker: About four years ago I was having a very difficult time. I had lost someone I loved deeply and nothing seemed to help. Then a friend sent me a tape set by Pema Chödrön called Awakening Compassion. I stayed in the country and I listened to you, Pema ,every night for the next year. I studied lojong mind training, and I practicedtonglen. It was tonglen, the practice of taking in people’s pain and sending out whatever you have that is positive that helped me through this difficult passage.

I want to thank you so much and to ask you a question. In my experience suffering is perennial; there is always suffering. But does suffering really have a use? I used to think there was no use to it, but now I think that there is.

Pema Chödrön: Is there any use in suffering? I think the reason I am so taken by these teachings is that they are based on using suffering as good medicine. It’s as if there’s a moment of suffering that occurs over and over and over again in every human life. What usually happens in that moment is that it hardens us; it hardens the heart because we don’t want any more pain.

But the lojong teachings say we can take that very moment and flip it. The very thing that causes us to harden and our suffering to intensify can soften us and make us more decent and kinder people. That takes a lot of courage. This is a teaching for people who are willing to cultivate their courage.

What’s wonderful about it is that you have plenty of material to work with. If you’re waiting for only the high points to work with, you might give up, but there’s an endless succession of suffering.

Alice Walker: I was surprised how the heart literally responds to this practice. You can feel it responding physically. As you breathe in what is difficult to bear, there is initial resistance, which is the fear, the constriction. That’s the time when you really have to be brave. But if you keep going and doing the practice, the heart actually relaxes. That is quite amazing to feel.

Pema Chödrön: 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. Instead of feeling you need some magic makeover so you can suddenly become some great person, there’s much more emotional honesty about where you’re stuck.

Alice Walker: I remember the day I really got it that we’re not connected as human beings because of our perfection, but because of our flaws. That was such a relief.

Pema Chödrön: Rumi wrote a poem called “Night Travelers.” It’s about how all the darkness of human beings is a shared thing from the beginning of time, and how understanding that opens up your heart and opens up your world. You begin to think bigger. Rather than depressing you, it makes you feel part of the whole.

Alice Walker: … Everybody is in that boat sooner or later, in one form or other. It’s good to feel that you’re not alone.

Pema Chödrön: I want to ask you about joy. It’s all very well to talk about breathing in the suffering and sending out relief and so forth, but did you find any joy coming out of this practice?

Alice Walker: Oh, yes! Even just not being so miserable. Part of the joyousness was knowing we have help. It was great to know that this wisdom is so old. That means people have had this pain for a long time; they’ve been dealing with it, and they had the foresight to leave these practices for us to use. I’m always supported by spirits and ancestors and people in my tribe, whomever they’ve been and however long ago they lived. So it was like having another tribe of people, of ancestors, come to the rescue with this wisdom that came through you and your way of teaching.

Pema Chödrön: I think the times are ripe for this kind of teaching.

Alice Walker: Oh, I think it’s just the right medicine for today. You know, the other really joyous thing is that I feel more open, I feel more openness toward people in my world. It’s what you have said about feeling more at home in your world. I think this is the result of going the distance in your own heart—really being disciplined about opening your heart as much as you can.

pemaalice

Alice Walker

Photo of ()\

Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1983, Alice Walker is recognized as one of the major writers of our time. Her novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland; Meridian; The Temple of My Familiar; and Possessing the Secret of Joy. The Color Purple spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg. An essayist, poet, short story writer, and children's book author, Alice Walker has taught at Wellesley College, Brown, Sarah Lawrence College, and Harvard, and was an associate professor of English at Yale.

Author photo © ScottCampbell-2017

Pema Chödrön

Ani Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She attended Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, Ani Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to Scotland at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave her explicit instructions on establishing this monastery for western monks and nuns.

Ani Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Ani Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in the West, as well as continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. Her non-profit, The Pema Chödrön Foundation, was set up to assist in this purpose.

She has written several books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, The Places that Scare You, No Time To Lose, Practicing Peace in Times of War, How to Meditate, and Living Beautifully. All are available from Shambhala Publications and Sounds True.

Author photo © Christine Alicino

Also By Author

Led by Spirit

Alice Walker is a poet, essayist, and New York Times-bestselling author who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. With Sounds True, Alice has released the audio program My Life As My Self, which vividly recounts her personal, professional, and spiritual journeys. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Alice and Tami Simon speak on what it means to step into the line of fire and receive criticism for what one believes. In this vein, Alice explains her role as an activist in locations such as Gaza and the Congo—and how standing up for one’s principles brings an ineffable lightness to the heart. Finally, Alice and Tami discuss stepping into the role of a societal elder and why it is imperative that we reconnect with the whole of the Earth. (55 minutes)

In Conversation: Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker

What happens when a beloved spiritual teacher and a brilliant author come together to talk about the most tender, compelling aspects of our human experience? The following exchange, excerpted from Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation, offers some unexpected answers—and an introduction to the healing practice that has transformed both women’s hearts and lives.

Alice Walker: About four years ago I was having a very difficult time. I had lost someone I loved deeply and nothing seemed to help. Then a friend sent me a tape set by Pema Chödrön called Awakening Compassion. I stayed in the country and I listened to you, Pema ,every night for the next year. I studied lojong mind training, and I practicedtonglen. It was tonglen, the practice of taking in people’s pain and sending out whatever you have that is positive that helped me through this difficult passage.

I want to thank you so much and to ask you a question. In my experience suffering is perennial; there is always suffering. But does suffering really have a use? I used to think there was no use to it, but now I think that there is.

Pema Chödrön: Is there any use in suffering? I think the reason I am so taken by these teachings is that they are based on using suffering as good medicine. It’s as if there’s a moment of suffering that occurs over and over and over again in every human life. What usually happens in that moment is that it hardens us; it hardens the heart because we don’t want any more pain.

But the lojong teachings say we can take that very moment and flip it. The very thing that causes us to harden and our suffering to intensify can soften us and make us more decent and kinder people. That takes a lot of courage. This is a teaching for people who are willing to cultivate their courage.

What’s wonderful about it is that you have plenty of material to work with. If you’re waiting for only the high points to work with, you might give up, but there’s an endless succession of suffering.

Alice Walker: I was surprised how the heart literally responds to this practice. You can feel it responding physically. As you breathe in what is difficult to bear, there is initial resistance, which is the fear, the constriction. That’s the time when you really have to be brave. But if you keep going and doing the practice, the heart actually relaxes. That is quite amazing to feel.

Pema Chödrön: 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. Instead of feeling you need some magic makeover so you can suddenly become some great person, there’s much more emotional honesty about where you’re stuck.

Alice Walker: I remember the day I really got it that we’re not connected as human beings because of our perfection, but because of our flaws. That was such a relief.

Pema Chödrön: Rumi wrote a poem called “Night Travelers.” It’s about how all the darkness of human beings is a shared thing from the beginning of time, and how understanding that opens up your heart and opens up your world. You begin to think bigger. Rather than depressing you, it makes you feel part of the whole.

Alice Walker: … Everybody is in that boat sooner or later, in one form or other. It’s good to feel that you’re not alone.

Pema Chödrön: I want to ask you about joy. It’s all very well to talk about breathing in the suffering and sending out relief and so forth, but did you find any joy coming out of this practice?

Alice Walker: Oh, yes! Even just not being so miserable. Part of the joyousness was knowing we have help. It was great to know that this wisdom is so old. That means people have had this pain for a long time; they’ve been dealing with it, and they had the foresight to leave these practices for us to use. I’m always supported by spirits and ancestors and people in my tribe, whomever they’ve been and however long ago they lived. So it was like having another tribe of people, of ancestors, come to the rescue with this wisdom that came through you and your way of teaching.

Pema Chödrön: I think the times are ripe for this kind of teaching.

Alice Walker: Oh, I think it’s just the right medicine for today. You know, the other really joyous thing is that I feel more open, I feel more openness toward people in my world. It’s what you have said about feeling more at home in your world. I think this is the result of going the distance in your own heart—really being disciplined about opening your heart as much as you can.

pemaalice

You Might Also Enjoy

Bruce Tift: Already Free

Have you ever wondered how to hold the following two seemingly contradictory experiences? On the one hand, you feel in touch with the vast expanse of being. You sense that your true nature is infinite, boundless, unconditionally loving, and outside of time. And on the other hand, you know that in certain situations (usually involving other people!), you are avoidant, dismissive, reactive, and shut down, and—truth be told—you have a lot of healing and personal growth work to do.

Buddhist psychotherapist Bruce Tift is a master at holding these two seemingly contradictory views, and—ready for this?—he does so “without any hope of resolution.” In this podcast, Tami Simon and Bruce Tift talk about how, in his work with clients, he skillfully embraces both the developmental view of psychotherapy and the fruitional view of Vajrayana Buddhism, the blind spots that come with each approach, and how combining them can help people avoid these pitfalls. 

Tune in as they discuss unconditional openness, and how it is important to be “open to being closed”; how neurosis requires disembodiment, and further, how our neurosis is fundamentally an avoidance strategy—“a substitute for experiential intensity”; our complaints about other people (especially our relationship partners) as opportunities to take responsibility for our own feelings of disturbance (instead of blaming other people for upsetting us); how to engage in “unconditional practices,” such as the practice of unconditional openness, unconditional embodiment, and unconditional kindness; and more.

Transform your relationship with your kitchen—and yo...

Hello gorgeous community of amazing human beings,

For the last 15 years, I have been cooking up this question: 

What does it look like to nourish YOU? 

 

Let’s drop everything we might think this is 
and everything you didn’t get done today 

and bring our collective shoulders down from the sky. 

Let’s take a minute here. We are just getting started, yet I feel we need to slow down. Will you take a deep breath with me? Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for breathing. There is nothing to do here. 

You can bring your awareness to your breath with an inhale through your nose. Open your mouth slightly and exhale with a HAAAAAAAAA sound. It feels so good to drop everything and breathe. Me too. To let go, even a little, is a real lovefest for the heart and mind = heart mind. 

It feels so good, can we do one more? 
You can close your eyes this time if you want to—

I will be right here. 

We are just getting here, together.

Now let me ask you again: 
What does it look like to nourish YOU?

What if I told you that your kitchen is a place of stories, mothers, grandmothers, imprints, and emotional weather patterns that shaped how you live now? It is also a place to deeply nourish yourself and cook up the life you have been longing to live. 

Your kitchen (yes your kitchen!) is a fierce, unconditionally loving mother holding what is ripe and ready to become inside of YOU. Who would have thought that you can heal your life in your kitchen? I did! And now you can.  

I am excited to share my new book: The Kitchen Healer: The Journey to Becoming You.

It invites you to bring your entire body into the kitchen, put your shame into the fire, offer your grief to the soup—allowing all you have been hungry for to begin to feed YOU. As you turn on the fire, you will come home to yourself. You will make the room you need, to hear and see and feel the stories you have been carrying.  

 

You will begin, again and again, to become YOU. 
Welcome home. 

In loving service to your courage, your kitchen healer,
x x x x jules

Jules Blaine Davis, the Kitchen Healer, is a TED speaker and one of Goop’s leading experts on women’s healing. She has led transformational gatherings, retreats, and a private practice for over fifteen years. She has facilitated deeply nourishing experiences at OWN and on retreat with Oprah Winfrey, among many other miracles. Jules is a pioneer in her field, inviting women to awaken and rewrite the stories they have been carrying for far too long in their day-to-day lives. She is cooking up a movement to inspire and support women to discover who they are becoming.

Pain as the Path

The wounds, scars, and pain we carry as men have a place in our lives. A function that can lead us directly to the core of deep meaning and fulfillment and provide a positive path forward. This is what initiation was supposed to teach us as men—how to descend into the depths of our own darkness and return a more complete and contributive participant in society.

However, this is where a man’s real problem resides: He has not been taught the skill or alchemy of initiation. He has not learned how to deal with his pain, or the pain of the world, and so he bucks against it.

I realized over the years of grappling with how to heal that not only was I ill-equipped to deal with the hurt I’d been given, but I also seemed to be woefully ill-equipped to reconcile with, and put a halt to, the perpetual hurt I passed on to others. Like many men, I was good at inflicting pain—and men who are good at something tend to do that thing a lot.

Not only was I undereducated in the alchemical craft of turning pain into purpose, but almost every man I knew was in relatively the same situation. Most men simply haven’t been taught how to deal with their pain and use it to become something better.

And this aspect of the journey is the missing link in male initiation, which has historically played the role of guiding a man through the transitory period between adolescence and adulthood, teaching him the skills of discipline, sovereignty, and the ability to face some of the most challenging aspects of his own life.

In fact, I began to see that not only have most men not been given the tools or resources to deal with the pain and suffering in their lives, but we as men are actively taught the opposite—the idiotic tactic of constant emotional avoidance. Not only this, but our emotional avoidance is seen as a theoretical and rational strength in certain circles.

Seeing this brings about a multitude of questions that both illuminate the foundational cracks within current masculine culture and also highlight the work we must embark on if we are to do our individual and collective parts as men in building a thriving society.

There’s more: I began to see the direct correlation between a man’s ability and willingness to face his own darkness and having a clear purpose, deep fulfillment, and clarity of contribution to the things that matter most to him.

But how can we as men give our pain a purpose in a culture where we are largely devoid of emotional permissions? Where the archetype of man, in order to be classified or quantified as a man, must do the impossible task of being brave and courageous without being vulnerable?

This is one of the biggest masculine myths—the false idea that you can be courageous without being inherently vulnerable. When we are rewarded for giving our lives, our hearts, and our emotional bodies up for sacrifice to maintain the illusion of invulnerable strength, we prioritize victory over connection. We praise ourselves for performance in the boardroom, bedroom, and bars, but we lack recognition for our performance in reconciliation, repair, and reparation.

There’s another way. A way where victory is found within the work, and part of that work is facing our own darkness.

Excerpted from Men’s Work: A Practical Guide to Face Your Darkness, End Self-Sabotage, and Find Freedom by Connor Beaton.

CONNOR BEATON is the founder of ManTalks, an international organization dedicated to the personal growth of men. He is a facilitator dedicated to building better men, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a keynote speaker. Connor has spoken to large corporate brands, nonprofits, schools, and international organizations such as the United Nations, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Apple, TED, and Entrepreneurs' Organization. For more, visit mantalks.com.

>
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap