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The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (Deckled Edge) Paperback – August 21, 2018
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About the Author
- Publisher : Shambhala (August 21, 2018)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1611805961
- ISBN-13 : 978-1611805963
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.4 x 0.43 x 8.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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This book has offered me the ability to learn how to sit with many difficult feelings that were unsafe to express growing up with loving kindness, just like I would have imagined a parent might do. Instead of allowing these feelings to push me into actions that are not in my best interest, I watch them come and go in meditation and have learned from Pema how to not get attached to any of them. Because they will surely change just like the weather.
The message is one that will begin to affect your daily life, especially if you are in a meditation practice. If you aren’t, it may encourage you to take up a practice in meditation and of lovin yourself fully.
A BOOK FOR THE SEEKER-WARRIOR
The Places That Scare You begins with a description of bodhichitta, which basically means “enlightened heart or mind.” Ms. Chodron tells us that achieving this enlightened heart is the work of seekers training with the discipline of warriors. Such seekers are called, bodhisattvas, and what they are questing for is described in this book by connected essays based on Buddhist concepts.
Among these concepts, meditation is emphasized as a primary technique in bodhichitta training—staying still and observing. Another technique is reciting the slogans, chants, and aspirations of Buddhism, and a selection of them is included in the appendix.
On the way to that appendix, other concepts are described that build the foundation of bodhichitta. Among them are Tonglen (a method for developing compassion), four qualities to develop and so oppose suffering and bad habits, how to develop forgiveness, patterns of laziness to avoid, the value of embracing groundlessness, how to find and appreciate a spiritual teacher, and why the “In-Between State” should be our goal.
All of this is well-written by Ms. Chodron, maybe even deceptively so. You can read this book quickly (it’s only 145 pages), but really understanding the material it presents requires more care. I found my inspiration from it on my second reading.
READ MINDFULLY FOR MAXIMUM INSPIRATION
And I have read a lot of Buddhist literature. It’s books often have promising titles along the lines of: Guide to Fearlessness, Universal Compassion, Living Meaningfully, How to Overcome Our Human Problems, Mindful Steps to Happiness, and such. Their content can, however, seem disconnected from the title’s promise with the prose seemingly simplistic or else hopelessly complicated with eastern mythology. Pema Chodron’s gift is to get beyond these difficulties and communicate Buddhist concepts in a way that is accessible for the interested reader.
In my first reading of The Places That Scare You, I couldn’t see the relation of the text to the title. It didn’t seem to me that the chapter-essays provided any kind of guide to living fearlessly, and I thought the “warrior” idiom was a bit forced. A more thoughtful second reading, however, changed my mind.
The “guide” part of the book is in taking the reader to an understanding of bodhichitta (the enlightened heart). Each chapter is an examination of reality and how to relate to it through Buddhist teachings. As the seeker gains greater understanding of bodhichitta he/she becomes a bodhisattva, and so develops a fearless strength. This fearlessness allows him/her to enter scary places and learn from them.
A READABLE INTERPRETATION OF ANCIENT TEXTS
The Places That Scare You is very readable, but even so, the depth of the material requires some effort from the reader to grasp. This makes just reading the book a virtuous endeavor if your purpose is to find enlightenment and inspiration. The chapters (twenty-two of them plus an appendix) build upon one-another to bring the reader to an understanding of bodhichitta, maitri, and prajnaparamita (defined in the text). Then the appendix provides material to support a regular practice to integrate the concepts covered.
There are a lot of quotes from Buddhist texts, as well as traditional Buddhist stories to illustrate points (such as the story of Avalokiteshvara expounding on “Groundlessness” to a group of Buddha’s disciples). You can see a difference in tone between the quoted ancient texts and Ms. Chodron’s prose, which is modern. I think this is one reason her books are so popular. She puts Buddhist concepts in contemporary language. Some Buddhist literature written by Tibetan masters, say, tend to sound like the ancient texts and so can be challenging for modern readers.
This book also contains a number of terms that could be considered “technical” in Buddhism. These include bodhichitta, bodhisattva, maitri, and prajnaparamita. These terms are explained well, but may be a problem for some non-Buddhist readers. I think it is worth your while to integrate an understanding of these terms. It will enhance your understanding of the book and the material in the appendix.
The above might be considered both pros and cons, which is probably appropriate for a book about Buddhism.
A BOOK TO HELP IN SCARY TIMES
There is much about this time in the world that does frighten me, prompting me to seek some kind of spiritual fortitude to help face it. I have noted many people in social media expressing distress over current events and how their traditional Christian faith is their comfort. That’s how scary our place in history is. Personally, I can relate more to a book like this as a spiritual buttress against fear. And so I found much inspiration in The Places That Scare You.
In this time, we are under a constant barrage of fear porn from politicians and mainstream media. Especially since January of 2020, the efforts of our rulers have ramped up to keep us divided, afraid, and thus vulnerable to their machinations meant to increase the magnitude of their tyranny. In my opinion, we must resist. But our resistance must be wise, built upon the truths found and revealed by enlightened teachers over all of human history. Bodhichitta embodies such enlightened truth that can make us bodhisattvas, strong and fearless in opposing evil. I recommend The Places That Scare You as a training guide to help get you there.
Top reviews from other countries
Prior to this, I hadn’t really used visualizations in meditation & it wasn’t something which appealed to me. Yet I found this version of Ton Glen to be incredibly powerful. No prior book-learning of the Tibetan Buddhist canon was necessary & the emotional link to a difficult time in my past helped to connect with some deeply-rooted feelings & mental processes. The consensus in the group discussion afterwards was that it had helped those of us who had no problem with meditating on compassion for others but who struggled to find compassion for themselves. This, as Pema Chodran points out in this book, means we had not been extending our compassion to everyone in the universe. And thanks to that emotional connection, compassion became an accessible feeling instead of merely an intellectualized concept. Once we have compassion for ourselves, Chodran presents practical insights into how it is easier & more meaningful to pass our compassion onto others – not only loved ones but also strangers & people we actively hate, or who just rub us up the wrong way.
This was my first Pema Chodran book & I didn’t actually realise it was about Ton Glen when I bought it just after the course - isn’t it great when you find exactly the right book at exactly the right time?! Chodran’s approach is also refreshingly Westernised & easy to relate to. Her description of Ton Glen & its benefits was regularly furnished with down-to-earth examples. An example which stuck with me was her advice on meditating on ‘loving-kindness’. Because this is a vague term, translated from a different language which will mean something slightly different to everyone, she recommends replacing it with a more specific one of your own choosing. She gives examples from her own students, which include ‘may all beings have an experience which leads to growth’ & ‘may my father have coffee’. The latter was from a lady whose terminally ill father had all the care he needed, so she hoped he could see past the suffering & medical procedures to still connect with the simple joy in life which coffee always gave him.
As soon as I finished this book, I bought several more from the same author. Chodran has completely changed my perception of Tibetan Buddhism, by showing that behind the cultural trappings – which can be pushed aside if need be – are some practical techniques which have helped deepen my practice immeasurably. Her approach is wise, compassionate & utterly practical. Highly recommended.
I am looking forward to gaining much insight into Pema Chodron's thoughts and advice regarding being fearless and loving yourself and the world. I have read her book, When Things Fall Apart which was exceptionally well written and very thought provoking.
Would definitely order again.