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Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library) Hardcover – March 9, 2004
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Pema Chodron is a Buddhist nun for regular folks. Having raised a family of her own, she doesn't shy away from persistent troubles and the basic meatiness of life. In fact, in Start Where You Are, Chodron tries to get us to see that the faults and foibles in each of us now are the perfect ingredients for creating a better life. No need to wait for a quieter time or a more settled mind. The trick Chodron says is to repattern ourselves, to transform bad habits into good by first opening ourselves to the groundlessness of existence. When the cliff dissolves beneath our feet, fear has a way of actually lessening. Fearlessness opens the way to recognizing our pushy egos and that rather than being cursed with original sin, we are blessed with an original soft spot--the squishy feeling inside that we all have, that is the seat of true compassion, and that we all do our best to armor over. Chodron is the kind of teacher who has seen it all and keeps pushing us back into ourselves until there's no one left to wrestle with but a certain recalcitrant image in the mirror. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
"This book is about awakening the heart," writes the American Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chodron. "If you have every wondered how to awaken your genuine compassionate heart, this book will serve you as a guide." This is a broad and simple statement, and those unfamiliar with When Things Fall Apart or other titles by Chodron may rightfully fear that a volley of nonsensical fuzzballs is on the way. Good bedtime reading, perhaps, but in the decade since its original 1994 publication, there seems to be even less grounds to claim that all humans are innately capable of openness, clarity and compassion (or "bodhichitta"). What follows, however, is a savvy, down-to-earth contemporary version of an old Tibetan Buddhist technique for mind training, or "lojong," supported by instructions in basic sitting meditation practice (to cultivate tranquility and insight) and "tonglen"a meditative technique that involves taking in the dark, heavy, negative emotions and sending out an attitude of light, compassionate embrace, a warm spaciousness, in its place. Chodron supplies a pithy contemporary analysis for each of 59 "slogans" that make up the teaching behind this practice. "There is a saying that is the underlying principle of tonglen and slogan practice: Gain and victory to others, loss and defeat to myself," she writes. Far from being as masochistic as this may sound to Western ears, however, the aim is get people to unclench the heart and mind, to dare to taste defeat. Although far from easy, Chodrons humane, incisive approach can help any sincere reader learn to relate to fear and pain and pleasure and joy in a way that will open their hearts to the richness of their own lives and all life.
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My initial thoughts are that this book could be summed appropriately with the philosophy "Don't sweat the small stuff. And don't sweat the big stuff either. In fact, don't sweat at all."
Equally though, it also counsels not to get overly ecstatic or confident when things go your way.
The key seems to be not to let hurdles, obstacles or setbacks get you too down for too long. Equally, to not let successes think you cannot fail. Be calm and mild, either way.
So, wherever you are, at any time, start from there, taking a middle path of not too much fear or sadness as well as not too much confidence and elation. After all, all feelings and situations are temporary.
I'm glad I read it and look forward to having time to read it again slowly and contemplatively.