Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change - By Pema Chodron

Date Read: Sep 25, 2020

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🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. As humans, we all have common sources of suffering.
  2. We can ease that suffering.
  3. It takes making basic commitments that while simple, are not easy, and form the basis for a lifetime of practice.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who wants to start a meditation practice or deepen an existing practice. While the book is full of great wisdom, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't fit into one of these categories. Without the support of a regular practice I don't think anyone is likely to stick with any of these ideas long enough for them to take shape in their life.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

The book reminded me to continue focusing on, and deepening my own practice, and to not fall into the trap of letting it become mindless and routine.

📒 Summary + Notes

Chapter 1: The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human

There are universal causes of anxiety for all human beings. These questions don't really have answers, but can help us contemplate and come to terms with them.

Everything in life is impermanent. And running from this fact is a huge cause of suffering. How can we live in impermanence, knowing we are going to die?

Trying to get everything in life under control is a common coping mechanism and it can take many forms. Controlling people, controlling our surroundings, controlling our work, etc. But underneath all this is the simple fact that nothing is under our control. No matter what we do or how hard we try. Any attempt is a potential source of problems. What's it like to realize we can never fully get it together?

Can we increase our tolerance for instability?

How can we make friends with instability, and use it to transform our lives?

How do we relax into the fundamental anxiety of being human and ejoy the ride?

Consider making three fundamental commitments as a path to awakening:

  1. The commitment to do no harm.
  2. The commitment to help others.
  3. The commitment to see the world as it is, without bias.

Ego clinging: Clinging to a fixed identity as a way of coping with uncertainty. We all do this to a certain extent. But the identity we cling to is an illusion. The person we see ourselves as in our minds is largely an illusion.

We generally like people because they make us feel good and validate our fixed identity. But people we don't like are our best teachers because they point our fixed identity out to us.

Notice the emotional pull of anxiety, uneasiness, and uncomfortable emotions, and relax into them. Just sit with the feeling without judgement or bias.

Chapter 2: Life Without The Storyline

Learn to contact the fundamental ambiguity of being human and welcome it.

As humans, we're never fully caught or fully free, but somewhere in between in the process of awakening.

Feelings of anxiety and discomfort are signs of contact with the fluidity of life. Learn to see them for what they are; great opportunities.

  • Be fully present.
  • Feel your heart.
  • Engage the next moment without an agenda.

Chapter 3: Laying The Foundation

Learn to notice and clearly acknowledge when you're trying to escape the fundamental uncertainty of life.

Consider asking yourself and answering honestly:

  • What do I do to avoid being present?
  • How do I act habitually?

Commit to doing no harm to yourself or others in speech or action

The first commitment is about acknowledging our escape routes and not allowing ourselves to take them.

When the urge to speak out, criticize, or fish for praise arises — that's the time to be silent. And then watch what happens inside when you don't speak.

Sojong: Anti-guilt assesment of self. Twice per month on full and new-moon days. Consider asking yourself:

  • What have I done with my body?
  • What have I done with my speech?
  • Is my mind steady and present or not?

Chapter 4: Be Fully Present, Feel Your Heart, And Leap

Whenever fear or discomfort arises it's an opportunity to claim your spiritual warriorship.

Contemplate your intention for each meditation session.

Chapter 5: Staying In The Middle

The 8 Worldy Concerns that drive us as humans are 4 pairs of opposites:

  • Pleasure and pain.
  • Gain and loss.
  • Fame and disgrace.
  • Praise and blame.

What if you trained in staying in the middle of these, between seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort?

Chapter 6: Beyond Our Comfort Zone

The bodhisattva vow, committing to take care of others, is to invite all sentient beings to be our guest.

When we miss the mark, we haven't failed, we can retake the vow and do the 3-step practice from chapter 2.

Chapter 7: Breathing In Pain, Breathing Out Relief

Tonglen: When painful feelings arise, breathe them in, open to them. Then breathe out relief to all suffering beings.

Chapter 9: Nowhere To Hide

Turn up the intensity of opening fully to experience. Commit to embrace the world as it is and never turn away.

Are you willing to let go of everything?

Be honest about what you can and can't handle.

At this stage decisions are personal. There is no guidebook or outer direction. You are the best judge of your experience. There is no do or don't do list.

Feel your emotions directly and selflessly, and let their power open you up. — Dzigar Kongtrül

When you find yourself desperately not wanting to feel what you're feeling, it's probably time to do this practice.