Back to the overview

Learning From Difficult Times: Three Buddhistic Insights That Can Help

Learning From Difficult Times: Three Buddhistic Insights That Can Help

When life hurts, it is tempting to run away from it – don’t think about it, look for much distraction. But the pain rarely disappears without reason. Pema Chödrön, the best know female Buddhistic teacher, advises a different tactic. Do not avoid the pain, but go right through it. It sounds more painful, but it often brings enlightenment.  

Pema is 83 years of age now, but still going strong. She has made it her life’s work to make the lessons of the Tibetan Buddhism accessible for the Western World – like her home country America. In the book “When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times” she shares her most important lessons for those who struggle with sadness, mourning, and other painful emotions.

Look Fear into Its Eyes

Pema Chödrön: “Fear is a natural response to getting close to the truth.” She compares it to the reaction of the sea anemone: when another animal comes near, it closes. This is how it more or less works with people as well: when something scares us, we lock up. This is an automatic response, nothing to get angry about. But it is important to remember how you respond to fear and try to not close your eyes for it. “Most of the time we think that brave people don’t know fear. In reality, they are very intimate with fear.” What Pema is saying: the bravest people are the ones who do not dare to, but do anyway.

Stay in The Now

Distraction and sedation (which you can find in anything – from working too hard, working out extremely often, eating too much of everything and alcohol) bring you further away from this moment. This is nice when it hurts now, but eventually, the pain won’t heal. “Settling with insecurity, learning to relax in a period of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path.” When you feel sadness, revengefulness, or hopelessness, and you have the urge to built armor around yourself, catch yourself while doing that. Not like a police officer or a teacher, but with kindness, without any punitive words. By being soft – vulnerable – you stay in the now and this is how you learn to experience that what hurts. Meditation can help you with this, that is what matters, you open up to the moment and what lives in it.

Accept That Pain is Part of The Deal

If you could, you would probably ban pain to the land of fairytales. Anger, frustration, sadness – who needs ‘em? Pema says it is very human to (subconsciously) strive for a life in which you no longer feel pain. Do we feel better after a bad period, we hold on to that: from now on things will get better, I will never feel this bad again! Pema learned from her own Buddhistic teachers that it is better to accept that life is a bumpy ride. Now and then you will fall down, once you get up you will stumble again, but afterward, you will be rewarded with a calm little creek. “When we are willing to abandon the hope that insecurity and pain can be banned from our lives, we can bring up the courage to feel comfortable in a situation where we don’t have something to hold onto.” So, learning how to surf: to move along with the waves.

Want to Read More?

  • Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart – Heart Advice for Difficult Times. HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.

Most popular