Pema Chödrön: The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart

The idea of karma is that you continually get the teachings that you need to open your heart.

– Pema Chödrön

I like this way of looking at it. It is direct, immediate, and gives us a very useful pointer.

Another way to put it is that there is an invitation in all of our experiences to open our heart, question our thoughts, and notice what we really are. The idea of “teaching” can make it a bit heavy and feed into guilt and shoulds while invitation seems a bit gentler and more open.

We can also say that it’s all happening within and as the divine. It’s all the play of the divine, whether it’s the divine temporarily and locally taking itself as a separate being in a much larger world, using situations to reinforce a sense of separation, or finding ways to use situations to open up to the larger whole and eventually noticing itself as the divine.

Of course, all of these ideas – including teaching, invitation, karma, and lila – are ideas imposed on reality. We project them onto reality.

And some ideas, like the idea of karma as an invitation for opening the heart, can be very useful and helpful.

Pema Chödrön: When there is a big disappointment

When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.

– Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Chögyam Trungpa: We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem


We are always in transition. If you can just relax with that, you’ll have no problem.

– Chögyam Trungpa quoted by Pema Chödron in The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

I like the when or if way of talking about these things. If I can do this, then this other thing tends to happen.

How can I relax with transitions? I can rest with what comes up in me when I am in a transition, as I always am. I can examine my fears. I can identify what it says about me, and examine that identity. I can look at compulsions for it to be a certain way, or be different from how it is. I can meet the fear it brings up in me with gentleness, rest, and kindness.

Pema Chödrön: Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.

– Pema Chödrön

One way to understand this, is that our “mind knots” don’t go away until they have taught us what we need to know. Our beliefs, identifications, or velcro is there, until we have learned from and about them.

And these mind knots gives us a certain experience of the world, and may even bring us to recreate situations in our lives, so it appears that things in our live doesn’t go away until we learn something from it.

We can learn things in a conventional sense. For instance, it’s easier in the long run – and feels better – to speak and act from integrity, and follow our heart / inner guidance (the little small voice). And we can learn things about the knots. For instance, we can investigate any belief (identification, velcro) that stops us from living with more integrity, and following our inner guidance.

Pema Chödrön: Compassion is knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the dark with others

Compassion is knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the dark with others. It never is a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.

– Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

Pema Chödrön: Take an interest in your pain and your fear

A few years ago I was overwhelmed by deep anxiety, a fundamental intense anxiety with no storyline attached. I felt very vulnerable, very afraid and raw. While I sat and breathed into it, relaxed into it, stayed with it, the terror did not abate. It was unrelenting even after many days, and I didn’t know what to do.

I went to see my teacher Dzigar Kongtrul, and he said, “Oh, I know that place.” That was reassuring. He told me about times in his life when he had been caught the same way. He said it had been an important part of his journey and had been a great teacher for him. Then he did something that shifted how I practice. He asked me to describe what I was experiencing. He asked me where I felt it. He asked me if it hurt physically and if it were hot or cold. He asked me to describe the quality of the sensation, as precisely as I could. This detailed exploration continued for a while and then he brightened up and said, “Ani Pema, that’s the Dakini Bliss. That’s a high level of spiritual bliss.” I almost fell off my chair. I thought “Wow, this is great!” And I couldn’t wait to feel that intensity again. And do you know what happened? When I eagerly sat down to practice, of course, since the resistance was gone, so was the anxiety.

I now know that at a nonverbal level the aversion to my experience had been very strong. I had been making the sensation bad. Basically, I just wanted it to go away.  But when my teacher said, “Dakini Bliss,” it completely changed the way I looked at it. So that’s what I learned: take an interest in your pain and your fear. Move closer, lean in, get curious; even for a moment experience the feelings beyond labels, beyond being good or bad. Welcome them. Invite them. Do anything that helps melt the resistance.

Then the next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. That’s basically the instruction Dzigar Kongtrul gave me. And now I pass it on to you. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering- yours, mine and that of all living beings.

– Pema Chödrön

Pema Chödrön: The challenge is to let it soften us

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid.

– Pema Chödrön