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April: Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron

Pema Chödrön's perennially helpful guide to transforming the pains and difficulties in our lives into opportunities for genuine joy and personal growth

We all want to be fearless, joyful, and fully alive. And we all know that it’s not so easy. We’re bombarded every day with false promises of ways to make our lives better—buy this, go here, eat this, don’t do that; the list goes on and on. But Pema Chödrön shows that, until we get to the heart of who we are and really make friends with ourselves, everything we do will always be superficial.

In this perennial self-help bestseller, Pema offers down-to-earth guidance on how we can go beyond the fleeting attempts to “fix” our pain and, instead, to take our lives as they are as the only path to achieve what we all yearn for most deeply—to embrace rather than deny the difficulties of our lives. These teachings, framed around fifty-nine traditional Tibetan Buddhist maxims, point us directly to our own hearts and minds, such as “Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment,” “Be grateful to everyone,” and “Don’t expect applause.” By working with these slogans as everyday meditations, Start Where You Are shows how we can all develop the courage to work with our own inner pain and discover true joy, holistic well-being, and unshakeable confidence.

Fuel For Thought Questions:

  1. Pema Chödrön explains that we can turn all the unwanted, messy, and painful aspects of our lives into a path of awakening, wisdom, and compassion. What unwanted or difficult experiences are you currently facing in your life? Would it be accurate to say that you’ve been trying to run away from this pain? If so, how? Are you open to the possibility of working openheartedly with your life just as it is?

2. Throughout this book, Pema Chödrön emphasizes the importance of uncovering bodhichitta, or the tenderness of the awakening heart. Why is this essential? What happens if we are not connected with bodhichitta?

3. Pema Chödrön summarizes the practice of tonglen (taking in and sending out) as follows: “When anything is painful or undesirable, breathe it in. . . . If you feel some sense of delight, breathe it out, sending it to everyone else.” What was your initial reaction to these instructions? Did you try the practice? If so, what was your experience?

4. Which lojong slogan is your favorite or seems especially relevant to your life right now? Which slogan seems like it will be the hardest for you to put into practice on a daily basis? Why?

5. Pema Chödrön often returns to the slogan, “Drive all blames into one.” What is the “one” referred to here, and why should it receive all the blame? Do you have a tendency to blame others when you feel unhappy? How might things shift if you began to “drive all blames into one”?

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