That is why Pema Chödrön delights me. In a 2008 Sounds True interview she explains that she became a Buddhist when a shattering betrayal sent her in search of some way to dispel her anger and fear. She says she dabbled in a lot of things but was one day given an article by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “Working with Negativity” (which can now be found in their co-authored book, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation). He wrote that the energy of negativity is very juicy and powerful and can wake you up. It is the spin-offs, such as blame and guilt, that are the problems.
That article was the first thing she read in her search that really made sense to her. A year later—at the age of 36 and after two marriages, two children, a teaching career and what felt like a lot of living—she became a Buddhist nun. It was the right path for her. Today she is head of The Pema Chödrön Foundation, a prolific author and a revered teacher and is beloved by spiritual seekers around the globe.
For her 77th birthday in February 2013 she recorded a teaching on the difference between the cause of our suffering (“our pre-existing propensity”) and the trigger for it (“the thing that sets it off”). I winced and gave a rueful smile listening to her wisdom, recognizing myself in her words. I even found tears springing to my eyes and a lump forming in my throat. The wincing, smile, tears and lump told me she was saying something so true I could not sit back and point fingers at anyone else. Instead, she gave me some work to do, to send unconditional love to the places of pain inside me.
I bristle at self-important gurus, but Pema Chödrön reaches through my resistance with her simplicity and warmth and keeps me coming back to her writings and talks. Buddhism itself will never be my practice, but I am drawn to spiritual leaders whose teachings are based on compassion, openness, curiosity and a healthy dose of reality. Pema Chödrön is one of those, and she gives me hope.