Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun, and a gem. This little book of hers I bought two years ago. Just now, I am moving through it. There is so much good in it! Several excerpts are likely to appear here. This is the first:
Another slogan says, “All dharma agrees at one point.” No matter what the teachings are — …any instruction of sanity and health from any tradition of wisdom — the point at which they all agree is to let go of holding on to yourself. That’s the way of becoming at home in your world. This is not to say that ego is sin. Ego is not sin. Ego is not something that you get rid of. Ego is something that you come to know — something that you befriend by not acting out or repressing all the feelings that you feel.
Whether we’re talking about the painful international situation or our painful domestic situation, the pain is a result of what’s called ego clinging, of wanting “me-victorious.”
Ego is like a room of your own, a room with a view, with the temperature and the smells and the music that you like. You want it your own way. You’d just like to have a little peace; you’d like to have a little happiness, you know, just “gimme a break!”
But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows. Rather than becoming more relaxed, you start pulling down the shades and locking the door. When you do go out, you find the experience more and more unsettling and disagreeable. You become touchier, more fearful, more irritable than ever. The more you just try to get it your way, the less you feel at home.
To begin to develop compassion for yourself and others, you have to unlock the door. You don’t open it yet, because you have to work with your fear that somebody you don’t like might come in. Then as you begin to relax and befriend those feelings, you begin to open it. Sure enough, in come the music and the smells that you don’t like. Sure enough, someone puts a foot in and tells you you should be a different religion or vote for someone you don’t like or give money that you don’t want to give.
Now you begin to relate with those feelings. You develop some compassion, connecting with the soft spot. You relate with what begins to happen when you’re not protecting yourself so much. Then gradually… you become more curious than afraid. To be fearless isn’t really to overcome fear, it’s to come to know its nature. Just open the door more and more and at some point, you’ll feel capable of inviting all sentient beings as your guests.
- Pema Chödrön, from “Bringing All That We Meet to the Path” in Start Where You Are (1994)