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Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion

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Comfortable with Uncertainty offers short, stand-alone teachings designed to help us cultivate compassion and awareness amid the challenges of daily living. Gleaned from Pema Chdrn's best-selling books, these passages explore topics of loving-kindness, mindfulness, "nowness," letting go, and working with painful emotions. They also offer meditation instructions for heightening awareness and overcoming habitual patterns that block happiness. By the end of the cycle of teachings, the listener will have completed the basic training for becoming a "warrior-bodhisattva," one who courageously takes up the path of awakening compassion.

222 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Pema Chödrön

155 books4,442 followers
Ani Pema Chödrön (Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, closely associated with the Kagyu school and the Shambhala lineage.

She attended Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, she traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Ani Pema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Trungpa, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave her explicit instructions on establishing this monastery for western monks and nuns.

Ani Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

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5 stars
3,342 (49%)
4 stars
2,155 (32%)
3 stars
849 (12%)
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155 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 414 reviews
Profile Image for Jeannie Mancini.
206 reviews21 followers
March 8, 2012
Years ago while in a period of personal turmoil, a dear friend of mine recommended a book titled ‘When Things Fall Apart” by female Buddhist monk Pema Chodron. I remember reading it and feeling connected to this woman’s words, and enjoying her writings of introductory Buddhism for the lay person. Now many years later I find myself yearning and seeking more out of life, and am interested in delving deeper into the practice and philosophy of Buddhist thought. I picked up a copy of the author’s book “Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion”. This beautiful and simplistic work is for the Buddhist initiate; Buddhism 101 so to speak.

Pema details in very simple terms the philosophy of the Buddhist belief system and how it can enhance our lives if basic practices are put in place on a daily basis. She begins her writing explaining the ways of Mahayana Buddhism which relates to the “greater vehicle” path that can lead us all out of our worlds of pre-occupation and egos, into a realm of greater world fellowship with all living beings. After all, we are all connected; animals and humans alike.

Her introduction for the beginner in meditation practices that can cultivate a “Bodhichitta” lifestyle; the awakening heart of loving kindness and compassion, is not only easily understood, but enticing to the reader to start their path without hindrance. Pema leads the reader into simple silent meditation practices, and teaches us to have the courage to look inward. She urges us to investigate our fragile hearts and souls so that we can grow and expand, and learn to transform the most mundane life situations into moments of clarity and beauty. Learning to cultivate new perspectives for our lives is her goal with this book. She pulls the Buddhist student into realms that can teach each one of us how to disassemble the many depths and heights of various walls we build around us that push away fear and pain, and how to naturally and gently, dissolve them through a new way of thinking, and by bringing others into our lives that are of a similar nature that can offer us value versus the many people we surround ourselves with that drain our life’s energy dry.

Her philosophy in this book is for us to learn to go beyond our current awareness and self-centeredness, to take in the pain we suffer and to turn it around with love and compassion for others who suffer similarly. She teaches breathing IN pain, and exhaling OUT love, and the benefits that this practice can bring to ourselves and others. Her instruction in basic sitting meditation is helpful and allows the student to go “softly”, “ breath deeply”, to “let go”, and to begin a life of being grounded. A life of enlightenment, a life free of illusion that allows truth to penetrate, and to soon scatter the tumbleweeds of suffering we all bring upon ourselves unknowingly. We as humans tend to spin out of control with society as it is today. Pema Chodron will help you learn to sit back, inhale the pain, but to begin a path of exhaling and letting it all fly away. She teaches us to learn how to soar, to inherit the wind, to feel the rain on our backs and to weather the storms that the universe has chosen to give us.

This is an excellent little gem of a book that anyone interested in seeking the wisdom of life, and for those yearning to set their souls free of turmoil and suffering, can relate to. The hurt unnecessarily brought into our lives either through others, or from the damage we tend to cause ourselves when we are blinded with chaos around us, can easily be sent packing with a little bit of love and tenderness we all need so desperately. I highly recommend the author’s works and am anxious to read the rest of her writings. Without a doubt, a five star read!
Profile Image for Sally.
272 reviews
June 24, 2015
A super nice, amazing person gave me this book to read as I was in the fetal position over my husband's fifth bout of unemployment in eight years. I tried to get into this book.I can see its wisdom. However, what I really want is a different book, titled something like "Taking Bite-Sized Pieces of Ragged Flesh From the Bodies of Those Who Have Wronged Me" or "I Will Burn You And Your Entire Career To The Ground, Oh My Enemy."
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,373 followers
December 27, 2018
When I first opened up Comfortable with Uncertainty, I was a bit surprised to discover that its contents were culled from four previous books by Pema Chödrön, and I was even more surprised to learn that they were the exact four books of hers I'd already read: Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, and The Wisdom of No Escape. Still, I wasn't particularly bothered. Let's be honest, Chödrön's books all say essentially the same things anyway; it's the review, the reminder, the reinforcement of these concepts that keeps me coming back. And I must say, whoever edited this collection did a fantastic job pulling it together; every short chapter was packed with wisdom that I was constantly underlining. Combine that with Chödrön's lively writing and you have a book I'd be happy to recommend to anyone.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
March 21, 2018
This book is intended to use as an accompaniment to practice, so not really the best to read from cover to cover. Short teachings on ways of thinking, ways of being for meditation and beyond. Looks like it is getting a reprint too, because I have a review copy for a version coming out March 27, 2018, but it was previously published in 2002 and 2003.

I particularly liked the discussion and application of tonglen, which is not often introduced as a beginner practice.

Thanks to the publisher for providing access to the title through Edelweiss.
195 reviews
January 10, 2013
Have you ever heard the adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

This book is like that for me. I have had it for a few months now, and dipped into its very very short chapters from time to time. But recently I read it fully and it lifted a blind in my window.

Of course I had to get past the “Four truths of enlightenment” and the “Six beliefs of compassion” and the “Three ways of feeling pain“. The trite phrase “be here now” that I see in management training seminars and the seemingly obvious “start where you are“. But this book is not selling anything, and it starts to make some sense.

The ideas are simple but not easy…..they are free but not cheap. The need to forgive. The wretchedness of life--not explained, but not our fault. Stop avoiding things, just accept.

I started to absorb this philosophy of life from my Joe, from not only his cheerful personality, but also that we treasure our time together, knowing we don’t have the illusion of an endless future. But, until I read this book, I did not realize how much of my time is waiting to get to the next point in time. I don't want to waste time like that, I just had to see it.

I’m really glad I read it.

“Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken is up to us.” (p. 39)

"One of the most powerful Buddhist teachings is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will." (p. 149)

"...The more you can be completely now, the more you realize that you're always standing in the middle of a sacred circle. It's no small affair, whether you're brushing your teeth or cooling your feed or wiping your bottom. Whatever you're doing, you're doing it now. " (p.116)

"When you are feeling grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there."

Profile Image for m. .
47 reviews
April 5, 2015
You pick up a book like this with the expectation to emerge more enlightened in the end, when in fact the main thing it teaches you is to drop all expectations and just face whatever comes openly.

The three ideas I'd like to embrace from this book are mindfulness, facing your fears and that the path is the goal.

The three shortcomings that I found are the lack of responsibility for one's choices, disregard for goals of personal growth and most importantly the idea that only the present moment matters, no past or future is relevant.

I personally believe that it's not a coincidence that we humans are the only sentient beings capable of understanding the dimensions of time. We are meant to learn from our past and dream in order to evolve as a society. If all of us were to follow only these types of teachings humanity would be a in an eternal harmonious standstill. I think we are meant for more.
83 reviews78 followers
March 25, 2019
When shit gets heavier than average, I often turn to Pema Chödrön. She reminds me to stand in the middle of it, and that even if im being waterboarded, im not drowning. It's not much of a consolation, but its something.

The practice of Tonglen struck me as particularly poignant, counter-intuitive, and ingenious. It is a powerful and direct technique that flips the craving/aversion coding we inherited from our ancestors on its head.

Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books239 followers
October 27, 2019
Reading Pema is a bit like hugging a comfortable pillow in the night. A bit like a walk in the mild sunshine. A bit like curling snow in your palm. A bit like catching the first rain of summer. It’s peace. Happiness. Serenity. Wisdom. These 108 teachings are collected from Pema Chodron’s other books.

Much like ‘The Pocket Pema Chodron’ you need not read these teachings all at once nor forget about them once you are done. These are lessons you can randomly open one at a time and read it every other day. In running or during workouts, one of the things I tell myself is: Get comfortable with discomfort. It’s the only way we can break through the mental fog. Pema’s teachings are similar - with love and kindness she tells me how to communicate with my fears and make peace with my anxieties. She tells me I am not hopeless. She talks to me of the bodhichitta that is within all of us. She makes me feel, somehow, less alone.
Profile Image for Allie.
1,377 reviews38 followers
September 26, 2014
I've been so reticent to take this back to the library that I finally just bought a paperback copy. I'm also the world's worst library employee because... I dog-eared some pages. What delighted me about that, though, is that all the pages I turned down had been turned down previously. Kindred spirits, I guess.
Profile Image for elias.
90 reviews38 followers
April 24, 2022
First book on Buddhism and first book of 2018. Such a good start. Reading these teachings and meditating on them is better than all the money getting paid on the new age-y meditation apps. In depth ideas and an amazing introduction to Buddhism. Will certainly reread and buy it in paperback to keep it at hand.
Profile Image for Rachel.
225 reviews56 followers
May 15, 2018
i read this very slowly over the course of a year while petting my cat and i'm still in samsara-town. but pema chodron is like my nice grandmotherly neighbor in samsara-town (where i will live forever) who lends me some sugar when the power is out and i'm very grateful for her
Profile Image for Hafidha.
193 reviews
December 10, 2018
Short readings. Great for digesting in mornings while having a coffee, or during a lunch break -- small enough to fit in a purse. Really grounding and kind reminders to develop self compassion and bravery in being with others throughout the day. Very helpful book for me and the people who know me.
Profile Image for Heather.
364 reviews8 followers
December 27, 2020
A lovely reminder of the Middle Way and Tonglen (sending and receiving) practice. Tonglen is challenging but can be powerful and transformative, and I realized that, like Metta (or Maitri), I’ve been avoiding working with myself and my own pain in favor of others and all sentient beings. I realized in my heart not just intellectually that the only way to move forward is to accept myself as good enough and worthy right now exactly as I am. And that I have to stop “shoulding” all over myself.
Profile Image for Anna Kolosky.
28 reviews
April 23, 2022
My second time reading this gave me a new perspective! I feel like I read it the first time and understood it logically but this second time I took my time; I soaked in the lessons and simmered in chodrons words and I feel like I actually want to meditate and practice tonglen. It made me feel lighter, happier.
Profile Image for Shelli.
359 reviews72 followers
March 31, 2019
Comfortable with Uncertainty is an anthology, broken up into 108 (an auspicious number in almost all Indian spiritual traditions) one-page snippets summarizing important subjects drawn from the author's previous books. This is not dry, academic dharma – while based on and completely congruent with ancient Tibetan Buddhist teachings, these pages comprise the kind of warm, personable, accessible advice for everyday life that American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön is known for. While some of the 108 topics concentrate on straightforward, self-evident concerns and desires (e.g. "Why Meditate?", "Relax As It Is", "Communicating From The Heart", "Cultivating Compassion"), while some are drawn from the very formal teachings of Mahayana Buddhism (The Four Noble Truths, The Four Limitless Ones, the Paramitas, Lojong slogans, tonglen meditation). But each of the teachings still manage to remain completely easy to understand, and practical to put into use.

My only complaint about this book would have to be that it seems to be trying too hard to be too many things to too many people, and that gives it a kind of cluttered, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel to it. In a volume of less than 125 pages, it just feels like way too many topics and areas of study are discussed without the space or opportunity to delve into them very deeply. Because I've been practicing Buddism for so long – and, in fact, in the very same tradition and community as Pema, sometimes even studying under Pema herself – it's hard for me to read this with the eyes of a newcomer, so I can't really be sure that this superficial treatment of multiple topics is as confusing as I worry it might be. What I do know for sure though, is that this is a great reference book for anyone who's read Pema's previous works or heard her talks. I suspect the remaining readers will feel a real connection to some sections, but have further questions on others. To that end, there is a nice glossary and bibliography at the back suggesting a variety of other books by different authors, which will provide expanded, comprehensive information on the more esoteric teachings.

3.5 stars.

Disclaimers: I have known Pema for many years, and consider her a friend. But I actually won this book fair and square through a Goodreads Giveaway. Neither of these facts affected my review.
383 reviews
November 14, 2010
A multifaceted jewel and game-changer.

When I was in DC this summer my friend Stephen gave me this book. I wasn’t even able to glance at it until we got back to Negril, but I loved the title. I recall checking out When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron years ago, but at that time I wasn’t ready to dwell deeply on these ideas.

I read this book slowly, a couple of pages a day. It consists of 108 short chapters excerpted from Pema’s previous books. This is all about how to live our lives better on a daily basis. It’s Buddhist philosophy beautifully interpreted. As soon as I finished it, I began to read it all over again.

From chapter 39, The Practice of Equanimity:

Training in equanimity is learning to open the door to all, welcoming all beings, inviting life to come visit. Of course, as certain guests arrive, we’ll feel fear and aversion. We allow ourselves to open the door just a crack if that’s all that we can presently do and we allow ourselves to shut the door when necessary. Cultivating equanimity is a work in progress. We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears – sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy. We welcome and get to know them all. (pp. 78-79)

Profile Image for Brian Charest.
Author 3 books1 follower
August 5, 2017
I received this book from a friend of mine right before moving from Seattle to LA to start a new job. And, I should note that I had recently started doing more thinking about my thinking and how it related to my actions and responses to others, having just co-taught a course (with the friend who game me the book) on ethical philosophy to high school students. So, this was an interesting book and has some great lessons about the transformative power of love and compassion, both for others and ourselves.

I gave this five stars, because it does such a good job explaining a simple, but very important idea, also expressed by Hamlet when he says, "There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so." That is, it's often what we tell ourselves about a moment or experience that shades it in a particular way. This book offers encouragement to try to see moments as moments. There are lots of mediation exercises for trying to get better at this. It's all pretty simple to understand, but a lot more difficult to practice.
Profile Image for Judy Phin.
90 reviews14 followers
January 21, 2020
In order to fully understand and take in all that was discussed, I had to go over this book twice... not out of a lack of understanding or difficulty but simply due to the desire of having those words, teachings and stories wrap around my soul and permanently find a place in which they can reside. A beautiful mix of Eastern Philosophy merged with western ideas and examples makes it such an easy and beautiful book to digest.

With each story that is told, it is crucial to pause and allow the words to sink in, highlighting the very crucial feelings of irritability, impatience, fear etc that we harden up and try to avoid are the very emotions that are present in our lives in order for us to grow and learn from.

The author so beautifully takes you through a journey of your suffering, which in fact is everyones suffering, by knowing your own suffering you are able to recognise the suffering in others, therefore having more passion in kindness, empathy and understanding.

The four immeasurable/ limitless truths... Lovingkindness, Joy, Compassion & Equanimity, this we will have within us always, perhaps under the armour in which we carry around, as we slowly strip away and loosen these metal threads holding together our armour we are able to reveal our tender Bodhicitta to the world ^^
Profile Image for Christi LeMunyon.
9 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2021
“We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid. Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior.”

This books has been a great reminder of how to practice patience and kindness for myself and those around me.

“However, no matter the size, color, or shape of the catastrophe, the point is to continue to lean into the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than try to protect ourselves from it. In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal—quite the opposite. We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. “This very moment is the perfect teacher” is really a most profound instruction. Just seeing what’s going on—that’s the teaching right there.”

As cliche as is sounds, what is life trying to show you right now? How are you fighting against that or avoiding it? How can you use the practice of loving-kindness for yourself and others right now?
43 reviews1 follower
May 25, 2020
I started this book over 18 months ago - it has travelled with me around Australia, New Zealand, the UK and South Africa. I have referred to it for wisdom in times of uncertainty and it has not disappointed. To me it wasn’t something to read start to finish in one go, but rather something to savour in times of need. Sometimes all you need is 2 short pages of wise words which speak to your heart. There are 108 of those in here.
Profile Image for Hale Garrison.
Author 2 books2 followers
December 5, 2020
A good collection of highlights from her earlier books, but Taking the Leap is a better, more recent, and more complete and fully evolved work, if you are looking for a starting point with Chodron. At times, this book reads like a textbook for Buddhism, whereas Taking the Leap displays more of her personality and her conversational writing style.
Profile Image for Red.
187 reviews3 followers
February 22, 2022
Found this to be a decent and thought provoking read. There are parts where she specifically lays out guided meditation practices, so anyone looking for a spiritual approach to meditation might appreciate going through the book.
Profile Image for Monica.
331 reviews5 followers
July 30, 2018
Nice source for daily meditative reflection
Profile Image for Melanie.
358 reviews5 followers
January 5, 2021
I love Pema Chodron, but this is not my favorite. It's excerpts, short-shorts that are nice to read daily, but tend to be repetitive. It covers the basics of Tibetan Buddhism, many of which align easily with my Christian contemplative and meditative practices. The emphasis is on letting go of your ego to encourage openness and compassion for yourself and all living beings. It's worth a read, and the practices are definitely healthy. There's a useful glossary of terms in the back.
Profile Image for Samantha Rizzo.
157 reviews2 followers
May 4, 2022
Short, two to three page pieces that are interesting and insightful for anyone practicing mindfulness.
Profile Image for Amy Minh.
27 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2023
I love it! Put my busy mind at ease. I sometimes read it to build up my love tank before meeting up with my mom 😜
17 reviews
August 20, 2020
Thought provoking and accessible guide to some theories of Buddhism for everyday.
Profile Image for Anastasia.
39 reviews9 followers
January 27, 2021
Written by a Buddhist nun, this book is practical tips of mindfulness and compassion (for self and others). I had a bit of trouble getting through the spiritual, enlightened language of the book, but ultimately it was worth looking past for the nuggets of wisdom.
Profile Image for Marianne Mullen.
516 reviews10 followers
November 22, 2021
Not a book to read cover to cover. It's short 2 page topics to reflect upon and provide some space to let the book unfold as you are Sometimes I would just flip open the book to a page for a "lesson" and see what came to me. Definite wisdom here in bite size pieces.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 414 reviews

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