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The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

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We always have a choice, Pema Chodron teaches: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. Here Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness. This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is.

187 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2001

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About the author

Pema Chödrön

152 books4,435 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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 838 reviews
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,113 reviews
April 2, 2015
As I was brushing my teeth this morning after finishing this book, this line came into my head:

When I find myself of times of trouble, Pema Chodron calls to me, speaking words of wisdom: Let it be...

Corny, huh? Totally true. I read When Things Fall Apart over a year ago when I was going through a really rough time, and when I hit a serious road block nearly two months ago, I picked this'n up. In similar fashion with my reading habits of late, I only just finished this wonderful morsel. I won't be stashing it away on the old bookshelf just yet though. I've still got tough times to face, so it will stay right where it is on my nightstand.

At first I was totally repelled by the title in accordance with my instant aversion to anything sounding like a self-help book (perhaps that's too telling...) (I bristled before falling in love with Amy Hempel's Reasons to Live), but then I thought, "You know what? I do need help." And then, "Yeah, 'cause you know what? I am freaked the F*** out right now." I love her. She is the most accesible Buddhist author I've yet encountered. Her approach is realistic--even though I am still struggling with the craziness, I am slowly able to incorporate the exercises, acting on the moment.

Favorite line: "All too frequently we relate like timid birds who don't dare to leave the nest. Here we sit in a nest that's getting pretty smelly and that hasn't served its function for a very long time" (8). You heard it, folks. Smelly nest.
5 reviews4 followers
June 6, 2009
I was at B&N looking for some other book when I mistakenly picked up this one so I placed it back on the shelf and thought nothing of it. The next day I went back to B&N to purchase a different book and I accidently pick this same book up AGAIN. SO I placed it back on the shelf (the top shelf) and continued looking. Then out of nowhere the books from the top shelf fell on my head. When I looked at the pile they were all books by Pema Chodron. So, I began picking them up and when I looked at the shelf next to me (the second shelf from the bottom) there was another row of books by Pema Chodron (obviously placed on the wrong shelf) and the cover of this book staring at me. So, I bought it and found out why this book left a lump on my head......Syncronicity.
Profile Image for Ron.
761 reviews128 followers
April 21, 2012
In the current age of anxiety, Pema Chödrön is both a refreshing and challenging voice. Basically, she encourages us to see problems as spiritual opportunities. Instead of trying to run from discomfort, she advocates staying put and learning about ourselves. Instead of habitually reaching for whatever palliative gives relief -- always temporary -- she suggests feeling and observing our discomforts, becoming more fully present in our lives, learning how to be truly here now. Only through this process, she says, can we experience the deep joy of being alive.

This is a great companion volume to her book "When Things Fall Apart." It elaborates on themes introduced there, describing several practices of Tibetan Buddhism, some ancient and long forgotten, which help us not only cope with anxiety but use it to overcome fearfulness. This is an important spiritual effort because while we typically think of hate as the enemy of love, it is really fear that makes love difficult. Fear immobilizes us, makes us pull the covers over our heads, and isolates us from others.

Chödrön, a student of Chögyam Trungpa, encourages the consistent practice of meditation. And she discounts the usual results-driven expectations people associate with it, pointing out that as we confront our true selves in meditation, it often becomes more and more difficult, not easier. And for those who have found meditation fiercely frustrating, as I have, she has alternatives. The practice of "tonglen" is one simple spiritual ritual that can be done anywhere, anytime, providing a dramatic and freeing shift in emotional perspective. Learning not to let disappointment, anger, and hurt trigger our personal melodramas, which sap our energy, we can find our way to greater equanimity and become a less destructive presence in the world.

I strongly recommend this book as a welcome spiritual tonic in troubled times, whether that trouble originates elsewhere or from within. As with her other books, you can read and reread it, each time discovering much to learn and reflect on -- and in her words, "this is news you can use."
Profile Image for Esra Bestel.
46 reviews8 followers
September 12, 2013

The most important part of this book is the last one, being in between. That is the place where I find myself over and over again.
Here how Pema explains it;
"We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and futility of running from pain. We hear about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we are not told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth. Anxiety, heartbreak and tenderness mark the in-between state. It is the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challange is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challange is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what is happenning, we begin to access our inner strength."
Profile Image for Vicki.
16 reviews17 followers
September 3, 2007
took this book to read on my first jury duty summons... Didn't realize I was reading a "self-help" book until I was done. Uplifting and encouraging... like a little Yoda in my backpack.
Profile Image for Roy Lotz.
Author 1 book8,088 followers
April 29, 2018
Authentic joy is not a euphoric state or a feeling of being high. Rather, it is a state of appreciation that allows us to participate fully in our lives.

In my life, times of crisis or great change, though painful, have had the power to reawaken me. I remind myself of what is important and what is trivial; I take joys in simple things and appreciate everyday good fortune; I empathize more readily and react more kindly; I feel fully myself and fully aware.

But such elevated states quickly fade. Routine is reestablished, and I find myself, once again, absorbed in trifles, disturbed by petty annoyances, numb to beauty, dull to my surroundings, careless of other people, focused on nothings, and generally unaware. This is not a particularly happy state. I do not even like myself when I am in this humdrum mode of existence. Like Hamlet, I feel as if I am bound in shell, hounded by bad dreams. I want a way to reawaken the state of mind that crises have elicited from me—but without the crises, of course.

This is why I turned to Pema Chödrön, hoping that her secular Buddhism might help to crack my existential nut. The central premise of this book is that the crisis state I described above—one of openness to the world, sympathy with others, joy in simple things—is basic to human life, and gets covered up through fear. We fear emotional pain so we do not empathize or connect with others; we fear change so we stick to familiar paths that do not allow us to grow; we fear failure so we create grandiose illusions about ourselves and then work to preserve them. And so on, fearing this and that, with the end result being that we close ourselves off.

Now, philosophers and psychologists can argue whether any state is basic to human life, and what is the mechanism through which unhappiness arises. But in my experience it is certainly true that overcoming fears helps to reconnect me with the world in that basic, joyful way I described above. In this book, Chödrön is focused on overcoming fear through empathy; and she offers several meditative exercises to cultivate fellow-feeling: “The point is to contact an earnest feeling of goodwill and encourage it to expand.” I have tried these exercises, with limited success I am afraid, but I think that the concept is sound: that we can develop our compassion, which will allow us to act both more ethically and live more happily.

In the meantime, however, I am afraid it’s back to the nutshell for me.
Profile Image for Peter Landau.
867 reviews44 followers
June 19, 2014
I hate self-help books almost as much as I hate sentences that begin with I. It’s the writing, which is uniformly poor, at least I think so. Bad writing is hand-holding writing. I’m not a dog in a collar being taken for a walk on a leash. But maybe I should be.

My wife gave me THE PLACES THAT SCARE YOU: A GUIDE TO FEARLESSNESS IN DIFFICULT TIMES by Pema Chödrön as a Father’s Day gift. I read it right away, snapping the neck of my routine reading schedule to hang by its own anxiety until dead.

That was my first step. The second was an open mind. The third was applying the principles. The fourth is the first, like an M.C. Escher staircase, it takes you to the beginning. The paradox of asking unanswerable questions is the closest I’ve come to a genuine spiritual practice.

I still don’t like self-help books, just as I still don’t like sentences that begin with I, but now I think this may not be a self-help book at all, but an other-help book, a user’s manual, an operating system.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
747 reviews200 followers
October 22, 2015

"We cling to a fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us. Nothing and no one is fixed. Whether the reality of change is a source of freedom for us or a source of horrific anxiety makes a significant difference. Do the days of our lives add up to further suffering or to increased capacity for joy? That’s an important question."

Not much to say about this one: Pema has a great way of explaining concepts relating to meditation, but I would not recommend this book to someone who is new to Buddhism or meditation practice. If anything, this book is a good accompaniment but it does require some familiarity with terms and concepts.

Nevertheless, a thoughtful compilation of stories and advice which invites readers and practitioners to question everything.
Profile Image for Will.
79 reviews33 followers
January 26, 2013
I've always been leery of the self-help genre. I'm mistrustful of anyone who tells me how to think, feel, act. I've also seen people read self-help books like serial novels, always chasing some specter of an ideal self with the assumption that their current self is somehow inadequate or broken. These two perspectives have always repelled me from most anything self-help. Pema Chödrön's The Places That Scare You came in a time of personal need and it's been a medicine I've enjoyed taking for dealing with the uncertainty and pains of life.
The writing is simple and clear. Instruction and insight is provided in bite-sized chapters, perfect to read, think on, and read again. It can be a bit repetitive and some of the analogies seem a little flimsy but I think the book still stands as worthwhile and nourishing.
The Places That Scare You is an introduction to a particular perspective on Bodhicitta, lessons and ideas in exercising compassion and by doing so, come to accept ourselves (note: I'm sure this is hugely reductive but bear with me). I've always thought that Buddhism focused on transcending ignorance, escaping the pain of life and maybe even fostering a sense of stoicism. For all I know this is partially correct or there are some sects that do attempt this alone. Bodhicitta is more in line with mindfulness though, sidling up close to our emotions rather than trying to escape them, and not putting any judgement values on our thoughts and feelings. Chödrön says our emotions can be teachers and allow us to learn compassion, even for those we most violently clash with. It's not about transcending life but savoring the highs and lows and being okay with it all.
For years now I've noticed how difficult it is to exist calmly with uncertainty. I've held onto thoughts and beliefs with a kung fu death grip under the assumption they constitute a certain "Will" and to some extent, still do buy into this. But those thoughts and emotions can serve as teachers, on one hand coming to a deeper empathy with friends, family, strangers, enemies, and on the other, being okay with myself.
16 reviews
June 21, 2011
This is the first Chodron book I have read, though I have always been drawn to her titles. For example, I have been generally uncomfortable with uncertainty, and thought "I should read that book".

What I love about this book is the way she describes the practices both for moving towards compassion for ourselves and others and finding a true connection with ourselves and the world around us by training in acceptance of what is. This book could be comforting or terrifying depending on one's perspective at the time of reading it. As she says, we crave stability and predictability and accepting the impermanence of life is initially simultaneously freeing and unnerving.

I love this book, and it is one I will return to time and again. I believe the practices described could be beneficial to everyone whether they are Buddhist or not. At the same time she explains the underlying philosophy in such a way that I realized I had a lot of misconceptions about Buddhism. I would encourage anyone who is in an extremely challenging place in her/his life to explore this book, take what they like and leave the rest.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,024 followers
September 7, 2015
I got this from interlibrary loan after really enjoying When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. I would say I have the same struggles with this one - feeling rather overwhelmed by much of the Buddhist lingo that permeates the text, lacking any context of it other than the explanations provided in the book.

But there are some parts I really liked. Chapter 4, "Learning to Stay," discusses living with discomfort, whether that is physical, emotional, etc. I just kept thinking of a friend who often follows a statement with "But I have and am in my breath, so I am fine." I wonder if he is a bit Buddhist.

Chapters on loving-kindness, compassion, and joy insist on this being something that is shared, based on empathy and understanding.

"Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."

I was a bit surprised - places that scare you are not tangible. It's not the dark. It isn't even war. It is another person's pain, our own discomfort, the suffering of a stranger.
Profile Image for Albert.
348 reviews43 followers
August 24, 2022
While I have read another of Pema Chodron's books and therefore knew what to expect, this was a thought-provoking, mind-altering experience, and perhaps, I can hope, a life-changing one as well. One of the tenets of the book is that we experience everything that happens to us through our egos, and therefore do not experience anything clearly and unfiltered. Our egos are trying to limit or control the uncertainty and ambiguity in the world around us. Every experience, every conversation, every interaction is influenced by this internal dialogue that often has nothing to do with the experience itself. One of the suggestions which was helpful to me to try is to experience any emotion you feel separate from that internal story-telling. For instance, you get angry. How does it feel to be angry? What are you feeling in your body when you are angry? Do that without thinking about the event that you believe caused you to become angry or engaging in any internal dialogue that ties the emotion and the event together. How can you deal with the emotion completely separate from the event?

I may be misrepresenting the ideas in the book, but how do you explain the value of the book without describing some of the ideas and what they mean to you. I was only able to absorb a fraction of what was presented; that is my limitation. This will definitely be worth a second read, and perhaps a third, in an effort to absorb what I did not get the first time around and to better understand those ideas I did grasp.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
911 reviews924 followers
January 3, 2021
As clear and unpretentious, as insightful and helpful, as compassionate and witty, as all of her work.

Lots to consider and work on for many years to come.
Profile Image for Stephanie Barko.
182 reviews126 followers
July 22, 2021
This is the July 2021 selection of South Austin Spiritual Book Group. We have read Chodron before and she never disappoints.

The Buddha's teachings are, for most of us, me included, beyond understanding.

However, while reading this book I was able to use some of its wisdom to guide me through a situation in my work life. Although I'm still not certain the action I took was the correct one, maybe that's right in line with the teachings of groundlessness and remaining open to what may be different in the next moment. At any rate, I chose to stay in the game with this particular client and see what else I might be taught through our interactions and my responses.

Becoming enlightened is a lifelong uncomfortable proposition, but if I remain curious, it's easier to keep taking all that life throws at me.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
910 reviews93 followers
March 24, 2013

“Patience is the training in abiding with the restlessness of our energy and letting things evolve at their own speed.”

What are the places that scare you?.

For me, I had preconceived notions of places I was scared to go to, but want to go to, and need to visit now and again in order to be balanced and at peace. Mainly, with the recent death of my mom, I know am afraid to visit the biggest parts of the grief but know I have to and in a big way, because I am the type of person that must look deeply at everything, feel it, think about it, shine light on the dark places, make them go into the sunlight, breathe some fresh air, and essentially wring and squeeze and absorb all out of grief as I can. Wallace Stegner said it, “I will be richer all my life from this sorrow.” I have always believed that, yet this is my first time truly to put it into action. Pema Chodron’s voice is also different than many Buddhist teachers. She is patient and kind, as with many Buddhists, and also just honest and funny. I love her humor, and the way she uses it to encourage us.

This book is a review of many of the basic Buddhist tenets I have practiced in a non-Buddhist way, that is, without being Buddhist formally but in spirit. You know how Walt Whitman instructs us about God:
This is what you should do:
Love the earth and sun and animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people...
reexamine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
dismiss what insults your very soul,
and your flesh shall become a great poem.

That has always been my litmus test for spiritual teachings and so Buddhism usually passes that test, rarely insulting my soul but instead, feeling true to my soul. This book is a great reminder of the teachings, and inspires me to meditate more, and maybe read a little less!

One of my favorite chapters, and they are all brief, and succcinct, and quietly, spaciously beautiful, is Tapping into the Spring which she opens with more non Buddhist wisdom from Albert Einstein; “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” I love the juxtaposition of science and spirituality that comes with Buddhism and is inherent within it. She is talking in this chapter about accessing the core of a human being, called bodhichitta, an entirely opened and enlightened heart and mind. We all have it. Yup, we all do, even Hitler. That’s another chapter, but in this one, “when we touch the center of sorrow, when we sit with discomfort without trying to fix it, when we stay present to the pain of disapproval or betrayal and let it soften us, these are times that we connect with bohdichitta.”She goes on to say, “tapping into that shaky and tender place has a transformative effect…just to stay there, even for a moment, feels like a genuine act of kindness to ourselves.”

Bodhichitta is trapped inside us, as groundwater is trapped inside stone, and “rather than going after these walls and barriers with a sledgehammer, we pay attention to them. With gentleness and honesty, we move closer to those walls. We touch them, and smell them and get to know them well. We become familiar with the strategies and beliefs we use to build these walls: what are the stories we tell ourselves? What repels me and what attracts me? Without calling what we see right or wrong, we simply look as objectively as we can. We can observe ourselves with humor, not getting overly serious, moralistic or uptight about the investigation. Year after year, we train in remaining open and receptive to whatever arises. Slowly, very slowly, the cracks in the walls seem to widen and, as if by magic, bodhichitta is able to flow freely.” I know I tend to get super serious when I am doing hard work on my psyche and soul; I need the reminder to keep a sense of humor about it. There is a teacher/writer Byron Katie that uses the same imagery and words that Pema Chodron uses here: the stories we tell ourselves, investigation, objectiveness, inquiry. Byron Katie has a practical approach called The Work, and whereas Buddhism is a little ethereal and meditative about things, The Work is a different way to get to the same place, so I was pleased to be reminded of the origins of the Work. Katie is not a Buddhist but embodies many of the teachings of the Tao, so it makes sense, feels true.

Chodron talks about the three lords of materialism next, and loses me a bit, but they help to examine your ego more closely to find out your escape routes, methods of coping, areas of inflexibility, and addiction to exceptionalism. She says, “connecting with bodhichiita is ordinary.” She wants me to give up the way I seek out moments in nature that are beautiful, because that is the lord of mind that tempts me away from being in the moment of uneasiness or fear, and accepting it, instead of seeking out an altered state. It’s whatever your drug of choice happens to be. I, however, prefer not to give those up, but I appreciate what she is saying: do not avoid all of life all the time by doing that, by seeking ‘special states of mind.’ Be in the mundane, boring, uneasy moment, and breathe! Be in it. Don’t avoid it, all the time.

The first time I read the chapter: In Learning to Stay, I thought, oh, cool, I need to meditate more.

The second time, I felt such a sense of freedom, since meditation is coming hard lately, and it’s been too hard. Chodron says,
“in meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel’s it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human…we really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. it goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down…so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay!”

Being steadfast and naked with experience is my goal here, anyways, so this teaching really helped me work on my meditation with new eyes, albeit closed ones. And if you feel drowsy, to prevent falling asleep, she recommends getting mad.

Another fantastic reminder for me is to practice loving kindness or maitri with your enemies. It is a step by step process, starting with yourself, then a loved one, then a neutral person, then a difficult one, then to everyone, and then expanding out to the neighborhood, city, country, universe. The inner reserves of bodhichitta and maitri need replenishment in this way.

Chodron offers simple “compassion aspirations” as a way to maintain balance and equanimity in the course of an ordinary day. She notices the people around her, and if for example, she sees an angry person, she offers a little prayer, ‘may this person be free of suffering and its causes.’ If she reads of an accident, she generates compassion for the sufferers as if she were a loved one. Or most powerfully, feeling so for a criminal, or perpetrator of violence. She feels the interconnectedness of all people in this way, and it is a wonderful lesson. It leads to the practice of tonglen, which is new to me, where you take a negative situation, feeling, or specific person who is suffering, and work through steps to send them maitri. An on the spot, great practice:

1- A moment of opening the mind and centering, whether by listening to the gong of mediation that grounds us, a certain chime or note, or thinking of the limitless ocean or sky.
2- “Visualizing and working with the texture, the raw energy, of claustrophobia and spaciousness.” You try to incorporate them into your pores and cells and then release them from each pore an cell, in breath and out breath.
3- Adding the negative you want to focus, and directing the breath towards the person or situation and the pain. “Doing tonglen for another person ventilates our very limited personal reference point, the closed-mindedness that is the source of so much pain.”
4- Extending the breaths/maitri towards all that might be feeling the same pain.

And as if she wrote this for me: Three Kinds of Laziness. Comfort orientation has been so important to me lately. Not that I don’t suit up and go for long walks in the snow all the time, or the rain… but for example, I was getting extremely irritated at the cold temps in my office and I hear myself whining about it, over and over, almost feeling aggressive and angry. The opposite of equanimity. But a great practice opportunity. I want to feel the textures of life, and the extremes, in a primal and natural way. Another practice I recommend: developing a flexible of prajna (wisdom). Chodron gives the example of hearing rain outside and having a positive thought (the garden needs it) or negative (plans ruined.) Prajna teaches to not attach any feeling to the world, without judgment, unconditionally. It is a way of looking at the world differently, and again, in moderation is good, since I don’t want to give up the joy I feel when I hear rain or see snow or sunshine. They all make me happy in different ways, but I see the value in not always assigning happiness to it, but just acceptance.

And ultimately, think of all I just wrote about, the striving for peace and enlightenment, the collecting of words of wisdom from teachers, and well, just forget it all. Trying to ground yourself in wisdom is the opposite of the way to enlightenment/peace.

Groundlessness is the ultimate teaching; “the buddha’s principal message that day was that holding on to anything blocks wisdom. Any conclusion that we draw must be let go. The only way to fully understand the bodhichitta teachings, the only way to practice them fully, is to abide in the unconditional openness of the prajna, patiently cutting through all our tendencies to hang on.”

I love this dichotomy, and honestly, the concept of groundlessness sent me into a deep meditation, after a nap.

Concluding Aspiration:

Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished, including any benefit that may come from this book, I dedicate to the welfare of all beings.
May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference, and addiction also decrease.
May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.
May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.
May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.
May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.
May we go to the places that scare us.
May we lead the life of a warrior.

Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,102 reviews1,321 followers
June 19, 2020
This book was not really what I was expecting, which was a practical self-help Buddhist guide to dealing with fear. It felt to me more of an introduction to many different Buddhist concepts with an emphasis on their aspects that address fear and fearlessness but also all of life's other nasty stuff.

At times the ideas felt opaque, despite Chödrön's simple, straightforward writing. A lot of the content is presented at a theoretical level with no concrete applications provided. I also found it repetitive, but that may just be my feeling overwhelmed with all the new concepts. But sometimes its words inspired me and sometimes I found it profound and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Anna.
269 reviews92 followers
July 6, 2017
2.5 stars. Feeling kind of "Meh" about this one. As much as I like Pema Chodron's writing, this title seems a bit deceiving. I was hoping to get a more hands-on, practical guide to meditation in daily life, but in "Places," she seems more interested in telling us all how to heal the world through loving-kindness and compassion practices -- not that it's a bad thing, but a bit broader topic-wise than I'd thought I was getting. Worth a read if you are interested in mindfulness meditation and wider applications for relationships.
Profile Image for Renee.
69 reviews3 followers
January 17, 2009
I have only started this short book but I am already blown away. It was recommended to me years ago, but just now picked it up when I saw it at the library. The thing about Buddhist texts is that I often find myself reading something and thinking, "wow, I have missed that point all these years!" I don't know if I have missed them, or if I just forget and then come back to them or if I just wasnt ready to hear them the first 5 times, but no matter there are some potent thoughts in this little book. One paragraph that I needed to hear right now is the following from pages 24 and 25, "It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves that meditation becomes a transformative process. Only when we relate with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception, can we let go of harmful patterns. Without maitri RENUNCIATION OF OLD HABITS BECOMES ABUSIVE (caps added by me). This is an important point." and "trying to fix ourselves is not helpful. It implies struggle and self-denigration. Denigrating ourselves is probably the major way that we cover over bodhicitta." "We must honor ourselves as the source of wisdom and compassion" Yes yes, important points (at least for me). You might find other beautiful treasures that work for you in here too....enjoy!
Profile Image for Anaïs.
110 reviews27 followers
February 12, 2016
A really beautiful book that makes ideas about Buddhism and meditation and the like very accessible. There are a thousand quotable lines and I've scribbled most of them down in my notebook, wanting to remember them by pressing a pen down to form the letters. A great read for someone going through a tough time but also just a generally great read for anyone? Because we've all been through tough times at some point? Unless you're a robot. But that's besides the point and I'm using humour to cover up the fact that this book hit me so hard at various points and just really made me reevaluate quite a few things about how I have been doing things in my life.
403 reviews66 followers
June 7, 2016
If you're looking for a short book with basics on Buddhist teachings for how to cope with afflictive emotions like fear and anger, this book is fine. That's really all I wanted, some reminders of what can be easy to forget. It feels like a list of Buddhist platitudes. Nothing new or interesting here.

My gripe about this book is the same one I often have about Buddhism in general. It feels like they "throw out the baby with the bathwater." In this book, Pema talks a lot about "fearlessness." That the goal should be to shed all fears. I could be misunderstanding, but I find fear to be extremely valuable. It makes me safer, it really does. No, not permanently safe, just safer. Maybe what Pema means by fearlessness is "freedom from irrational fears." A lot of my fears, maybe even most of them, are irrational. They have more to do with holding onto false comforts than with literally keeping safe. A better goal is to simply gain insight into each fear about whether they're serving me, not fearlessness.
Profile Image for Autumn.
475 reviews13 followers
February 13, 2014
I've been reading this for a while (5 months!) and really can't get into it, although I love the author and her ideas definitely resonate with me. I keep reading a few chapters, putting it down for a few weeks, picking it up again and finding myself lost, having to start all over. I think this is a book that you come back to and read when the mood strikes, not a read all the way through book for me. Definitely good, but not right for me at this time. I might try it again years from now...

My inability to read the entire book from start to finish does not mean that this is not a good book. It's just one of those that you have to read at the exact right time in your life, or the message doesn't resonate.
Profile Image for R.C..
98 reviews
September 7, 2013
While at first glance this book might seem to be aimed towards those who have a problem with phobias, that isn't the case. The places that scare us aren't necessarily actual things, but are, in fact, found in ourselves. It seems that what we fear the most these days is something that simply can't be avoided- a loss of security and stability. We cling to things that make us feel stable, from not traveling to creating strict routines to eating pizza when we're depressed, even though we really can't obtain a lasting, long-term stability. This feeling of groundlessness scares us, and yet it is the state of the universe. Pema Chödrön's book explains in gentle, simple, and often humorous ways that we need not be scared of facing this groundlessness in ourselves and our world; if we accept its presence, our lives will change for the better. Whenever we react to something with violence, anger, grief, or any other negative emotions, we are reacting to a loss of firm ground. Through constantly drawing our attention inwards to our anger, our bitterness, or our sadness, we might examine these feelings and, instead of rejecting them, embrace and comfort them (and thus ourselves). Change happens in every moment of our lives, and it is through this beautiful book that we will begin to awaken to the fact that we don't have to be afraid of it any longer.
Profile Image for Zahra Zarrinfar.
91 reviews32 followers
March 20, 2020
یادمه چندین ماه پیش به یکی از کوت‌های نویسنده‌ی این کتاب برخوردم که می‌گفت:«تو آسمانی و باقی چیزها فقط آب و هوا هستند.» و خیلی به دلم نشست سرچ کردم دیدم یه خانم پیر بودیست هستند که یه چندتایی کتاب هم نوشتند. وقتی هم که این دوران قرنطینه شروع شد تصمیم گرفتم که این کتاب رو بخونم.

تو این کتاب درباره‌ی این می‌گه که چرا ما به امنیتمون دو دستی چسبیدیم و چطور این ناحیه‌ی امن به اضافه‌ی خیلی از باورهامون باعث رنج کشیدن ما می‌شه.

بخشای موردعلاقه‌ی من از کتاب فصلایی بود که درباره‌ی چهار کیفیت نامحدود و دشمنان دور و نزدیکش و این که چطور با تمرین‌های مدیتیشن این کیفیت‌ها رو در خودمون پرورش بدیم بود.
و بخشی که پذیرشش برای من خیلی سخت بود و حتی نمی‌دونم چه قدر قابل اعتماده این بود که هیچ زمین سفتی زیر پای ما نیست.

The Four Limitless Ones Chant

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May they be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May they not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May they dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

Profile Image for pri.
244 reviews6 followers
September 25, 2012

"Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"

"Thus we become less and less able to reside with even the most fleeting uneasiness or discomfort. We become habituated to reaching for something to ease the edginess of the moment. What begins as a slight shift of energy - a minor tightening of our stomach, a vague, indefinable feeling that something bad is about to happen - escalates into addiction. This is our way of trying to make life predictable. Because we mistake what always results in suffering for what will bring us happiness, we remain stuck in the repetitious habit of escalating our dissatisfaction"

Profile Image for Regan.
136 reviews11 followers
July 2, 2022
This made me reflect a lot and deserves a second read soon; even if it weren’t dense, the teachings require a lifetime of practice. I could see this being a yearly re-read for me.
Profile Image for Sean Goh.
1,454 reviews83 followers
January 3, 2014
The central question of a warrior's training is not how do we avoid uncertainty and fear (we can't), but how we relate to discomfort. A warrior accepts that we have no control over what will happen to us next.

Experiencing ourselves as apart from everyone else eventually becomes a prison of mistrust. We become unnerved by the possibility of freedom, and when the walls come down we don't know what to do.

3 Strategies we use to provide the illusion of security, to avoid life as it is.
-The lord of form. Looking externally to give ourselves solid ground. (Any form of distraction)
-The lord of speech. Any form of ideology or belief(-ism) which we use to avoid the uneasiness of not knowing what is going on. Avoid righteous indignation.
-The lord of mind. Escape through seeking special states of mind.

Egolessness is a flexible identity, manifesting as inquisitiveness, adaptability, humour and playfulness. It is the capacity to relax with not knowing, not figuring everything out, not being at all sure who we are.

Addictions form habits because they provide temporary, yet unfulfilling relief from discomfort.

Cherish and rejoice at pleasure or tenderness, and wish for others to enjoy the same. Feel discomfort, and remember that you are not alone in that feeling.

(Equanimity) Catch yourself feeling attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity.

Loving-kindness different from lhenchak(attachment). It is not based on need. It is genuine appreciation and care for the well-being of another person, a respect for an individual's value. We can love someone for their own sake, not because they are worthy or not.

Forgiveness cannot be forced, when we are brave enough to open our hearts to ourselves, it will emerge. Each moment is an opportunity to make a fresh start.

The point of reproach is to develop enough self-respect that when we catch ourselves getting hooked in familiar ways we can stop. We aren't disciplining our badness; we're simply getting smart about what brings suffering and what brings happiness.

3 Kinds of Laziness:
Comfort Orientation - based on the tendency to avoid inconvenience, losing touch with the texture of life.
Loss of Heart - Sense of hopelessness and resignation.
"Couldn't care less" - resentment, aggressive and defiant towards the world for not being the way we want i to be.

3 Common ways of relating to laziness (+1):
Attacking - Beating ourselves up.
Indulging - Justify and applaud our laziness as "the way I am".
Ignoring - Pretending there's no problem.
An alternative: Fully experience whatever we have been resisting. Understand the implicit stories we tell ourselves. And understand that one doesn't have to believe such stories anymore.

The essence of generosity is letting go. Pain is usually a sign we are holding on to something, usually ourselves.

The willingness to stay open to what scares us weakens our habits of avoidance.
Profile Image for Brian Johnson.
115 reviews235 followers
January 15, 2016
“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”

“It’s up to us. We can spend our lives cultivating resentments and cravings or we can explore the path of the warrior—nurturing open mindedness and courage.”

: “Acknowledging that we are all churned up is the first and most difficult step in any practice. Without compassionate recognition that we are stuck, it’s impossible to liberate ourselves from confusion. ‘Doing something different’ is anything that interrupts our ancient habit of indulging in our emotions. We do anything to cut the strong tendency to spin out… Anything that’s non-habitual will do—even sing and dance or run around the block. We do anything that doesn’t reinforce our crippling habits. The third most difficult practice is to then remember that this is not something we do just once or twice. Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our heart is the work of a lifetime.”

~ Pema Chödrön from The Places That Scare You

Pema Chödrön is a beautiful American Buddhist monk who gives us a Buddhist “guide to fearlessness in difficult times” in her simple, powerful book The Places That Scare You.

“Ordinarily we are swept away by habitual momentum and don’t interrupt our patterns even slightly. When we feel betrayed or disappointed, does it occur to us to practice? Usually not. But right there, in the midst of our confusion…” is where we can gain the most from our practice.

Here are some of the Big Ideas:

1. Compassionately - Interrupting habits.
2. Mouse Traps - And suffering.
3. Grudges - And rat poisoning.
4. Practice Rejoicing - In our good fortune.
5. Pouring Cement - On the garden.

Beautiful… Let’s enjoy the symphony and allow the notes to pass as we look closely and compassionately at the places that scare us, shall we?!?


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Profile Image for Jaymi.
Author 19 books33 followers
January 2, 2009
This book, a gift from my friend Taylor, surprised me a bit. Its about balancing your inner self through a series of compassionate exercises. The book talks about buddhicitta, a way of awakening yourself by walking a middle path. It shows you how to sit with yourself and accept all the things that make you an individual-- the good and the bad. Just sitting around is something I don't do often and I know I need to face up to what I am rather than just being a human doing. I know I've picked up some good ideas for things I can do and be more aware of and know that another two or three readings of this book is in order. Overall, an interesting read and a good one for those who want to delve deeper into their own being.
Profile Image for Myridian.
386 reviews42 followers
November 21, 2014
So I've read When Things Fall Apart an liked it relatively well and I'd say that I probably enjoyed The Places That Scare You even more, but some how Chodron just doesn't do it for me the way Thich Nhat Hanh does. I think part of the problem is that her recommendations come across a little more as religion rather than spirituality to me. What I mean by that is that there's a palpable sense of doctrine. For instance in this book Chodron offers a set of sayings that are included in an appendix and the sense is that there should be a saying that will guide you through whatever situation you encounter. I guess I like the idea of a flexible philosophy rather than specific words or memorizes to cope.
13 reviews
February 20, 2021
Thanks to the book club at my work, I finally dipped my toes into Buddhist teachings. The apt message of the book states to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, we are too caught up in our comfy lives and usually run away from the places that scare us, Pema talks about how to face them straight ahead, without judgment, and find our peace within. Personally, for me, the last chapter was the most profound, 'the in-between state', the anxious state when you have left behind your habitual comforts but haven't found the spiritual truth yet, the infinite cycle of rediscovering yourself. Any person with spiritual aspirations will relate to this and maybe this isn't talked about enough.
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