Life often seems like a labyrinth, where you imagine that you’ll escape all its tribulations someday, and that’ll be remarkable. Envisioning that future keeps you going, but you’ll never seem to achieve it. Happiness will never come because there’s always another something that will follow the present one. The future just becomes an escape from today’s good and bad.
There’s no better antidote to this hopelessness than Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s bestselling first book The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness (1991.) Chödrön’s central argument is that wherever you are and whoever you are, your exact circumstances at the moment are perfect for you—for your unfolding.
You have all that you need at this moment to awaken to your innate goodness and the goodness of the world
You can never escape the insecurities of life. Everything that you’re doing right now is your spiritual path. You don’t have to get somewhere spiritually to justify your worthiness. You’re already perfect. You’re ready enough.
Everything you’re experiencing—good or bad, joy and sorrow—is actually the perfect path for you. All the unpleasantness you are living through derives from struggling against reality.
There’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy.
Use whatever is in your circumstances in your life to progress, to become awake, to become more mindful
Chödrön invites you to be accountable to who you are—and all your human frailties. Embracing all of life as it unfolds is one of the surest ways to live well. “Whatever life you’re in is a vehicle for waking up.”
We see how beautiful and wonderful and amazing things are, and we see how caught up we are. It isn’t that one is the bad part and one is the good part, but that it’s a kind of interesting, smelly, rich, fertile mess of stuff. When it’s all mixed up together, it’s us: humanness.
The Wisdom of No Escape encourages you to step out of your routine pattern of just trying to escape from life’s difficulties, and instead pursue a life of greater openness to adventure and all that life has to offer.
By stepping out of the meaningless scuffle against life’s difficulties, you can open to reality and direct your attention where it’s more likely to make a difference. Mindful awareness can motivate the full force of your presence to your relationships, vocations, and community.
Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. … Meditation is about our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.
Idea for Impact: You’re all that you need to be today, but you’re not all that you’re becoming
Chödrön emphasizes that compassion cultivates with an attitude of non-aggression toward the self. “The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself.”
Prevailing over regret and taking charge of your imperfections with self-kindness is not the same as accepting blindly or making allowances for unwholesome behavior. Awakening is a matter of befriending your flaws rather than getting rid of them—letting your imperfections go than forcefully expelling them.
The key to feeling genuine compassion for others is “making friends with yourself” by developing understanding within yourself—for your own pain. Only to the extent that you can come to develop awareness for your personal problems can you be willing to “be there” for others.
Life’s work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into the circle wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will. It’s going to stick around until you learn your lesson, at any rate.
Recommendation: Read Pema Chödrön’s The Wisdom of No Escape (1991.) This short book is an unedited-for-print transcript of one of her retreats from 1989. Despite the long-winded paragraphs, there’s much wisdom about the preciousness of life and enacting your Buddha-nature. “Making friends with ourselves and with our world involves not just the parts we like, but the whole picture, because it all has a lot to teach us.”