American-born Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön sits cross-legged on a bed in a friend's hillside farmhouse, high above the frozen sea off Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In this spare, snug room, warmed by a woodstove and glazed with early spring sunlight, Chödrön, who is 65, wrote her new book, The Places That Scare You (Shambhala). It's a lively and accessible take on ancient techniques for transforming terror and pain into joy and compassion.
The kind of transformation Chödrön describes in The Places That Scare You isn't a one-way ticket to paradise.
"It's not saying no bad things are ever going to happen to you again," she observes. "But it isn't the bad things that are the problem—it's how we work with them."
Since the world demonstrably teems with bad things, one great boon of the approach Chödrön suggests is that it equips us to deal with life the way it is, rather than the way we wish it would be.
"The average human being thinks that happiness lies in stability, in tying up all the loose ends and having things under control," Chödrön says. "But actually, happiness lies in being able to relax with our true condition, which is basically fleeting, dynamic, fluid, not in any way solid, not in any way permanent. It's transient by nature."
Judith Stone, a contributing editor at O, The Oprah Magazine, is the author of Light Elements: Essays in Science from Gravity to Levity (Ballantine).