Oprah Talks to Pema Chödrön
PEMA: It has a lot of power, particularly if you word the vow in your own way. It's something like saying, "This morning, I renew my vow to listen more deeply to people, even if I don't like what they're saying and I start to tense up."
OPRAH: Yes. Or "I vow that I will not gossip or speak unkind words against another person to make myself, my ego, feel more validated."
PEMA: Exactly. That's what all of that is—the ego. I equate ego with trying to figure everything out instead of going with the flow. That closes your heart and your mind to the person or situation that's right in front of you, and you miss so much.
OPRAH: As you wrote in When Things Fall Apart, "This very moment is the perfect teacher." One thing I've learned to ask, especially in difficult situations, is "What is this here to teach me?"
PEMA: That's a very powerful way to look at it. People often use spirituality like medicine when they're in a tough situation, and they start coming up with their own ways of expressing it, as you just did. All religions point to the fact that being fully present is the only state in which you can wake up—not by somehow leaving. So you have to find your own simple, grounded language to say that to yourself, and that's a beautiful way to express it: What is this moment, this situation, or this person trying to teach me? Another one that I love is "This is a unique moment. Maybe I'm glad about that because it's painful, but I don't want to waste it, because it's never going to happen again this way. So let's taste it, smell it, experience it."
OPRAH: You also wrote in When Things Fall Apart that every day gives us an opportunity to either open up or shut down, and that the most precious opportunity presents itself when you think you can't handle whatever is happening. So if, in that moment, you can train yourself to open up instead of shutting down...
PEMA: That's exactly when you get a real transformation.
OPRAH: Don't you think that's hard, though? I mean, life is slamming you against a wall and you're supposed to say, "Let me open up and get slammed some more"?
PEMA: Of course it's hard. I devote my life to trying to find a way to say this so that it resonates with people. It begins with meditation—you just sit down with yourself. It's a way of being completely open to whatever is happening in your mind, and you realize your mind is wild and crazy and all over the place. The instruction is so simple: Just keep coming back to your breath. Then you say, "This is almost impossible!" It isn't, but I know how hard it is. That's why I have a passion for finding a way to communicate that you can have an appetite for life as it is rather than life as you want it to be.
OPRAH: Why do Buddhists always seem so peaceful? I've never met a Buddhist who wasn't actively seeking peace. It seems that there's something very calming about the...what would you call it—a philosophy, or way of life?
PEMA: Those are both helpful ways to think of it. And if there is a reason for the calmness, I think it's that when you train yourself to be receptive to whatever is occurring, fewer things throw you for a loop.