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

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







Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Horticultural Hall

300 Massachusetts Avenue

Boston, Massachusetts 02115

© 2001 by Pema Chödrön

Epigraph in chapter 16 from “Timely Rain” by Chögyam Trungpa. From
Timely Rain
by Chögyam Trungpa. © 1972, 1983, 1998 by Diana J. Mukpo. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA, 02115.

Four Limitless Ones chant as presented in appendix 2 is translated by the Nālandā Translation Committee.

Translation of
The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind
© 1981, 1986 by Chögyam Trungpa; revised translation © 1993 by Diana J. Mukpo and the Nālandā Translation Committee. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

The author’s proceeds from this book will be donated to Gampo Abbey, Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada B0E 2P0.


Chödrön, Pema.

The places that scare you: a guide to fearlessness in difficult times / Pema Chödrön.—1st ed.

p.  cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

eISBN 978-0-8348-2115-6

ISBN 978-1-57062-409-4

ISBN 978-1-57062-921-1

ISBN 978-1-59030-265-1

1. Religious life—Buddhism. 2. Buddhism—Doctrines. I. Title.

BQ5410 .C433 2001         294.3′444—DC         212001020584

To the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who taught me what it means to be fearless.


Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, let it go.
Go to places that scare you.









1. The Excellence of Bodhichitta

2. Tapping Into the Spring

3. The Facts of Life

4. Learning to Stay

5. Warrior Slogans

6. Four Limitless Qualities

7. Loving-Kindness

8. Compassion

9. Tonglen

10. Finding the Ability to Rejoice

11. Enhancing the Training in Joy

12. Thinking Bigger

13. Meeting the Enemy

14. Fresh Start

15. Strength

16. Three Kinds of Laziness

17. Bodhisattva Activity

18. Groundlessness

19. Heightened Neurosis

20. When the Going Gets Rough

21. The Spiritual Friend

22. The In-Between State

Concluding Aspiration




The Mind-Training Slogans of Atisha
The Four Limitless Ones Chant
Loving-Kindness Practice
Compassion Practice
The Three-Step Aspiration






whom I particularly want to thank for helping bring this book to life: my monastic brother Tingdzin Ötro, whose work on my talks was invaluable; Tamar Ellentuck, who was an excellent and loyal secretary to me through some very difficult times; Gigi Sims, transcriber extraordinaire; my good friend Helen Tworkov, who gave me the perfect place to write; and most of all, my longtime friend and editor, Emily Hilburn Sell, who put her whole heart into this book, extending herself with fearless warriorship.

I would also like to thank the many other people who have transcribed my talks over the past five years: Migme Chödrön, Lynne Van de Bunte, Eugene and Helen Tashima, Susan Stowens, Alexis Shaw, Bill and Eileen Fell, Rohana Greenwood, and Barbara Blouin.

I wish to thank Soledad González for her loving-kindness.

My profound appreciation goes to Joko Beck and Ezra Bayda, whose work has had a major influence on me. In particular I want to acknowledge Ezra’s influence in the chapter on meditation.

Finally, I express my heartfelt gratitude to my living teachers, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. They are generous enough to continually show me the nature of my mind and reveal my hidden faults.



I begin with a compassionate aspiration. I express the wish that we will apply the teachings in our everyday lives and thus free ourselves and others from suffering.

During the talk, I encourage the audience to keep an open mind. This is often likened to the wonder of a child seeing the world without preconceptions. As the Zen master Suzuki Roshi put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

At the end of the talk, I dedicate the merit of the occasion to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh springwater. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but use them to benefit others.

This approach reflects what are called the three noble principles: good in the beginning, good in the middle, good at the end. They can be used in all the activities of our lives. We can begin anything we do—start our day, eat a meal, or walk into a meeting—with the intention to be open, flexible, and kind. Then we can proceed with an inquisitive attitude. As my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say, “Live your life as an experiment.”

At the end of the activity, whether we feel we have succeeded or failed in our intention, we seal the act by thinking of others, of those who are succeeding and failing all over the world. We wish that anything we learned in our experiment could also benefit them.

In this spirit, I offer this guide on the training of the compassionate warrior. May it be of benefit at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. May it help move us toward the places that scare us. May it inform our lives and help us to die with no regrets.


The Excellence of Bodhichitta


It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.



I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, “Little girl, don’t you go letting life harden your heart.”

Right there, I received this pith instruction: 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.

If we were to ask the Buddha, “What is bodhichitta?” he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.

means “mind” and also “heart” or “attitude.”
means “awake,” “enlightened,” or “completely open.” Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.”

Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and to care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect. It’s a natural opening in the barriers we create when we’re afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta.

An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.

The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we’re feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta—like the open sky—is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.

BOOK: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
13.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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