The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World

Pema Chödrön

Finished Reading:
Dec 22, 2019

Edition Publisher:
Element Books

Edition Release:

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ISBN 9780007190614

Highlights & Annotations

“...because in our hearts of Hearts almost all of us feel that we are the worst horse. You might consider that you yourself are an arrogant person or you might consider that someone else has an arrogant person, but everybody was ever felt even a moment of arrogance knows that arrogance is just a cover-up for really feeling that you're the worst horse, and always trying to prove otherwise.” (9)

“...the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see clearly who we are and what we're doing.” (13)

“...sometimes the teachings emphasize the wisdom, Brilliance, or sanity that we possess, and sometimes they emphasize the obstacles, how it is that we feel stuck in a small, dark place. These are actually two sides of one coin: when they are put together, inspiration ( or well-being) and burden (or suffering) describe the Human Condition.” (21)

“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 a good part, but that it's kind of interesting, smelly, Rich, fertile mess of stuff.” (21)

“Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. No one can really sort out for you to accept – what opens up your world – and what to reject – what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery. This meditation is called non-theistic, which doesn't have anything to do with believing in God or not believing in God. But means that nobody but yourself can tell you what to accept and what to reject.” (22)

“There isn't any Hell or Heaven except for how we relate to our world. Hell is just resistance to life. When you want to say no to the situation you're in, it's fine to say no, but when you build up a big case to the point where you're so convinced that you would draw your sword and cut off someone's head, that kind of resistance to life is hell.” (34) 

  • Re: story about enraged samurai

“Life's work is to wake up, to let 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 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. You can leave your marriage, you can quit your job, you can only go where people are going to praise you, you can manipulate your world until you're blue in the face to try to make it always smooth, but the same old demons will always come up until you finally you have learned your lesson, the lesson they came to teach you. Then those same demons will appear as friendly, warm-hearted companions on the path.” (34)

“As soon as you begin to believe in something, then you can no longer see anything else. The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” (35)

“Holding onto beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn't mean that beliefs or ideas are thinking as a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these caused the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be death instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.” (35)

“ Sing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how would it imprisons us in a very limited perspective on this world. It's a chance to see that you're holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that's all it is – nothing more, nothing less; just your interpretation of reality.” (39)

“ The moral of the story is that it really doesn't make any difference where you meet your Edge; just meeting it is the point. Life is a whole journey and meeting your Edge again and again. That's where you're challenged; that's where, if you're a person who wants to live, you start to ask yourself questions like, ‘ no, why am I so scared? what is it that I don't want to see? why can't I go any further than this?’ the people who got to the top or not the heroes of the day. It's just that they weren't afraid of heights; they're going to meet their Edge somewhere else. The ones who froze at the bottom or not the losers. They simply stop first and so they're lesson came in earlier than the others. However, later everybody meets his or her edge.

When we meditate, we're creating a situation in which there's a lot of space. That sounds good but actually it can be unnerving, because when there's a lot of space you can see very clearly: you've removed your veils, your Shields, your armour, your dark glasses, your ear plugs, your layers and layers of mittens, you're heavy boots. Finally you're standing, touching the Earth, feeling the sun on your body, feeling its brightness, hearing all the noises without anything to dull the sound. You take off your nose plug, and maybe you're going to smell lovely fresh air or maybe you're in the middle of a garbage dump or a cesspool. Since meditation has the quality of bringing you very close to yourself and your experience, you tend to come up against your Edge faster. It's not an edge that wasn't there before, but because things are so simplified and clear, you see it, and you see it vividly and clearly.” (57-8)

  • Re: a group climbing a mountain and some ppl stopping when they realize how far up they are

“The whole journey of renunciation, or starting to say yes to life, is first of all realizing that you've come up against your Edge, that everything in you is saying no, and then at some point, softening. This is yet another opportunity to develop loving kindness for yourself…” (59)

“...we all have a soft spot and that negativity and resentment and all those things occur because we're trying to cover over our soft's because you are tender and deeply touched that you do all this shielding. It's because you're soft and have some kind of warm Hearts, an open quality, to begin with that you even start shielding.” (62) 

Re: tonglen (66)

  1. Flashing absolute bodhicitta - opening up
  2. Work w/ abstract quality of pain – visualizing it as black, heavy and hot – and pleasure – white, light, cool
  3. Visualize specific life situation and connect with the pain of it – breathing in acknowledge and feel the pain, breathing out let go; keep breathing in and out in a natural rhythm with this cycle in mind, going back and forth between pain and pleasure, not preferring either one

“We are the Buddha. It's not just a way of speaking. We already awakened me one, meaning one who continually leaps, one who continually opens, one who continually goes forward. It isn't easy and it's accompanied by a lot of fear, a lot of resentment, and a lot of doubt. That's what it means to be human, that's what it means to be a warrior. To begin with, when you leave the cradle of loving-kindness, you are in this beautiful suit of armour, because in some sense, you're well protected and you feel safe. Then you go through puberty rites, the process of taking off the armour that you might have had some illusion was protecting you from something, only to find that it’s actually shielding you from being fully alive and fully awake. Then you go forward and you meet the dragon, and every meeting shows you where there's still some armour to take off.

Taking refuge in the Buddha means that you are willing to spend your life acknowledging or reconnecting with your awakeness, learning that every time you meet the dragon you take off more armour, particularly the armour that covers your heart. That's what we're doing here during this dathun, removing armour, removing our protections, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality. We're not trying to be something we aren't; rather, we're rediscovering, reconnecting with who we are. So when we say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha’, that means I take refuge in the courage and the potential of fearlessness of removing all the armour that covers this awakeness of line. I am awake; I will spend my life taking the summer off. Nobody else can take it off because nobody else knows where all the little locks are, nobody else knows where it's sewed up tight, where it's going to take a lot of work to get that particular iron thread and untied. I may have a zipper that goes right down the front and has padlocks all the way down. Every time I meet the dragon, I take off as many padlocks as I can; eventually, I'll be able to take the zipper down. I might say to you, ‘Simple. When you meet the dragon you just take off one of your padlocks and then the zipper will come down’. And you say, ‘What is she talking about?’ because you have sewn up a seam up under your left arm without iron thread. Every time you meet the dragon, you have to get out the special snippers that you have hidden away in a box with all your precious things and snip a few of those threads off, as many as you dare, until you start vomiting with fear and say, ‘This is enough for now.’ Then you begin to be much more awake and more connected with your Buddha nature, with Buddha – you know what it means to take refuge in the Buddha. To the next person you meet, you say, ‘It's easy. All you have to do is get your little snippers out of your precious box when you start–’ and they look at you and they say ‘What is he talking about?’ because they have these big boots that come all the way up and cover their whole body and head. The only way to get the boots office to start with the soles of the boots, and they know that every time they need the dragon, they actually have to start peeling. So you have to do it alone. The basic instruction is simple: Start taking off that armour. That's all anyone can tell you. No one can tell you how to do it because you're the only one who knows how you locked yourself in there to begin with.” (75-6)

“Let go and open up to your world. Realize that trying to protect your territory, trying to keep your territory in close and safe, is fraught with misery and suffering. It keeps you in a very small, dank, smelly, introverted world that gets more and more claustrophobic and more and more misery producing as you get older. As you get older, it is harder and harder to find the doorways out.” (76)

“Whatever you have, that's it. There's no better situation than the one you have. It's made for you. It'll show you everything you need to know about where your zipper stuck and where you can leap.” (77)

“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions and all people. A complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions and to all people, experiencing everything totally without reservations for blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralized has into oneself.” (79)

“We are always trying to get out of the Boiling Pot into some kind of coolness. Always trying to escape and therefore never really fully settling down and appreciating. That's called sensara. In other words, somehow we have this preference for occurrence, so we're always working in that framework of trying to get comfortable through political beliefs and philosophies and religions and everything, trying to gain pleasure in all that occurs.” (82)

“There are some people who have tremendous insight into the nature of reality as a vast and wonderful– what's sometimes called sacred outlook– but then they become completely dissatisfied with ordinary life. Rather than that glimpse of sacred outlook actually enriching their life, it makes them feel more poverty-stricken all the time. Often the reason that people go from neuroses into psychosis is that they see that spaciousness and synchronistic situation and how vast things are and how the world actually works, but then they cling to their insight and they become completely caught there. It has been said, quite accurately, a psychotic person who is drowning in the very same things that the Mystic swims in.” (83)

“A common experience is that when you hear the teachings, they resonate in your heart and mind, and you feel inspired by them, but you can't figure out what they have to do with your everyday life. When push comes to shove and you lose your job or the person you love leaves you or something else happens and your emotions go crazy and wild, you can't quite figure out what that has to do with the four noble truths. Your pain feel so intense that the four noble truths seems somewhat pitiful by comparison. Trunga Rinpoche one said that the Dharma has to be experienced because when the real quality of Our Lives, including the obstacles and problems and experiences that causes to start questioning, becomes intense, any mere philosophical belief isn't going to hold a candle to the reality of what we are experiencing.” (90)

“The everyday practice is simply to develop complete acceptance of all situations, emotions, and people. That sounds like that's what's true and not to do what would be false. But that's not what it says. What it does say is to encourage you to find out for yourself what is true and what is false. Try to live that way and see what happens. You'll come up against all your doubts and fears and your hopes and will grapple with that.” (91)

“You are never going to get it all together, you're never going to get your act together, fully, completely. You're never going to get all the little loose ends tied up.” (103) 

“‘Whatever you do, don't try to make those feelings go away... Anything you can learn about working with your sense of discouragement or your sense of fear or your sense of dual ultimate or a sense of feeling inferior or your sense of resentment – anything you can do to work with those things – do it please, cuz it will be such an inspiration to other people.’that was really good advice. So when I would start to become depressed, I would remember, ‘Now wait a minute. Maybe I just have to figure out how to rouse myself generally, because there are a lot of people suffering like this, and if I can do it, they can do it.’” (108)

“ Freshness here means willingness to sit up if you're slouching. If you want to stay in bed all day with the covers over your head, and means a willingness to get up and take a shower with really good soap, to go down to the drugstore and buy something that smells good, to iron your shirt, Shine Your Shoes, whatever it takes to perk up. It means doing whatever it takes to counteract your desire to throw everything on the floor, push it under the bed, not wash, just dive into the starkness. When these feelings come on, it does feel as if the whole world is collaborating with your own State of Mind, acting as a mirror. Darkness seems to be everywhere. People are irritated about you, everything closing in. Trying to cheer yourself up is an easy, and sometimes it feels hypocritical, like going against the grain. But the reminder is that if you want to change your habitual stuckness, you're the only one who can do it.” (111-2)

“That's how Karma works. If you keep lying there, you'll drown, but you don't even have the privilege of dying. You just live with a sense of drowning all the time. So don't get discouraged and think, ‘Well, I got out of bed, I took a shower. How come I'm not living in a Walt Disney movie now? I thought I was going to turn into Snow White. I thought I was going to live happily ever after. The prince kissed me; I woke up. How come I'm not living happily ever after?’ The wave just keep coming and knocking you down, but you stand up again and was some sense of rousing yourself, standing up. As Rinpoche said, ‘After a while, you find that the waves seem to be getting smaller.’ That's really what happens.” (113)

  • // when I was talking to therapist about wanting it to ‘feel like it did before’ the panic attacks – they told me it would never feel the same, but now I have the tools to help whenever a situation occurs – waves get smaller

“Life in that capsule with cozy insecure. We've gotten it all together. It's safe, it's predictable, it's convenient, and trustworthy. We know when we walk into our house exactly where the furniture is, and it's the way we like it. We know we have all the appliances we need and we have the clothes we like. If we feel ill-at-ease, we just fill in those gaps. Our mind is always seeking the zones of safety. We're in this zone of safety and that's what we consider life, getting it all together, Security. Death is losing that. That's what we fear, that's what makes us anxious. You could call death embarrassment – feeling awkward and off the mark. Being totally confused and not knowing which way to turn can also describe death, which we fear so much. You want to know what's happening. The mind is always seeking the zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. And we scramble to get another zone of safety back together again. We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to recreate the zones of safety, which are always falling apart. That's samsara.” (115-6)