A Book Review: The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön

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Flashback to 2008: I’m having a showdown with my bookcase. Tucked away on the bottom shelf sits The Places That Scare You. It has mysteriously been knocked out of its spot where I’d stashed it away from view, and is now hanging on for dear life on the edge of the ledge in between ‘Cats 101’ and Dave Barry’s ‘Babies and Other Hazards of Sex’.

I’m staring at it knowing that I should have read it months ago when my girlfriend first sent it to me to deal with the existential crisis that I was having on the phone with her night after night due to my marriage’s deterioration.

Instead, I’m sitting up in my big lonely loft and contemplating it with trepidation. I know instinctively that opening it up is the beginning of the end of a relationship that in reality has already begun to end. The book is beckoning me, as if to say that my time has run out on avoidance and I have to face the facts of my abysmal situation either with or without it.

I slowly walk over to the shelf and sit down on the floor. Pulling it out, I read this on the cover: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. I flip past the first few pages, and stop “randomly” on page 5 to peruse the paragraphs.

“An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart.” Whoa. OK then. I’ve definitely come to the right place. And then: “The genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion….It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference.”

One page later, I was hooked for life when I read that “those who train wholeheartedly in awakening….are called bodhisattvas or warriors – not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world.”

Chills ran through me as I realized that a book I had thought would simply help me stop being such a chicken about my personal life was, in fact, going to teach me how to stand up for both myself and others. Pema Chödrön’s message is this: if we sit with our tough feelings, don’t judge them, definitely don’t run from them via food or tv or any other distractions, then we begin to blossom into abundant humaneness and joy. Her simple yet beautiful prose leads us through the lessons and examples of how to do just that – straight into the places that make us fearless. It’s a recommended read for anyone struggling to break on through the walls of self-doubt into the heart of their true strength.


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