Start Where You Are (Book Summary)

What’s it about

Start Where You Are (1994) is an enlightening guide to opening up your heart and mind and learning to feel happier in your skin. Discover the practices that bring calm and serenity to Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as the philosophy that puts people on the path to nirvana. This isn’t advice about what incense and candles to buy; it shows you how to look deep within yourself to confront your demons and find strength in your weaknesses.

About the author

Pema Chödrön is a resident teacher of Buddhism at Gampo Abbey, America’s oldest Tibetan monastery. In 1981, she became the first American to be made a bhikkhunī or a fully ordained nun in the Vajrayana tradition. She has also authored several best-selling books, including The Wisdom of No Escape and When Things Fall Apart.

Meditation can help you relax by keeping you focused on the current moment:

What exactly is it about meditation that makes individuals find it so beneficial?

Meditation is all about appreciating and living in the here and now.

We do a very excellent job of avoiding the present moment, even though it is all we have. We become caught up in regrets from the past or fears for the future. However, the more you keep your thoughts on the present and away from potential anxieties and regrets, the happier you will be.

This is something that the basic yet effective shamatha-vipashyana meditation practice can assist you with. Meditation should provide tranquility, or shamatha, and insight, or vipashyana, according to the Buddha.

The first stage in performing shamatha-vipashyana meditation is to concentrate on your breathing.

Begin by sitting up straight, eyes open, and legs crossed. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Be mindful of your breathing and surroundings as you settle in. Take note of the sights and noises around you. Is it sunny or gloomy? Outside, is it peaceful or noisy? Take note of these details, but remember to keep your attention on your breathing.

This easy exercise will assist you in living in the present moment. And because this is the only reality you have, it should be the focus of your attention.

Keep your attention from wandering to your troubles and regrets while doing this.

Everyone’s thoughts go to joyful or sad places. You may find yourself thinking about your to-do list or a vexing occurrence from the day before, but all you have to do is accept this as normal thinking and gently return your attention to your breath.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or try too hard to keep these ideas at bay. To stop a wandering train of thought and return your focus to the gradual rise and fall of your breathing, you might find it helpful to say “thinking” to yourself quietly.

Maintain a happy mentality by not taking life too seriously and seeking out new experiences:

We fight with our sense of obligation throughout our lives, not only to others but also to our self-worth and what we should or shouldn’t be doing.

Do you feel hopeful or fearful when you wake up in the morning? Are you ecstatic about the possibilities, or are you fed up with living up to others’ expectations? You may be excited to get started and finish what you started the night before, or you may be disappointed in yourself for drinking too many pints the night before.

It’s safe to say that most of us make a great deal out of our lives and believe that the world will end if we don’t do this or that. Consider how much less difficult life would be without these additional stresses.

Happily, meditation can assist you in achieving your goals.

You can incorporate meditation into your everyday routine once you’ve gotten familiar with it and comfortable with it. This will assist you in seeing each day as a pleasant experience and every moment as an opportunity to live in the present.

It also allows you to make a conscious decision to be happy. Life is simply a series of small moments, and you have the option of approaching them with a heavy burden on your shoulders or with joy in your heart.

Changing your habits and always looking for something new is one of the finest methods to bring joy into your life.

Why not sing along to your favorite Broadway song next time you’re in the shower? Alternatively, if you’re making supper for yourself, why not make it breakfast and offer a stack of pancakes? Alternatively, how about taking a different route to work and riding your bike instead of taking the subway?

It’s all about seeing things with new eyes and making the most of your time. Find opportunities for excitement around every turn instead of embracing each moment with the same baggage.

By embracing the emptiness, you can free oneself from judgments:

If you’re familiar with Buddhism, you’re surely aware that nirvana, commonly translated as “emptiness,” is the ultimate spiritual aim.

“Emptiness” has a negative meaning in Western ears. The optimist, for example, sees the glass as half-full, whereas the pessimist sees it as half-empty. Emptiness, on the other hand, can be a huge psychological relief.

When we achieve a condition of emptiness, we are free of labels and judgments such as good, evil, joyful, or sad. When you know that the ultimate goal is emptiness, these things fade away.

According to quantum physics, the reality is like a hologram: it appears solid and real, but you can see nothing there when you look closely. The same image will appear different from different perspectives, just like a hologram.

Emptiness might also help you control your rage if you recognize the freedom that it can offer.

A traditional Zen narrative best expresses this. A man is out on his boat enjoying the day when he notices another boat approaching. As it approaches, he becomes increasingly enraged by the disturbance, shaking his fist and cursing. However, when the boat approaches him, the man discovers that it is empty and that he has been shouting at nothing the entire time.

We invent our reasons for being furious, and we constantly obstruct our progress. The majority of what occurs isn’t inherently good or terrible; we are the ones who assign these meaningless labels.

In times of death, accepting emptiness might be beneficial.

The author had two acquaintances named Jack and Jill who died gradually but in very different ways.

Jill was terrified of the emptiness, so she battled it tooth and nail, crying and afraid every day. Her ego was adamant about not accepting emptiness.

As his body and intellect went away, Jack, on the other hand, embraced the nothingness and became progressively joyous. He was not hostile to emptiness since he understood that nothingness is the underlying character of reality, and he died happily.

Accept pain and grief to gain strength and compassion:

Many new people to Buddhism believe that they should embrace emptiness by closing their thoughts or dismissing pain.

However, such approaches are little more than gimmicks that may be learned with a little meditation practice; believing that they are the entire objective is a great mistake. Both the highs and lows of life are celebrated in Buddhism. This is accomplished through noticing and feeling both happy and unpleasant emotions while also learning to avoid being connected to or avoiding them.

So, instead of hiding from life’s ups and downs, embrace them. Use the manure that life provides to fertilize your lovely garden.

Consider the powerful and enlightened Buddhist monks who have walked the path to enlightenment for many years. Would one of these monks hide and bottle up his emotions if he received unpleasant news? Or would he completely surrender to the experience?

Allowing oneself to feel the pain is the solution. You’ll never grow and learn how to deal with these unavoidable feelings if you don’t allow yourself to experience the good with the bad. So, if you want to be resilient and wise, you have to go through it all.

Consider all of history’s great compassionate figures, such as Mother Teresa and Jesus. These people never shied away from feeling the agony, poverty, illness, and death of those they worked with.

They bathed the feet of people suffering from leprosy and stayed near those in pain, allowing them to understand and enjoy the complete spectrum of life, which contributed to their wisdom and brilliance.

Those who have experienced hardship firsthand are the ones who care the most. Those who attempt to avoid hardship will inevitably become less empathetic.

We’ll discover how deliberately searching out the worst in yourself can help you become a better person in the next blink.

Embracing your flaws and demons gives you strength:

Some self-help books recommend that you begin each day by staring in the mirror and stating things like, “Today, I’m going to be a better person.” This should not be done.

Rather, get to know yourself and get comfortable with your strengths and weaknesses.

You will be stronger if you have a thorough awareness of your flaws.

According to Buddhism, craving, aversion, and ignorance are three flaws known as the three poisons. They show up when we cling to what we like, avoid what we don’t like, and disregard everything else. Jealousy, ignorance, anger, indifference, aggression, and addiction are all examples of negative emotions.

However, it would help if you did not suppress your emotions. Allow them to surface and use them to gain a deeper understanding of yourself. Understand what makes you furious or sad, as well as where these emotions originate, so you can accept yourself for who you are. Getting near to your demons is the only way to do this.

Milarepa’s story is a traditional Tibetan tale about exactly this.

Milarepa meditated in a cave for years until one day, he stepped out to get some food and returned to find his cave overrun with demons. Milarepa attempted to lecture them on Buddhist principles and compassion at first, but they refused to leave. “We might as well live together,” he said as he sat down and just let them be. Except for one, all the devils scattered and vanished when confronted with this receptive attitude.

Milarepa, on the other hand, knew how to deal with the obstinate monster. He approached it and jumped into its jaws. The devil departed in a puff of smoke with nothing left to do, and Milarepa was at peace once more.

Accepting your demons is the moral of the story. They’ll vanish as soon as you stop avoiding them.

Breaking out of your established narrative and not being afraid of looking silly is also a source of strength:

Every person on the planet has a unique tale to tell. It’s the tale that explains everything from our upbringing to our ambitions. These narratives assist us in explaining who we are.

But consider how freeing it would be if we all let go of our stories. It would free us to be whoever we wanted to be in the time, and we wouldn’t have to worry about looking silly or ashamed due to the expectations imposed by our defining stories.

Consider Juan, a tough youngster from a dangerous neighborhood in Los Angeles. If you had tried to talk to him a few years ago, you would have received a barrage of profanities.

But then Juan went on a meditation retreat and met Buddhist guru Trungpa Rinpoche, who taught him a valuable lesson about true strength. Trungpa led a group of people in singing, and Juan couldn’t help but cry since Trungpa’s voice was so out of tune. Juan was struck with emotion at how brave Trungpa was to sing with his squeaky voice, not because the master’s singing was sad.

Juan regarded it as the bravest thing he’d ever witnessed, and from then on, he realized how many limitations he was imposing on himself by clinging to his script of being a rough boy from LA. He could now be open about his feelings and live in the present. He was able to turn his life around as a result of this. He completed his education and now works with children in Los Angeles.

Even when it comes to meditation, storylines are a method for us to deceive ourselves.

When you first start meditating, you may feel compelled to tell others how much it helps you, even if you aren’t.

A student once told Chödrön that meditation gave him “blankness” and that he felt “clear-headed.” However, the student eventually confessed that “numbness” was the correct feeling. He had only intended to emphasize the benefits of meditation to himself.

However, Chödrön informed the pupil that feeling numb is quite normal. The idea is to be at ease in your current situation, and feeling numb is just as valid as any other emotion.

Buddhism can help you become strong enough to aid others, even your enemies:

 Hopefully, this book can help you embrace the darkness within yourself and others so that you can live honestly.

You’ll get clarity of mind and a deeper awareness of those around you if you incorporate meditation into your everyday routine. Remember that being present requires coming to terms with suffering, particularly that of people who require assistance.

However, it’s preferable to avoid thinking in terms of helper and helpee.

You’re effectively constructing barriers between yourself and others if you regard yourself as a saintly helper trying to care for others and those in need as somehow beneath you. This additional separation will only exacerbate the suffering.

As a result, the storyline about the assistant should be dropped. Tonglen breathing is a breathing practice that might help you develop a more compassionate mindset.

You breathe in the undesired – pain and suffering – and breathe out the desirable – strength and happiness – with tonglen breathing.

If it sounds unusual, it’s most likely due to the Western concept of only allowing good things in and rejecting anything negative. However, this is an important aspect of Buddhist meditation, and practicing it allows you to share your kindness and happiness with the world while letting go of selfish ambitions.

If you want to take it a step further, you can breathe in the anguish of people you despise and send them your positive thoughts as you exhale. You’re also opening your heart by doing this, so you can see things from their point of view, understand their demons and how they may have suffered in the past.

Even when it comes to our opponents, we’re more alike than you might believe, as you’ll discover when you deepen your meditation practice.

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