“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” – Agnes de Mille
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I was moved by this quote in the Overview of Pema Chodron’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. I’m always on the lookout for new and engaging perspectives on how to quiet the mind and embrace the unknown, and Buddhist nun Chodron has emerged as one of the ultimate Buddhist writers for a modern western audience, helping calm anxiety and apprehension.
Life constantly presents new challenges, and many of us wonder how it’s possible to live peacefully when our foundation is consistently getting rocked and we’re left standing on shaky ground. In her book, Chodron provides a clear understanding on how to break through using the lessons of Buddhism, explaining that it’s possible to live beautifully, compassionately and happily by simply accepting that the ground will always be shaky.
Chodron shows how using a traditional Buddhist practice called the Three Vows (or Three Commitments) is a way to relax into sanity in the midst of whatever chaos surrounds us:
1. Cause no harm: The first of the commitments, traditionally called the Pratimoksha Vow, is the foundation for personal liberation. This is a commitment to doing our best to not cause harm with actions, words or thoughts – a commitment to being good to each other. It provides a structure where we learn to work with our thoughts and emotions, and refrain from speaking or acting out of confusion.
2. Help others: The next step is a commitment to helping others, traditionally called the Bodhisattva Vow. It is a commitment to dedicating our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open, and nurturing our compassion by giving to those in need.
3. Accept without judgment: The last of the three commitments, traditionally known as the Samaya Vow, is a resolve to embrace the world just as it is, without bias; a resolve to see everything we encounter, good and bad, pleasant and painful, as a manifestation of awakened energy. It is a commitment to see everything and anything as a means by which we can awaken further.
There is so much to be learned from Chodron. Her voice is both challenging and compassionate – encouraging us to embrace anxious moments as opportunities. I find reading contemporary Buddhist texts to be intriguing because of the simple yet universal lessons that can be gleaned from their pages. Instead of trying to run from discomfort, Chodron advocates learning more about ourselves. Instead of reaching for whatever quick fix will give temporary relief, she suggests feeling and observing our discomforts, becoming more present in our lives, and learning how to be truly here now.
Among the most important lessons from the book: Life is always changing, mixed with the good and bad. We should never avoid feeling pain, but rather; remain in the moment, understand what it’s about, embrace it, and move on.