The new book by Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, is almost like a detox program for mind and spirit. Based on lectures she gave during a winter retreat in 2009 about the ‘Three Commitments’, three Buddhist Vows that are normally taken with a teacher, she decided to share this knowledge in a less formal way, make it more accessible to people, and give insight into how we can live and become more content human beings by showing us in what way we can apply these commitments in our own lives.
Even though Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun who is a resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, she has an uncanny knack to translate Buddhist teachings into day-to-day Western situations and explain how they can be of help without getting stuck in Buddhist traditions or practices. In other words, she is the perfect person to teach Buddhist teachings to people who are interested in spirituality but not Buddhists per sé.
In her very precise and practical style she knows how to reveal the truth about painful situations in our lives and then tells you things your mind actually doesn’t even want to hear, because somewhere inside, a deeper part of you knows this is the real solution to the problem. This is the woman who, when you feel pain, advises you to lean into the pain, because there is wisdom there, wisdom and freedom from this pain we are so desperately running away from. Her honesty makes her work very insightful and in a strange way even beautiful.
With Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change she has taken the theme of living with uncertainty, meaning that you strip yourself from all the distractions the mind clings on to, you come to a place of where everything is constantly changing, which is the nature of life. This is a very difficult place to be for the mind, because it doesn’t want to acknowledge this constant change, starting with birth, moving on to growing up, then becoming old, and at the end, dying. The mind would rather ignore this for as long as possible. Of course in the end it is a lost game, because death will teach us this lesson if we haven’t learned this before.
I have read a couple of her other books – it is always slow reading for me because her lessons need time to sink in – and together with When Things Fall Apart, this is her most profound one. If the idea of detoxing your mind and your life is something that appeals to you, it is worth getting this small book that holds so much wisdom between its covers.
Reviewed by Jilles.