Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön.
This article first appeared in Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 44.
Ani Pema Chödrön was invited to give the commencement address to the 2014 graduating class of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Her new book Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better contains the full text of that speech, plus a Q & A with Tami Simon, publisher of Sounds True, on the topic of failure, regret, and leaning in to the beautiful mystery of life.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett
I thought I would tell you this little story about Naropa University’s founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and my very first one-on-one interview with him. This interview occurred during the time when my life was completely falling apart, and I went there because I wanted to talk about the fact that I was feeling like such a failure and so raw.
But when I sat down in front of him, he said, ‘How is your meditation?’
I said, ‘Fine’.
And then we just started talking, superficial chatter, until he stood up and said, ‘it was very nice to meet you’, and started walking me to the door. In other words, the interview was over.
And so at that point, realizing the interview was over, I just blurted out my whole story:
My life is over. I have hit the bottom. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.
And here is the advice Trungpa Rinpoche gave me. He said, ‘Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea’.
So, basically, you stand up, because the ‘lying there’ choice equals dying.
Metaphorically lying there is what a lot of us choose to do at that point. But you can choose to stand up and start walking, and after a while another big wave comes and knocks you down.
You find yourself at the bottom of the ocean with sand in your nose and sand in your mouth, and again you have the choice to lie there or to stand up and start walking forward.
‘So the waves keep coming’, he said. ‘And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward’.
This was his advice to me.
Trungpa then said, ‘After a while, it will begin to seem to you that the waves are getting smaller and smaller. And they won’t knock you over anymore’.
That is good life advice.
It isn’t that the waves stop coming; it’s that because you train in holding the rawness of vulnerability in your heart, the waves just appear to be getting smaller and smaller, and they don’t knock you over anymore.
About The author: Pema Chödrön is the author of many spiritual classics including When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, Taking the Leap, and Living Beautifully. She serves as resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche and of the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown
£9.99, available from Watkins Books
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