than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings."
I was sixty years old. I had practiced meditation, lived in several spiritual communities, attended numerous intensive retreats in various traditions, and had a regular daily practice for large swathes of time for 35 years. Although I had experienced a number of "peak experiences" --on and off the zafu -- little did I know that my mind was about to be blown once again.
I had never heard of Pema Chodron when Betsy handed me a paperback copy of Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living that fine fall day. Longtime Director of Gampo Abbey, an American student of Chogyam Trungpa, Ani Pema had me hooked with the very first sentence of the Preface:
"THIS BOOK IS ABOUT AWAKENING THE HEART."
I couldn't put the book down.
Although I had read Chogyam Trungpa's classic works back in the day, and spend a bit of time with Tibetan Buddhist communities in Madison WI and Woodstock NY over the years, my primary focus had never turned to Tibetan practices. To be honest, as I had experienced in some Hindu settings, I was pretty turned off by the somewhat gaudy opulence and what appeared to be a "guru-driven," highly ritualistic approach to spirituality. The relative simplicity of the American incarnations of both Zen and Theravada seemed much more in tune with my own, working class, moderately Marxist, sensibilities.
Yet, as I poured through Start Where You Are that day, I was transfixed. As an American female monk steeped Tibetan practice, Pema Chodron offered a fresh, accessible, down to earth presentation of the traditional Lojong Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Although many of the concepts were familiar old friends, something shifted. Chapter by chapter, her approach to this ancient form of "mind training" (Lo = mind, Jong = train, purify or refine) helped me to establish a new and deeper relationship to the these teachings, to practice -- and to life.
Starting Where I Was
I had always considered myself a pretty compassionate dude, dedicated to service. The Bodhisattva Vow had been part of my personal practice for decades. Yet, I had also struggled through a series of burnouts during that time. The reality of our essential Oneness was part of my own experience, but it was clear -- I didn't have a clue as to how to live that out through my life in a sustainable way.