I highlighted many of the sentences in The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön and you will too, when you go and read it, right after you finish reading this post. Before I had even got to the end of first chapter, I had told my good pal Mr Maguire to order a copy (and he did!) so we could talk about it. It is that kind of book, you want everyone you know to read it.
The quote that first pulled me in is one you will see quoted on goodreads and in many reviews, as it must speak to something in many of us. The words have that ring of truth that see us turning down the corner of the page, or making a pencil mark if we’re the sacrilegious kind, or swiping to highlight if we are fancy.
The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression towards yourself. The other problem is that our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.
The title of the book comes from its original existence as a series of talks given at Pema Chödrön’s remote institute in Nova Scotia, where there are big windows looking out to sea and, literally, no escape. There is nothing to do but sit and meditate. You might as well get into it. It sounds heavenly, so long as you are allowed to take a big stack of books. And a teapot. And teabags.
But what Pema Chödrön is telling her students is that you don’t have to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by natural beauty and enjoying the peace and quiet to be doing it perfectly. She talks openly about her own struggles on the journey to enlightenment and is at pains to point out that she is not there yet and has stumbled along the way. You will too, she tells us, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it.
That is an essential lesson for us all, particularly as mindfulness becomes an industry like any other, determined to sell us the cure for the perceived problems of our hyper-connectivity. Her message, that you have everything you need if you could just be kind to yourself, is so simple that you would almost slap yourself on the forehead for missing it, if she hadn’t just expressly forbid it.
…each of us has all that it takes to become fully enlightened. We have basic energy coursing through us. Sometimes it manifests as brilliance and sometimes as confusion.’
Well, quite. Often veering from one to the other in the same few moments. When you are strong enough to face your own fears, you can get on with tackling the ones we are all facing.
…no withdrawing, no centralizing into ourselves. That is what we aspire to, the warrior’s journey.
Then you are ready to meet dragons, without fear and without armour. And if you are not sure exactly what I mean by that, go and read the book and then we can talk more!
If you are based in the US and wish to purchase the book from an independent bookstore, the link below will take you to IndieBound – a community of independent bookstores. ten million hardbacks will receive a small commission if you do. Many thanks!