Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Pema Postcard

Miranda's picture

How do we handle the fact that meditation practice can anesthetize? I want there to be some way of practicing that can be active in the world, without having to step out of it in order to feel emptiness and peace. Pema Chödrön’s writing partly addresses this, when she talks about the way our being affects those around us: “Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger... This is the best way that we can benefit others.” She believes that living one’s individual life in a mindful way can profoundly impact others. Still, it seems as though sometimes the way she advises us to do that denies the importance of the external world, the changing of which is supposed to be her goal. One piece of advice she gives for facing anger or conflict is “regarding all that occurs as a dream.” While I can see the possible positive effect this can have as a mental exercise, this seems to be doing harm to the ability, both hers and others’, to fully be in the world.


Dana's picture

While I loved her writings, I was thinking about this issue as well. Her fourth tenant about thinking about solutions as if they are a dream strikes me as opposed to the Chamberlain definition of empowerment where they say to allow learners to be angry. 

pbernal's picture

Miranda, I agree with your take on Pema's thinking on bettering the world. It seems as if she thinks that ignorance is bliss, that the less tangled we are in our social interactions, the better. While this can be effective in small moments, on the long run, it creates this perpetual cycle of ignorance. How can we have critical conversations, which at times can of course be uncomfortable, if we stray away from negative vibes?

smalina's picture

I have similar concerns--and as I read through Chodron's writings, I couldn't help but feel like her perspectives were coming from a place of a lot of privilege. It is easy for me to apply her teachings to the small stresses and struggles of everyday life (like an argument with a friend, for example), but her philosophy seems to ignore those for whom "chaos" is made up of truly life-threatening or traumatizing events and circumstances--even on a daily basis. I was particularly struck by her abrasive line: "Finally, couldn't we just relax and lighten up?" (Chodron, "Three Methods for Working with Chaos"). My immediate reaction was: "How presumptious!" Sure, it is easy enough to learn how to "relax and lighten up" when confronted with small problems (more often than not experienced by and complained about by people who have enough privilege not to recognize all that they have), but this just seems impossible for some people who are constantly dealing with oppression and marginalization. 


Miranda's picture

Thanks for this response-- I wonder whether her points would be less, as you say, abrasive, if she were to acknowledge that her thoughts come from a position of relative privilege.

After the speaker today, who I thought had some really compelling stories about applying mindfulness practices in a more "chaotic" space, I'm trying to reevaluate my feelings about the relationship between privilege and mindfulness. 

mcsweeney's picture

I like your idea about being more active in the world through a meditative practice, rather than using meditation as an escape from the world. It makes me wonder about how that could work because I feel like people are more accustomed to thinking of meditation as a break from their daily stresses, but you discuss how a mindful lifestyle could be used actively to somehow profoundly impact the lives of others in a positive way. It also makes me wonder how meditation could work as a group rather than as an individual.

alesnick's picture

I appreciate this conversation. Looking forward to pursuing in class!