Welcoming the Unwelcome | Pema Chödrön

Summary of: Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World
By: Pema Chödrön


Embark on a journey of self-discovery and emotional growth with Pema Chödrön’s ‘Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World’. This insightful book summary delves into the Buddhist concept of bodhicitta – awakening the heart and mind to reach a state of enlightenment. Learn how to embrace vulnerability, let go of judgement, and cultivate empathy to foster a meaningful and compassionate life. By focusing on the impermanence of life and overcoming negative habits, you’ll unlock your inherent basic goodness and better serve yourself and those around you.

Awakening the Heart and Mind

To aspire toward achieving the enlightened Buddhist path of bodhicitta, a commitment to freeing oneself from hindrances and distractions is necessary. Our fundamental desire to help others is often overshadowed by fear, confusion, and habits we are too comfortable with. Breaking free requires delving deep within oneself to awaken to the true nature of our basic goodness without manipulation by distractions such as entertainment or work. Looking back and embracing emotional pain rather than avoiding it plays a crucial role in achieving this. Buddhists refer to this as the awakened state of the heart and mind or bodhicitta.

Labels and Human Nature

Human tendency towards dissatisfaction leads to labeling things and people as either good or bad. These labels remove the middle ground and create an us-versus-them rhetoric that can be harmful. Labels can be useful, but they can also be dehumanizing. The best approach is to catch ourselves when we have negative feelings towards something or someone and find compassion and empathy. All people feel the same emotions, and recognizing this can lead to better understanding and connections.

Embracing Impermanence

In this Buddhist teaching, the ego is identified as part of us that is in constant conflict with reality. It seeks permanence, control, and stability even though life is impermanent and constantly changing. Vulnerability is the essence of humanity and should be embraced rather than avoided. Shutting down unwanted feelings can lead to anger and aggression, and instead, we should learn to be at peace with vulnerability. This path to bodhicitta involves accepting all aspects of ourselves and others. By recognizing and becoming intimately familiar with the rawness of vulnerability, we can discover some of the best human characteristics such as bravery and kindness. Focusing on the completeness of the present moment and recognizing the beauty in the ordinary can bring gratitude. Mantras like “This experience is complete just as it is” and “I am complete just as I am” can help keep the mind away from thoughts about what’s missing and instead focus on what’s important.

Embracing Groundlessness

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking brings to life how life can change in an instant. It can leave us feeling groundless, with nothing solid to stand on. This is an opportunity for enlightenment, however, and it is called shunyata in Buddhist teachings. Groundlessness is closer to reality than ideas of permanence and anything that will stay the same forever. Appreciating what you have now is to be closer to your essential goodness and to bodhicitta. It is possible to shift your own understanding from struggle to relaxation with practice. With every moment, the cycle of birth and death takes place as an event, comes into being, and then becomes a memory. Embracing groundlessness means embracing life’s limitless potential for positive change, and growing accordingly.

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