Pema Chodron’s “Smile at Fear” : Fri. Notes

I will be at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA all weekend sitting with the venerable Pema Chodron. The topic of the urban retreat is “Smile at Fear” which is a book written by Pema’s root teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (henceforth called TR in these blog posts). I will take notes during the talks, and will post them here in their raw form. They are basically jottings of what Pema, and teacher/editor Carolyn Rose Gimian, have said. Pema mentions TR often, so when you see those letters, it is a jotting based upon something he said.

Pema spoke on Friday night, and I found her to be witty, comedic, and extremely to the point. After getting a laugh, she’d get to the heart of the matter and gently tell us what we have know our whole lives.


We need to reach out, be global. Spiritual practice can be selfish. But a spiritual warrior can work on themselves, cultivate their capacity to love ourselves and others, and be of help for the world and other people. We are needed at this time on this earth because of all the mass suffering.

Pema can almost smell the fear in the USA. TR calls it “ubiquitous anxiety.” The ground we walk on is always shaky, but fear makes the shakiness more obvious. Fear is like a dot or doorway that can be good or bad. Avoid the feeling of fear and actions will escalate into violence. Turn toward fear rather than harden against it. Feel its vulnerability and tenderness.

How do we smile, touch into fear, and be present with it?

Time Magazine had an article about fear, stating that science proves that people are more afraid of uncertainty than physical pain! Pema observed uncertainty in herself and others and saw two ways that uncertainty affects us. First, we speed up. Second, we get lazy. These are both ways we express our powerlessness and our avoidance of fear.

TR: “fundamental uncertainty manifests as doubting/not trusting/ not loving ourselves.”

The FIRST STEP where teaching begins is to develop an unconditional friendship with one’s self. Look at yourself so clearly, keeping your heart open is painful, but gently be with unpleasant moments. Cultivate bravery so you can be of help to others and the world. Start with looking at yourself with gentleness and kindness. This means staying present when you begin to fear what you see. This manifests genuineness (not hiding anything). Genuine people do not run away from themselves. They do not have “iron hearts” (TR) and are open enough to feel OK.

“The woman never did like me…. She was my guru.”

Meditation practice is the method for being with yourself completely, allowing time and space to do it with dead honesty. Things we fear the most are those things that make us feel inadequate. TR: fearlessness may be a goal but the basis of fearlessness if fear. Be present to not avoid fear. If you touch into fear, you find tenderness vulnerability, and a soft form of sadness

Open to fear and you begin to see the beauty in the world and in other people. You develop enormous appreciation and your feeling of gratitude grows. You connect to everyone’s basic ability to open to the goodness in life. How can you open to life? That’s a great question!

ALL OF THIS IS TRAINING IN BEING PRESENT, getting you mind and body on the same place and time (or at least trying to).