By Kellie Schorr
Everyone needs that person in their life.
The person who speaks with such authority and common sense they can cut through all the static and give you a blast of pure clarity. Talking to that person is like jumping into the frigid waters of a mountain stream. Your skin tingles, your breath catches, your spine shivers and your eyes open. No matter what state you were in when you made the leap, you’re awake now.
In my young life that person was my grandmother. A subsistence farmer deep in the hills of Appalachia, she managed to raise eight kids with a plow, a shovel and a wheelbarrow full of common sense. I noticed her sharply cut, no-nonsense thinking most often when I was with my friends. Their grandmothers spoke with these sweet, pretty phrases that sounded as if they were cross-stitched on a piece of linen over mantle. Mine said things like:
“You move like a herd of turtles.” (hurry up)
“Can’t carry water in an upside-down bucket.” (you’re doing it wrong)
“Askin’ ain’t gettin’.” (the answer is no)
After I confessed that collecting eggs from those demonic pecking monster-chickens who ruled the henhouse was my least favorite chore on the planet and every morning put me in a state of constant terror, my grandmother shook her head slowly in complete understanding, handed me the basket and said, “I know you’re afraid of them chickens, but we can’t eat your fear for breakfast.”
I’m not able to count the number of times I managed to stand up, speak out, take a risk and endure hardship with that message in my mind.
When people speak to you with such time-honed, heart-solid truth, it challenges you and it changes you. That’s what Thubten Chodron’s daily reflection book Awaken Every Day is designed to do.
Venerable Thubten Chodron is the abbess of Sravasti Abbey and a long-time student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This collection of 365 reflections on dharma, compassion and life reflects her years of study, her deep compassion, and her “keep it real” message that cannot fail to wake you up.
“Yes, but…” This is how we agree that something is true or good, but then try to get out of doing it by providing exceptions or making excuses.” Awaken Every Day #52
Cutting through excuses and pointing out how everything from whining to revenge is counterintuitive to our Buddha nature. Venerable Chodron’s book offers a morning wake-up, like a shot of double espresso so expertly made it’s comforting and vibrant at the same time.
Besides its clarity, one of the things I love about Venerable Chodron’s writing is its empowering nature. She doesn’t just point out where thinking goes wrong but, every step of the way, reminds us that the power to make it go right is in our minds and our choices.
“When we suffer, self-pity may be our choice emotion: “I’m helpless. I’m hopeless. Nothing goes well for me. Poor me (sniff).” We may not be the masters of the situation but we’re not helpless either. We have a moral responsibility to respond to suffering in a way that solves problems instead of creating more.” Awaken Every Day #145
The book has wisdom for everyone but is not a good starting book for people who have not been on a Buddhist path. She doesn’t pause to explain what karma is or what dharma means, and there’s no “3 easy steps to…” found in its pages.
This book expects you to show up with your homework done and your mind ready to learn some more.
Profoundly, although she’s been a Buddhist nun since 1977, Venerable Chodron’s wisdom never sounds like she’s been locked away in a sacred chamber full of esoteric thoughts. She always seems to have been shopping next to you at the grocery store. Her writing isn’t a beautiful landscape of a lofty mountain. It’s a mirror.
“When we’re upset with someone, we often ask them “Why did you do that?” Before we ask that question, let’s first ask ourselves whether it really is important why they did that action. Are we, instead, asking that question rhetorically? As way of accusing someone so we can be angry no matter what they say?” Awaken Every Day #304
I’ve read a number of Thubten Chodron’s books over the years, and I’ve listened to her teachings on the Sravasti Abbey website, so I know what her voice sounds like. Still, when I started reading this book, for the first time in so many years, the words rang through my head in the southern twang of my Appalachian grandmother.
It’s that clear. It’s that deep. It’s that real.
“Dharma is not a career. Dharma is our life.”
Awaken Every Day #44
Photo: Shambhala Publications
Editor: Dana Gornall
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