Pema Chödrön’s book "As we live, so we die" Excerpt – Oprah Mag | Team Cansler

As we live, so we die. To me, this is the most fundamental message of the bardo teachings. How we deal with smaller changes now is a sign of how we will deal with larger changes later. How we deal with things that are falling apart now hints at how we will deal with things that are falling apart when we die.

But we don’t have to wait for enormous transitions that force us to reckon with the groundlessness. We can immediately begin to appreciate the ephemeral nature of each day and hour by pondering Anam Thubten’s words about how we continuously go through endings and beginnings, endings and beginnings, one mini-life at a time.

At the same time, we can work with our general fear and anxiety about not being in control. Most of the time, we’d rather dwell on the illusion of control and certainty than realize that life and death are always unpredictable. Actually, I’ve often asked myself, “Is it really a problem that we have so little control? Is it a problem that when we plan our day, it rarely turns out as we predicted? Is it a problem that plans are written in water altogether?’ I had my whole year planned out when Covid hit, and as happened to millions of others, all my plans were suddenly erased like words from a blackboard.

Over the years, people say little things to you that have a big impact. Someone once said to me almost casually, “Life has its own natural choreography.” I thought about it for a long time and started tapping into that natural choreography and experimenting with letting it do its thing. I have found that what this choreography produces, most of the time when I leave it alone, is far more inspired, creative and interesting than anything I could think of.

Trusting life’s natural choreography is another way of talking about trusting reality. We can begin to develop this trust by allowing ourselves to let go in small ways. For example, when I’m teaching, I like to experiment with just allowing things to unfold. Before giving the talks that go into this book, I spent a lot of time reading and pondering the bardos, and I took various notes. But when I got to the retreat and it was time to speak in front of people, I left the notes behind and wondered if the words would even come out of my mouth. I’ve found my teachings to flow better just by walking and jumping into open space.

As we live, so we die

As we live, so we die

As we live, so we die

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If we experiment to the best of our ability, by letting things unfold naturally, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised. We move on and make our plans, but we’re open to them changing. As a result, our insistence on predictability could steadily weaken. Sometimes our old habit is still too seductive and it is almost impossible to trust the natural choreography. In such cases, the best advice I’ve been given is to simply notice the tendency to control and accept it with kindness. This is very different from mindlessly trying to nail everything, unaware of what we are doing and without a sense of its absurdity. It’s just about seeing our habit and not criticizing ourselves for it. This kind of simple self-reflection will also give us empathy for all the other people who want so badly to be in control – that is, for almost everyone on this planet.

Getting used to the basic groundlessness of life a little each day will pay off at the end of life. Somehow, despite its constant presence in our lives, we are still not used to constant changes. The uncertainty that accompanies every day and every moment of our lives is still an unfamiliar presence. As we consider these teachings and pay attention to the constant, unpredictable flow of our experience, we may feel more relaxed about things. If we can bring that relaxation to our deathbed, we’ll be ready for whatever may happen next.

Out of As we live, so we die by Pema Chödrön © 2022 by the Pema Chödrön Foundation. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

Pema Chodron

Author photo © Christine Alicino

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