Walking the Walk of Friendship With Pema Chödrön

Recently, I “Walked the Walk” with Pema Chödrön at an online seminar offered by the Omega Institute. Chödrön has the ability to make you feel that she is speaking only with you; I have found the same in reading her books. In my mind, she and I converse frequently.

Chödrön is anything but pretentious—no transcendental soaring with Emerson’s oversoul or escaping into the ether—she is often pithy, adept with any koan, softening much of what she says with anecdote. Frequently, humor is the connection with her audience.

Warning us to beware of “spiritual people” dressed in special clothes to draw attention to their spirituality, she directed our gaze to her own Buddhist nun clothing of burgundy and yellow. Then, she looked up and smiled, eyes twinkling. Laughter filled the room. When all was quiet, the two-day retreat began.
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In walking with Chödrön we explored “making friends with ourselves” unconditionally. Kindness, compassion, and a deep love are what true friendship offers. Why not become friends with the one we know best?

Being friends with ourselves does not mean that we will not know disappointment or concern for in all relationships there are times of confusion. Yet, at some fundamental level we trust the confusion will pass for deep friendship is worthy of unconditional reflection.

Reflection—specifically self-reflection—is found in all of the great spiritual traditions for it is in reflection that there is transformation. In making friends with ourselves, we learn who we are. The transformation comes with accepting who we are unconditionally. As our biggest supporter and ally, we show up for life.
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“Don’t speak, don’t act” is what Chödrön offers as a way of meeting the moments of every day. It means we embrace the feelings we have about what is occurring—we receive what we are given–without the reaction of a label, judgment or opinion. We experience the rawness of the moment.

In embracing the emotion of each experience without acting or speaking, we are practicing what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls the “reference points of nowness,” gaps between experiences that allow us to strengthen our minds as we meet the moments of life.

The reference points are the practice, and the attitude is one of developing an unconditional friendship with ourselves. With gentleness and kindness we become fully aware of all of our traits. The key is to accept them–give ourselves a break— for that is what we do for friends.
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Chödrön suggests dissecting F-E-A-R as a specific way to examine those darker characteristics that are in all of us. In revealing them, awareness begins and transformation is possible.

F— find it in your body

E— embrace it

A—allow the thoughts to dissolve; abide with the feeling

R–remember or recall that other people are also feeling it (Pema Chödrön , “Walk the Walk” seminar).

Pulling apart fear creates an atmosphere of kindness and compassion. Unconditional means that no matter what we are there for ourselves.  It is not a matter of condoning behavior but viewing it with an open heart. We see and feel with our heart; we listen and experience with our head. It is our heart that leads.

We make choices to cease our suffering. We remember that temporary gratification is unconscious thought, a repetition of old behaviors, following old patterns with the same results. “We do not have to bite that hook” (Pema Chödrön).

It takes courage to be vigilant, to live with an open heart, but the reward is a life of compassion and kindness with ourselves and thus, with the world. It is experiencing life as friends. “Show up for life as it is and drop your preconceptions of how it should be” (Pema Chödrön).


17 thoughts on “Walking the Walk of Friendship With Pema Chödrön

  1. Hi! from one km huber to another – I love the synchronicity of googling Pema’s F.E.A.R. acronym to share with my daughter and finding it here on your blog. (mine is at kmhuber.com – but I am a Kathi, not a Karen) I love some of our overlaps – like trees and consciousness. Warm regards from Tennessee.


  2. Thank you, Karen, for sharing this retreat, the lessons to experience and the insights to understand and integrate into our own lives. I too needed to read this today, especially in being kind to ourselves, we are opening up to compassion for all around us. What a gift you give.


    1. Hi, Beth! I apologize for being so tardy in my response. Compassion for ourselves is so key to our relationships with everyone else. It may even be what is at the core of peace on earth. Lovely comment as always. Thank you.


  3. There is so very much wisdom in this post that I needed to hear, Karen. Thank you! I particularly resonated with this line today: “The transformation comes with accepting who we are unconditionally.” I do indeed find this to be true for myself. For so long, I had thought that acceptance would make me complacent and keep me from continuing to grow, but I have found the opposite to be true. The more I am able to accept who I am unconditionally, the more space is opened for continued growth and transformation. Really beautiful post! Thanks so much for sharing Pema’s wisdom (and your own) with us here.


    1. Like you, I have found that in acceptance is growth rather than complacency. For a long time, I had acceptance confused with condoning so I was stuck with a judgment or a label and no transformation was possible. I could not get beyond the storyline. Thanks so much, Kenetha, for such a cogent comment.


  4. Love the FEAR acronym, Karen. So useful. I also love “In making friends with ourselves, we learn who we are. The transformation comes with accepting who we are unconditionally. As our biggest supporter and ally, we show up for life.” It reminds me of something I just read by Adyashanti: “To have genuine sincerity is absolutely necessary in the spiritual
    life. Sincerity encompasses the qualities of honesty, genuineness,
    and integrity. To be sincere does not mean to be perfect. In fact,
    the very effort to be perfect is itself insincere, because it is a way
    of avoiding seeing yourself as you are right now. To be able and
    willing to see yourself as you are, with all of your imperfections
    and illusions, requires genuine sincerity and courage. If we are
    constantly trying to hide from ourselves, we will never be able
    to awaken from our illusion of self.”
    Seems like seeing ourselves in our wholeness with equanimity is key. I think that blogging helps us do this.
    Thanks so much for sharing this wisdom. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    1. That’s a wonderful quote, Kozo! It is rather like the Cherokee story regarding the two wolves inside us. It is only when we feed both wolves–the dark and light in us–that we avail ourselves of the wisdom of all that we are. It is a rather powerful message. And I agree that blogging is an asset. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, my friend.


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