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Pema Chodrin and “The Cool Shade of Fearlessness”

Being a card-carrying Type A with a touch of ADD, it’s clear that I will never be a successful practitioner of meditation. The closest I have come to that “state of transcendent wonder” is on a long walk with my two Labrador Retrievers. But I still enjoy listening to Pema Chodron – the former elementary school teacher turned Buddhist nun who now runs the Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. I try to have an audio recording of her work whenever I’m alone in the car, especially on the long trips back home to Boston. I always feel more relaxed and often inspired.

I recently purchased her audiobook Unconditional Confidence because I want to be more helpful to my coaching clients who battle with nerves and self-doubt before they speak. I was sure Pema would offer a useful perspective about the connection between our inner voices and the body’s physical response.

Allow me to digress for a moment. In her first three sentences on CD #1, she confessed to the fact that she rarely prepares for her talks, which she admitted, “is somewhat terrifying.” That surprised me – especially since we tell our clients that they must prepare and practice their speech before they stand-and-deliver. We explain all the benefits that can be derived from rehearsal, but the most important one is that practice is the best way to get rid of those nasty word fillers that can ruin an otherwise perfectly fine speech. Ironically, one of the things I like most about listening to Pema is that she never uses word fillers. Perhaps we need to add meditation as a tool to eliminating the “um” syndrome.

But back to the topic at hand: unconditional confidence. What I’ve learned so far is that when we are gripped by fear, the first thing to realize is that the opposite mindset is also available to us – just waiting for us to see it and embrace it. The second concept that will resonate with my busy, career-focused clients is that we need to turn toward the fear and see it for what it is: “shaky nervousness” that comes from enabling the anxiety and disabling the other, quiter inner voice that wants to yell: you are good enough, smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like you. Okay, Pema didn’t say that, Stuart Smalley did.

Pema’s core message is that only by fully recognizing the fear and turning toward it can we experience the “cool shade of fearlessness.” What I will advise my clients to do is to unpack every negative thought, say them out loud to me, and then turn them around – out loud – and embrace the fact that the affirmative voice is right there waiting to be heard and made manifest.

I’ll share more from the CD after my next long car ride.

– Barbara

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