Start Where You Are

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 1994 | 221 pages


I started reading this book and had the urge to underline and comment in the margins, but I was reading a digital version from the library, so I paused and ordered my own copy (which came in a package of three Pema Chödrön books.  You will read more here, later.  I know I am very late to discover Chödrön).

Pema Chödrön is an American-Tibetan Buddhist.  She is a nun and a very well-respected teacher.  And so, this book is based on Buddhism, but not so academic or "preachy" as some.  She is very down-to-earth and modern in her writing style; I find it easy to read her words.

Chödrön writes in this book about Tonglen and Lojong.

Tonglen is the practice of taking in and sending out in meditation.  It builds compassion.  In Tonglen meditation we imagine that as we breathe in we are taking away the suffering of a particular individual, group, or animal. Then, as we breathe out, we imagine that we are sending out positive energy, comfort and happiness to that object of our meditation.

While there is much wisdom in this book, Tonglen is one of the concepts I have embraced and am using daily.  There are two people in my life who I care about deeply, and who are struggling and suffering, and Tonglen informs my relationship with them, even though neither of them knows this.

Then there are the 59 slogans of lojong! Overwhelming In number, but so meaningful in content, such as:

  • Regard all dharmas as dreams
  • Self-liberate even the antidote
  • Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation
  • Always maintain only a joyful mind
  • Don't be so predictable
  • Don't wait in ambush
  • Don't expect applause

Some of what I will remember from Start Where You Are is the reminder that each moment is unique, precious, fresh, and sacred, regardless of what is occurring in that moment. Also, she teaches that when you connect with pain, with suffering, your heart expands.  Such connection touches tenderness, openness, spaciousness, and vividness.  The heart simply keeps growing.  It is as wise to not resist the suffering as to not resist the joy.

You will take from Start Where You Are whatever is important to you right now.  I cannot tell you what benefit this book will bring to you personally.  I can certainly suggest that it will not be precisely what I took.

Yes, read this book, quietly and with intention.

February 2023


3 responses on “Start Where You Are

  1. Beverly Kropp

    I haven’t read this book by Pema but with your recommendation I will!
    There is so much Buddhist literature out there, both recent and ancient. I tried the Steve Hagen (Buddhism Plain and Simple) but found his writing to be very meandering . I lost interest in trying to find the “nuggets” of inspiration…
    I’ve read Thich Nhat Hanh books, Stephen Batchelor books, Tricycle magazine, and much more. Last month I finished Stephan’s online class from Bodhi College on the Eightfold Path. Loved it and I plan to review it again.
    You might enjoy “Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet’ and “Love Later to the Earth “, both by TNH
    My zoom Mindful Reading Group (1x a month) is currently reading “Time to Stand Up, an engaged Buddhist manifesto for our earth” by Thanissara. Last year we finished the Heart Sutra, with TNH’s commentaries.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      Ah, it sounds as though we have some similar experiences with authors we like amd don’t like. Thanks for more suggestions!

  2. Maria Wattir

    Love Pema. . . and Tonglen has gotten me through some wobby times. . . but didn’t know about Lojong. Will order the book soon. I have several coming. . . really need to put myself on temporary book restriction. Will do that soon.! Ha!