5000 people were in attendance online!

Earlier in September, I attended a conference hosted by the Omega Institute featuring Pema Chödrön on the theme Welcoming the Unwelcome. 5000 people participated from 50 Countries, WOW!

Pema is known for making the ideas and practises affiliated with the Shambhala lineage of Buddhism, highly accessible.   She is also known for embodying the wisdom she shares!

Pema structured about 2/3 of her presentation in questions and answers.  In this context she received questions, out of the blue, from people all over the planet. She responded with presence, compassion, humour and clarity; demonstrating in her responses one of the major themes of her work – friendliness to self. She encouraged us to be with ourselves with kindness and tenderness; to act towards ourselves and our experience like the bestest friend ever!

A second major theme of Pemas work is that we have to develop our capacity to hold difficult feelings without panicking!

Oh wow! That is like asking members of the Flat Earth society to entertain the possibility the Earth is round.  Just about everything in North American culture sets up our expectation that life should be painless.  And if it is painful – there is something we are doing wrong and we can fix it!

I remember in my early twenties being so relieved to read the opening line of The Road Less Travelled, by Scott Peck, life is difficult. Finally someone was saying what I was discovering to be true, I wasn’t crazy after all!

Pema’s invitation is that by cultivating practises of meditation we can increase our capacity to hold, welcome those particular feelings, experiences we don’t want!

We can become comfortable with the unwelcome and by becoming less freaked out by our experience, less resistant to it, we will be surprised to discover we are part of a rich and vibrant liveliness!   

I noticed a pattern in the participant’s question.  They would imply that at some level they got that they needed to welcome the unwelcome . . but what about this  – my anger towards my spouse, my loneliness, my feelings about my addicted child! 

In each case the person would come with that thing, which was their current unwelcome reality, and seemed to be saying “Really? This thing too? REALLY ?!”

And I am there also – that is my story too!

And in each case, it seemed as if Pema would take them gently by the hand (metaphorically) and say “Yes this too!  You need to be open to and welcome this experience also!”  She would circle around and help the participant to take another run at welcoming whatever was the one thing they did not want to welcome!!

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