Pema Chödrön SuperSoul Sunday
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Pema Chödrön SuperSoul Sunday
Today, on SuperSoul Sunday. For over 35 years, she’s inspired millions around the world with her teachings on love, kindness, and compassion. Prolific author, buddhist nun, and a pioneer of the mindfulness movement. Pema Chödrön.
“We are interconnected at such a vast level. Because of what we are saying and doing, the ripples go out.” [says Pema]
Welcome Welcome Welcome [says Oprah, joining hands and embracing Pema]
We first met in 2014 when we discussed her best selling spiritual guide, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.”
“If you don’t know the nature of fear, then you can never be fearless.” [Pema]
Now, her first book in 7 years, called Welcoming The Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living In A Broken Hearted World. [It] invites readers to embrace suffering, to strengthen resilience.
“You can’t know how to love unless you also know how to hurt.” [Oprah]
“That’s right.” [Pema]
Pema believes that underneath anger, confusion, and fear, is a basic goodness that connects us all. [Oprah]
Just like me, that person really wants to be loved. That person doesn’t want to suffer. That person doesn’t want hatred coming towards them. [Pema]
Plus, Pema addresses the recent sexual abuse allegations lodged against the buddhist community. [Oprah]
When that happened, you felt what? [Oprah]
I felt angry with him. I felt deeply saddened for him and for the community. [Pema]
Oprah: So I’m happy to welcome you, Pema Chödrön to SuperSoul Sunday in my garden! In my flower garden.
Pema: Yes, it’s so beautiful.
Oprah: And it’s wonderful that the last time we spoke about your book, I think it was like 5 years ago. When Things Fall Apart. And I had the pleasure of having dinner with you last night. You were sharing how remarkable it is still that all over the world you get messages from people who have seen or read that book. And how it has moved them.
How does that make you feel in terms of your dharma work here on earth?
Pema: Well, it makes me feel good, I guess that’s the simple answer, you know. Because honestly, sometimes people talk to me about their legacy and what they want their legacy to be and things like that.
I realize that I don’t really think that way. What I care about is individual lives. And what I say might impact their lives in such a positive way. Particularly because there is so much suffering. And if it has alleviated someone’s suffering to a certain degree, that’s what really gives me really deep satisfaction.
Oprah: You know what is so interesting? One of my most powerful teachers was Maya Angelou. And one of the things she said to me was, when I said “When I come back from opening my school…my school is going to be my greatest legacy.”
She said, “You have no idea what your legacy will be.”
Because your legacy is every life you touch. It’s not about institutions or your name on something or—it’s every life you touch.
Pema: Wow, that’s right.
Oprah: So the same is true. For every person who has read, “When Things Fall Apart.” Every person who has been moved by something that you had to offer, that will be—that is your legacy.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: So now you’ve written, when I first saw the title, “Welcoming The Unwelcome.” I went, “woah…”
Pema: [laughs] Last night you said, “I don’t wanna welcome…”
Oprah: That’s right! I said, “I don’t wanna welcome…” That’s exactly how I felt when I saw, “Oh gosh, I don’t know, is that a good title? Cuz I don’t wanna welcome…” So, you begin Chapter One. And Chapter One’s title is “Begin With A Broken Heart.”
I have to tell you, that is what most of us are trying to avoid. Is a broken heart.
Why do you say, “start with a broken heart?”
Pema: Well, it has to do with contacting that part of the human life that’s vulnerable and tender. And that is shared by other people. Like empathetic sense of other people’s vulnerability and tenderness. And somehow, if you get in touch with the real suffering that there is in the world. That’s kind of what i mean by a broken heart. Or tender heart, or genuine heart. If you get in touch with that, it’s like a link with humanity. You know.
And that’s the healing part.
The interconnectedness with other people based on having stood in their shoes. Or they stood in your shoes. However you want to express it.
Oprah: So, the book talks about how we can strengthen our resilience and stay connected with each other when we really want to withdraw.
Oprah: And I know there was a point where you had some of your students tell you about what happens when they are in confusion, distress, any form of suffering.
What did you learn from that?
Pema: Mainly that this is a whole part of being human. The vulnerable part, the tender part, the part that hurts. And it’s very linked with the part that knows how to love and feel compassion. They’re all kind of mixed in. Does that make sense?
Oprah: It makes all the sense. That you can’t know how to love unless you also know how to hurt.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: So when things show up for us that are uncomfortable that cause us to suffer. And by suffer, meaning we wish we weren’t in this predicament.
Pema: Yeah, exactly.
Oprah: Or cause stress, anxiety, confusion, a sense of hopelessness. Where do I go?
What’s the first thing we should do?
Pema: Acknowledge what you’re feeling.
Oprah: That is what you mean by welcoming the unwelcome?
Pema: Yeah, well first is just acknowledging and you know welcoming might be a little loaded. Because what you’re acknowledging is that everything in you is shutting down. And that your mind is racing 100 miles and hour.
It’s their fault, it’s their fault. Or I’m a horrible person.
Something like that.
Oprah: So the first thing is to get as quickly as you can to acceptance.
Pema: Yeah, to recognize. And it’s almost as if you are doing it in steps, although it all comes together. Then, welcome, embrace, accept. You’re turning in that direction you know.
I think the next thing is…
There’s various ways you could do at that point. For instance, go to your body. And just locate it in your body. I talk a lot about contraction and learning how to open that and let it expand. If you go to your body, you feel it as tightness. That’s how it feels.
So I guess it’s like making friends with that tightness. Or being kind to that tightness.
Oprah: You actually talk about breathing it in, and then exhaling out. Tell me what that is?
Pema: That’s a practice. Traditional Buddhist practice of tonglen is that when someone else is suffering, you’re willing to take it in. So that they don’t have to have it.
That’s kind of at most advanced. But I’ve taken that and worked a lot with the idea that when the pain is there, say, you acknowledge.
And then the way that you could welcome is to breathe it in, like open to it.
Oprah: It feels like it’s the exact opposite of what you want it to do.
Pema: Because habitually, you would never do this.
Oprah: Yeah, what you want to do is reject that thing.
Oprah: That’s causing you pain or suffering…
Pema Chödrön: So that’s why instead, there’s something in there that says “Oh, you know, maybe I could do something different.”
Maybe I could move towards it.
Oprah: So “Welcoming The Unwelcome.” You write about the buddhist principle of basic goodness. The idea that humans beings are fundamentally good and loving. And we naturally want to be there for others.
On Page 8, you write, “Not understanding the basic goodness of our true nature as at the root of all our suffering. It lies beneath everything we do to harm ourselves and others.” How so?
Pema: When you read that, what do you hear?
Oprah: What I hear, is that no matter what the world looks like on the exterior, and we are fed a daily dose of negativity. Because that’s what the news is.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: And you are surrounded by influences that tell you all the time that things are going wrong. What it says to me is to remember that all of that is just a façade. That’s just a cover for what’s really inside.
Pema: That’s right. So that is really what I am getting at. And you asked me a question actually last night about if you’re trying to communicate, what’s the most important thing to try to communicate?
Pema Chödrön: Thinking about it afterwards, I thought, absolutely the most basic thing is that people feel so bad about themselves.
And if there’s any way to communicate in a way that they can take it in and hear it. That actually they’re complete as they are. And that there is nothing wrong with them. There’s temporary obstacles or temporary things in the way. But that’s like clouds. They pass.
And the fundamental state is always open, and fresh, and unbiased. It’s always there.
But so in other words, those, what we call our faults or our failings, or stuff, are temporary and removable. And even those, how do you work with those? Not by getting rid of them, but by coming to know them really well.
[Break – Oprah: Coming Up… Empathy, Humanity, Enlightenment]
Oprah: There’s this exercise you say when you look at other people. And you say, is it—
Pema Chödron: Just like me.
Oprah: I’ve taken it to mean, that could be me. You know, we’ve all used the phrase “there but for the grace of God.”
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: But I love this idea of when you see something going on with another person. And even if you’re just stuck in traffic and you’re getting upset with them, you do the “just like me” exercise.
Can you share that? I like that.
Pema: Well it is really helpful. You can do it anytime. For instance, sitting and waiting for anything. You can just look around at people. And whether they seem stressed, or happy, or whatever. You can say, just like me. We are alike.
Just like me, that person really wants to be loved. That person doesn’t want to suffer. That person doesn’t want physical pain, that person doesn’t want hatred coming towards them.
Oprah: Right, just like me.
Pema: That person, just like me. Just like me.
And so it’s very very useful if you’re in these irritating situations like a traffic jam.
Oprah: Or at the airport, people get so frustrated at the airport.
Pema: Oh I know! So you sit there. And you—if you just start, instead of fuming, which gets you nowhere, except you know—
Oprah: More fuming.
Pema: You start looking at the other people in the cars. Or other people sitting in the airport and think. And just like me, these people had someplace to go. And they’re being delayed. Just like me, they’re fretting about it. And just like me, they’re just human beings who—
Oprah: Want to be where they are trying to get to.
Pema: And just like me it would really be helpful if there was some other way they could deal with it. You know?
Pema Chödrön: So here’s some advice.
The advice is, would be just start seeing humanity of all the people in all the cars around you.
Oprah: You know, I would have to say that one of the things, the great lessons of having a talk show every day for 25 years. And interviewing over 37,000 people one-on-one, I got that “just like me” thing.
Pema: Oh, I bet you did.
Oprah: There is this human common denominator of our experience.
Pema: Oh absolutely.
Oprah: And just like me, everybody wants to be heard. And just like me, everybody wants to know that they matter.
Pema: Oh that’s right. You know I often say to people who are having trouble with their parents. And often their parents are like my age. But they are going to go home, and they’re dreading it, and then I always said, “well, I got advice once.”
Enter into their lives instead of struggling against and being resentful that that they’re not interested in your life.
Just for that—keep the visit short. And for a couple of days there, just sit there and enter into their life.
Do whatever they’re doing. Like watching television all day long when you’d rather be playing tennis or something.
And the other thing is, ask them about their childhood. Ask them about their life. And I said, really, it’s worth taking a tape recorder because for you to start hearing about your mother or father’s childhood, it’s…
Oprah: Yeah, I did that with my mother toward the end.
I actually, when my mother—we knew that my mother was dying and wouldn’t be on earth much longer. And was making her transition.
I went back to Milwaukee. And I sat in the room. She was in this little room where she watches television where the temperature was like 87 degrees. She’s watching, “The Bold And The Beautiful” and “The Young And The Restless” all day long. And watching the game show. And I just sat in the room.
Pema: Yeah, that’s right.
Oprah: And sometimes, it’s enough just to be there.
Pema: That’s right.
Pema Chödrön: And I had an interesting experience once with my mother.
Because she retired—she and my father retired to Mexico. But then he died, oh, maybe six years before she left Mexico. And so I would go down there. I’d be just dying to get out and walk in the markets and everything.
She would stay in her room, all the shades drawn. And again, just watching television like she wasn’t in Mexico. You know?
Oprah: Right. It coulda been anywhere.
Pema: And so my feeling was—so I got this advice. Just enter her world.
So I went. And as you say, it was so hot in there, and it was so dark. So I’m sitting there. And basically, I am just so restless, and just almost have to tie myself down because I want to get out.
And after a while, I just started to relax.
After a while, it got kind of interesting actually. Every once in a while, the door would open, and someone would come in. And it would be like a little vignette of life.
Someone would interact with her, or bring her something, or something.
And I’d see her reaction and that person’s reaction. Then they’d leave. Then we’d be back to this status quo of boredom.
But after a while, it became like being in a theater show or something. You know?
Pema: Being on stage and almost like a theater piece. I don’t know what to say. Except that it changed from being dreadful and something I wanted to avoid to something I actually got into with her.
Oprah: That’s right, you became present enough to actually—
Pema Chödrön: Transcend my mind, with my resistance.
Oprah: Yes, absolutely.
So a buddhist principle we hear about is enlightenment. And I think that enlightenment… I remember when I was doing “The Oprah Show.” That was a part of the mission statement. That we were doing a show to inform, to enlighten, as well as entertain.
And a lot of people get intimidated by that word. “Enlighten.”
Pema: It’s very intimidating, I think.
Oprah: Yes, because it sounds like—
Pema: It sounds like unattainable.
Oprah: Do you think you have attained it?
Pema: Enlightenment? No, I would not say I have.
Oprah: You would not say you have?
Oprah: You are helping us Welcome The Unwelcome! You’re helping us get through When Things Fall Apart!
Pema: I would say I have moved a long way in my life. Away from being reactive and stuck and polarizing. And feeling that I’m separate from other people. But I don’t—maybe the term is too grand.
If you were to say, have you in your lifetime—are you able to be more present with your own body, and mind, and with other people and with situations?
I would say absolutely. You know? I would say absolutely.
But I feel I just started on this adventure.
Oprah: You do?!
Pema: Yeah. And I—a little old, but just to be feeling that way. But I’ve felt this way for—
Oprah: But don’t you think the ultimate enlightenment—because one of the things. I remember when my life changed immensely when I recognized, first of all, that what I had referred to as “god” my whole life was not up in the sky. Taking names, and watching me like Santa Claus, making a list and checking it twice.
Oprah Winfrey: I remember that sense of being opened up when I recognized that god was in all. That the force of life, by whatever name you call it, is in all. And that we are all connected.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: And that felt kind of enlightening to me!
Pema: Well yeah, there’s moments.
Oprah: Of awareness and enlightenment.
Pema: I think I mentioned it somewhere in the book. But Buddhism being full of categories and stuff like that.
Pema Chödrön: They say when you have your first enlightenment experience, it’s called—it has this Buddhist name. First Bhumi.
So then, that’s just the beginning.
There are levels and levels and levels. [Oprah and Pema in unison]
And actually, people ask me, why did you become a nun? And I say, well, definitely, I never would have chosen it as a life thing. Being a nun had a lot of negative associations. But I saw it as devoting my whole life to going deeper, deeper, deeper.
[Break – Oprah: Coming Up… Presence, Karma, Connection]
Oprah: What has been your greatest awakening so far, would you say?
Pema: Well I’ve had any number of times when I would say when time stood still. Where I just had that profound sense of timeless. I now use the word, “nowness.” Meaning, fully present is not just mindfulness, like noticing the colors of the flowers or something. Although that’s part of it.
It’s more—it’s also, quite importantly, a feeling of this moment of time is infinite.
Pema: It’s infinite.
So that’s an experience, an ongoing experience I’ve had.
The other ongoing experience that I have is a feeling of—I never know how to express this. But like that things are neutral, in a way. Like all the things we see and hear and everything are neutral. In the sense that, one person hears it, and they say, it’s bad. And this other person hears the same thing and says, it’s good. That’s what I mean by “neutral.”
Oprah: It has its influence depending on whatever your background is or where you come from.
Pema: Right, and it’s not—
Oprah: And your interpretation.
Pema: That’s right. But it’s neutral yes. So that was initially a very profound experience because—
Oprah: That allows you to hear both sides, actually.
Pema: It makes it painfully, you can’t not hear both sides. And the other things is that—
Oprah: Well you’ve got to be enlightened to do that.
Pema: When I first— [starts laughing]
Oprah: I’m here to prove your enlightenment to you. [laughs]
Pema: I see. All right. But when I first had that insight, I just broke down and cried and cried and cried. And the reason was because I thought, everyone is causing themselves and each other so much suffering just because they don’t understand that.
They just don’t understand that.
So racism, sexism, and all of these things that cause so much pain and suffering. All comes from thinking that something that is just neutral is bad, or threatening, or something like that.
Oprah: So we were talking about one of the great awakenings or life lessons.
Did you learn about Karma? Or did you already know about Karma? I love what you write on page 13. You say, “Every word we speak, and every action we perform affects our future.”
Oprah Winfrey: I’m going to say that again for the world.
“Every word we speak, and every action we perform affects our future.”-Pema Chödrön
Oprah Winfrey continues to read excerpt from Page 13 of Pema Chödrön’s book, “Welcoming The Unwelcome”:
“But where do words and actions come from? They all start from our mind. And when we indulge in resentment, or obsession, or self-righteous thinking, we create several problems for ourselves. First we suffered the immediate pain of those thoughts and emotions. Then we often act out in ways that cause ourselves and others harm. Finally, we reinforce a habit that we would be better off without.”
Pema: That’s pretty good!
Oprah: That’s wise—pretty good! Such awakening, wise, enlightening words.
Pema: I think I’m better on paper than in person.
Oprah: Pretty good!
Pema: Yeah. Well, do you believe that’s true? I def—
Oprah Winfrey: Oh, I know it’s true.
Pema: I know it’s true.
Oprah: It’s actually the third law of motion in physics, I call it. It’s for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. I mean, it is like, physical, scientific law.
Pema: Every year, I take a period of time, usually about 100 days or so, where I go into solitary retreat. Alone, and I just meditate.
Oprah: How long are you alone?
Pema: About 100 days. So, well that’s three months and a half. I’m not—it’s not like I never see anybody. But I am pretty much am alone and not talking. It’s my favorite thing to do! I love people. But basically, I love solitude. I love it.
Pema: So I had this insight. I was sitting there, and I had gotten a letter, or I was worried about one of the grandchildren, or something and started this little obsession. And one of the things as I’ve become very aware of what my mind is, what the storyline is that’s going on. You know?
Pema: So I was aware that I was doing that and that it was impacting me. I was kind of tensing up and stuff like that. And I thought, even in complete solitude, what you’re doing is affecting the world. Now I don’t know if you would agree with that. But it struck me, that the vibe, the ripples go out. The ripples go out.
You know, we know so much about that. That we are interconnected at such a vast level because what we’re saying, and doing, and stuff, the ripples go out.
So I realized, without even talking or being with another person, I still—
Oprah: The ripples are going out.
Pema: Yeah, so it matters. It really matters how we respect ourselves, how we are kind to ourselves, and how we acknowledge. How we really acknowledge that we’re causing ourselves suffering by all this obsessing and stuff.
Oprah: And though we can’t predict or control what will come up next or how we will feel about it, we can do something about how we react.
We can work on how we relate to whatever comes up.
Pema: That’s exactly right. We can relate to whatever comes up. And that’s where medication comes in. Because you become so much more aware of what you’re thinking.
You become so much more aware that you’re escalating. It’s like some kind of awareness begins to dawn. Mostly what happens, I would say, for myself and working with a lot of other people. Is what you become aware of is how —where you’re stuck.
You become aware that you’re obsessing, say, or that you’re working yourself into a rage talking about your sister-in-law or something to yourself.
Seeing that you’re doing that, acknowledge that you’re doing that. And then turn towards the feelings themselves. Forget about the sister-in-law and the whole thing.
Pema Chödrön: Just turn towards yourself and get in touch with that.
Now people do ask me, well, there’s some situations where—and this would be like the boys in Central Park, the five boys. You know?
Pema: Where the situations are so horrendous, does this apply to something like that? And I’m thinking, it applies because you become so much more able to be an effective agent for change.
Because you’re not blinding yourself with your emotional reactivity. You’re really understanding. And you’re fully embodying whatever it is, you’re feeling without making it bad. But with some kind of kind attitude about you’re just a human being.
But on the other hand, you’re not continuing with the verbal rant. Whether it’s verbal or in your mind. So somehow in that process, you are more just open and available to the people in front of you.
Pema Chödrön: And you don’t see them as adversaries or enemies.
Even the people that do these terrible things to people. You wish you could find a way to communicate to their humanness.
Pema: And the more you’re not blocked, the more you can communicate to their humanness.
[Break – Oprah: Coming Up… Reflection, Awareness]
Oprah: This is the great lesson for us all. And it comes in welcoming the unwelcoming. You share this that the person who has caused you the greatest humiliation—the greatest pain—the greatest suffering. Is also your greatest teacher.
And we should be thanking that person.
Pema: That’s right. Well someone was asking about the other day, I don’t really buy that. But so we had a great—we had a good conversation.
Oprah: You don’t have to buy it or not. If you can see it though, you can open up to it. You know?
Pema Chödrön: Yeah. And traditionally that’s called something like “troublemakers as gurus.”
Pema: They are your teachers.
Oprah: Yeah, I share this story that when I was moving from Chicago, I was going through all of my old stuff. And found all these old love letters that I had written to someone in my 20s. I sat in the closet weeping for the woman I was.
Pema: Yeah, I know.
Oprah: Grateful that I had come through whatever my delusions were.
Oprah: And also said a thank you to that guy.
Pema: Yeah, that’s it exactly.
Oprah: Because I thought, well, look who turns out to be one of my greatest teachers. The person that I thought was causing me the greatest pain.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: But it takes time to get there—it’s hard to see it when they’re there.
Pema: No, when you’re in it. But I think people do have a lot of wisdom. And if they read a book like this one, or When Things Fall Apart, or any of them. And that message kind of clicks as like, ooh, this is interesting to me. Then sometimes people, they stumble on the truth of it themselves. It’s in there.
Pema Chödrön: They already know it somehow.
Oprah: Yeah. Do we just keep getting reinforced what we already know? Is that what’s going on?
Pema: Yeah. Unless—until you stop doing that. But I would say, if you just look out at humanity on all the continents in the world, that mostly that’s what’s happening. You just keep reinforcing the view that you already have. And as you get older, yeah, what happens is that your world just gets smaller and smaller. You’re more and more afraid of more things.
Oprah: I wanted to ask you about this idea of things getting reinforced and karma coming up for you when the allegations of sexual abuse at Shambhala that were made about a year ago. There was a “New York Times” headline that read, “The ‘King’ of Shambhala Buddhism is Undone by Abuse Report.”
Now, we’ve seen this behavior in Catholic priests, in Boy Scout leaders, in Hollywood executives. And now, I think people have become awakened to it.
There’s no place where it’s not.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: And now the Buddhist community has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse. When that happened, you felt what?
Pema: I felt—oh man, you feel such a gestalt of feelings. I felt angry with him, I felt deeply saddened for him and for the community. Those were the main feelings, I think, mixed together.
Oprah: When that happens, and it comes in, and rocks your world.
Pema: Well that’s like a rug-pulling-out experience. Right?
Oprah: Yeah. And in that case, I think 20 other reports came out of sexual misconduct by other leaders in Shambhala.
Pema: Oh yeah. The situation is horrendous. And my future is just completely up in the air now. I mean, I’m too old to actually worry about it too much because—
Oprah: You’re still a senior teacher there though, right?
Pema: I am officially still a senior teacher there. But I also have another teacher who I’ve had for—since ’99. And I also—more outside Shambhala than in Shambhala.
So, in a way, as I say, things like solitary retreat are my most favorite thing.
But for many people, they were completely were devoted to him. And I have always known him since he was a teenager. And we’ve always had a strong heart connection. But on the other hand, it wasn’t the same for me as for these people that had never had another teacher or anything.
Pema Chödron: And for them, their life is just blown up in the air.
They can’t imagine what they’re—how they’re going to go forward with their spiritual practice.
Oprah: So as you know, in a follow up investigation, there was an unnamed woman who said that you ignored her reports of sexual abuse. And that this allegedly happened over 15 years ago. She claims that she reported being raped to you, and you responded by saying, “I don’t believe you. And if it’s true, I suspect that you were into it.”
And then in 2018, after speaking with her, you issued this statement saying, “I was able to tell her that I feel very differently now. I believe what she told me. And going forward, I hope to be a better listener and not again say such insensitive and hurtful remarks to those who come to me for help.”
Oprah Winfrey: What did you learn about yourself through this?
Because you all had a phone conversation.
Pema: Yeah, we had a long, good phone conversation. [SIGH] Well—
Oprah: What did this teach you?
Pema: Well, it tuned me in again to how important it is to allow people to change, myself in this case. But in this whole, very important movement that’s happening now, the Me Too movement, which I really applaud. I’m glad it’s happening. I think that what—where it gets problematic for me is when people don’t allow for someone to change. They just fix them in their mind as a demon, for—completely bad, like frozen in time. And they don’t allow for the fact that someone might learn from this and might change.
So for me, that whole thing of that people are not fixed.
Pema Chödrön: People are fluid, and dynamic, and always changing. And you have to help people.
So when you had the conversation with the woman who had accused you of not hearing her 15 years ago, what did you say to her?
Pema: She agreed, first of all, to talk to me. So she knew why I was calling. And I said, I’m calling up to apologize. But first of all, I wonder if there’s something you need to say—you want to say to me. Then she talked for about half an hour, telling me the whole situation again. And what had happened to her, and how she had come to me, and what she had felt like when she left.
Oprah Winfrey: Did you hear it differently this time?
Pema Chödrön: Oh, of course. Yeah. Completely differently. The thing is, that it was long enough ago that I don’t remember exactly how I heard it then. However, she certainly remembers. And that to me, was the most important thing. Is that she felt heard. And that she felt acknowledged, and that I was very grateful she accepted my apology.
Oprah: Did you regret the way she perceived that you had handled it before?
Pema Chödrön: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I mean, I—so it was a wake-up call. I thought, oh, my goodness. I had kind of a rosy picture of me doing countless interviews with people and then them being the better for it. And then I thought, woah, I bet this is not the only woman that left feeling not heard in one way or another. You know?
And that it isn’t always a rosy picture, but my intention always is to help.
That’s always my intention and not to hurt somebody.
Pema Chödrön: So of course I felt enormous regret that I had her feeling so traumatized, actually.
Oprah: By the time you got off the phone, what had happened?
Pema: We had communicated from the heart. And we both felt we had some sense of resolution around the relationship. We both agreed to keep in touch now and then. And I said to her, if you feel like at any time if things are painful for you and you want to talk to me, I think you can trust me in present time. She said, well, thank you very much for that. So like that, you know.
Oprah: So you think she felt heard by the end of the conversation?
Pema: She definitely—she articulated that she felt heard.
[Break – Oprah: Coming Up… Awakening, Change]
Oprah Winfrey: What do you think about this moment we’re in?
We were talking about this Me Too movement where women who have experienced, endured sexual harassment, even sexual assault, feeling uncomfortable. Now feel like being able to speak up liberates them in a way that they could not have been prior to this moment.
Pema Chödrön: I think it’s great. And the other thing is, there is countless of us women who didn’t think at the time. It was so culturally accepted that what happened to us in the office, or what happened to us in a marriage, or whatever. Our husband, our mutual friends, or any of this stuff. And then you think, oh, my gosh, that was not a good thing.
Oprah Winfrey: Yes. Our generation, our generation, my generation. I mean I think of the things that I have allowed to be said to me and the things that I tolerated. And what I put up with in offices, and what I—you know, that I feel that for even my young daughters, who are from South Africa, they wouldn’t tolerate if for one moment.
Pema: They wouldn’t. I know. My grandchildren, my granddaughter—
Oprah Winfrey: They wouldn’t take it for a second.
Pema: Not a second. That’s right.
Oprah: And I think that’s a good thing that we’ve gotten to this point.
Pema: That’s really a good thing. But just to say again, the only part of it that I always want to address is when your mind gets frozen. And someone becomes like a demon or like that, like there’s no room to say, maybe they’ll change. Maybe they’ll have another sense—
Oprah: But if there’s been a criminal act—
Pema: Yeah. Acts have consequences. And they should—
Oprah: There’s been a criminal act—
Pema Chödrön: Oh, yeah, that’s right. But that doesn’t mean that that man or woman is permanently has to be like that forever. I mean, that’s the problem with the criminal justice system system is that they are just fixed in there for what their crime was. And there’s no—very little, very few prisons actually address trying to help people move along.
Oprah: I think this moves in stages.
I’ve spoken to women who have been assaulted. And have now just gained the freedom or the ability actually for themselves to say what has happened.
I’ve asked this question about, when—is there room for forgiveness?
Several of them have said to me, we’re not ready to talk forgiveness yet. We’re just getting our voices to be heard.
Pema: That’s true.
Oprah: So just as everything moves in stages. Grief moves in stages. Life moves in stages. The stage now, I think, is can we actually be heard?
Can you hear me? And does what I say matter?
Pema: That’s right.
Pema: You know, I was talking to a woman—
Oprah: So we’re not ready to get there.
Pema: I hear you. That you have to allow—
Oprah: This moment.
Pema: You have to be—
Oprah: The declaration.
Pema: To be where you are. That’s right.
Pema Chödrön: And I also, I—it’s been a big education for me to realize why, for instance, a woman would allow for it to happen again—
Pema: Or why a woman would never have spoken up. Or all these things which I really understand now.
Oprah: So you say, “The wonderful irony about the spiritual journey is that we find it only leads us to become just as we are. That the exalted state of enlightenment is nothing more than fully knowing ourselves and our world just as we are. In other words, the ultimate fruition of this path is simply to be fully human. And the ultimate benefit we can bring to others is to welcome them. Also realize their full humanity, just as they are.”
Pema: Yeah, you see, that came out of that insight about what I’m saying, that things are neutral. That you accept yourself currently today, just as you are. Like fretting or frustrated. Or it’s by learning to know the clouds. Then you see their transparency, and you realize the sky has already—always been there.
Pema: Do you see what I mean by that?
Oprah: Oh, I definitely know what you mean by that. Because you know why?
Oprah: One of my favorite moments on the planet as a human being is to be on the ground, and it’s raining, and you’re at the airport. And you get on the plane, and you shoot above the clouds.
Pema: Oh yeah.
Oprah: And that moment where you shoot about—above the clouds, and it’s all just like softness and light. And you see the sun, and it was always there.
Pema: That’s right.
Oprah: That’s exactly the moment that’s on the cover, where you’re beneath the clouds, and then you shoot above the clouds. This is exactly the moment I’m talking about.
Pema: That’s right! That’s interesting, I never even saw it that way before.
Oprah: I love that when that happens. I never saw it that way before. That’s exactly the moment I’m talking about! It’s great.
Pema: Now, that’s a famous analogy in Buddhism. That the sun is always there. And that we say, oh, it’s—oh, the sun’s not shining today. Because we’re experiencing ourselves—as if the sun’s not shining.
But if you begin to adopt a different way of like the sun is always shining. And you can get to it. But not by getting rid of the clouds exactly, but by seeing how ephemeral the clouds are.
Pema Chödrön: But anyway, getting to know what blocks it with kindness is magical.
Oprah: And that is what “Welcoming The Unwelcome” is all about.
Full circle—thank you so much.
Pema Chödron: Thank you, so much.
Oprah Winfrey: Thank you so much.
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