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The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Are you searching for resources to support clients who are being confronted with challenges fraught with fear and daunting uncertainty? In this book review by @Laura Swartz she shares how in The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön offers effective ways to step into the fear. Laura expresses her own entanglement with fear and how Chödrön's overall message and approach helped her: "The Places That Scare You, felt extremely fitting for someone like me looking to grow in the depths of fears. This guide to be fearless in circumstances that would be easier to run away, dissociate and ignore what’s right in front of you has opened my eyes on how to relook at my relationship with fear."

Reviewer: Laura Swartz

Author: Pema Chödrön

Book: The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Key Point One: Be aware of our inner knowing and feelings.

Pema Chödrön's foundation of her book speaks to the Buddhist teaching of bodhicitta. Bodhi meaning awake and chitta meaning mind/heart. Of course the center of this teaching is being aware to our inner knowing and feelings. Personally right now I’m diving in the deep end of tuning into my awareness of my feelings and how my body, mind and heart sit with being awake to whatever comes up. The other day my mind was racing in 100 directions. Instead of resisting, I decided to be completely open to the experience and sit in the vulnerable and tender space exploring the practice of bodhicitta.

Key Point Two: Embrace the tender, vulnerable spaces where fear lives.

When we are in these vulnerable and tender spaces they can make us feel stuck, confused or hopeless – not the most comfortable place to be in. Bodhicitta teaches us that we are never separated from enlightenment even in the darkness. This teaching reminds me of a cloud visualization meditation when you think of temporary clouds in your mind pass by and the blue skies open up. My mind racing was a temporary state. When I connected to my bodhicitta I was able to let the clouds pass so I could be tuned-in and see the sky open up to new possibilities.

Key Point Three: Be accepting. You can never really know what will happen.

The notable thing about bodhicitta is that it does not promise a happy ending. I usually prefer practices like yoga that I know will make me feel better afterwards. However, this practice opened my eyes to accept that we can never know what will happen to us. I’m always thinking I can control the unknown which is always uncontrollable. Thinking I am in control makes me feel comfortable and safe. Bodhicitta asks us to let go of the control and be a yes to the adventure of not knowing what’s next. This is where growth in overcoming fear lives.

Application to Coaching: Bodhicitta might just be the anthem of coaching. Helping clients become awake to their inner knowing. Clients will be in seasons of happy and not so happy endings. Coaching can be a safe space for clients to let go of resisting and become vulnerable to the adventure of their unknown future.

Favorite Passage: My favorite passage of the book talked about stopping the struggle against uncertainty and ambiguity, so that we can dissolve our fears. Pema Chödrön shared, “By learning to relax with groundlessness, we gradually connect with the mind that knows no fear”. This makes me smirk because I’ve been so focused on being at this grounded state of mind in my life that doesn’t seem to exist. So letting go and leaning into the groundless state might just be the place I need to go and explore.

How I Plan To Apply Chödrön's Overall Message:

The message I want to apply within my coaching is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Asking powerful questions to spark exploration in client’s relationship with being aware. Partnering with clients to relax in the groundlessness of unknown and waking them up to their bodhicitta!

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