It was the kind of weekend that deserved a rain blessing, and on Sunday morning we received it. Across the bay from San Francisco, in a waterfront building originally designed for auto manufacturing, 3,000 of us assembled for a different sort of blessing, a rare weekend of teachings with a beloved teacher. I don’t remember how I first heard of Pema Chödrön, but ever since I began reading her books, I knew that when the opportunity arose to be in her presence, I would do everything I could to be there. Prayer flags dripping outside in the rain, seagulls hovering over the historic building that felt like a greenhouse, and thousands of people who gracefully embraced a state of being that allowed us to peacefully move and breathe together for the weekend, formed the backdrop for her teachings.
“Smile at Fear” was the theme and everything we learned was offered with the intention of helping each of us develop fearlessness and the brave heart of a warrior. Not the kind of warrior who uses violence and aggression, but a warrior trained to live from a place of tenderheartedness, open and compassionate, disciplined to trust in basic goodness. On the first evening Pema made this request: “You are all needed, at this time on this planet because billions of humans and animals are suffering.” Throughout the weekend she emphasized the opportunities as well as the challenges of these times when fear is rampant in every aspect of our lives. Pema suggested that we learn to lean into our fears and smile at them, engaging with them in a curious way, rather using avoidance. She offered simple, yet profound practices for using the breath to train both body and mind to reside more fully in each present moment.
One of the most significant thoughts I carried with me from the weekend was the importance of each of us first developing unconditional friendship with ourselves. She emphasized that when this occurs, a life of genuineness follows. As we learn to approach life with more curiosity and inquisitiveness, Pema invited us to ask this question when we wake up each day: I wonder what going to happen today? Hearing these words warmed my heart, for even though I’ve been directing the Seed for 33 years, I still wake up every morning eager to get to school to see what will happen. I felt needed before the weekend with Pema Chödrön, but the reason for continuing my work in the world has deepened. I know now, more than ever, that as long as I am breathing, how I respond to every moment matters.