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Start Where You Are

A Guide to Compassionate Living

By Pema Chödrön
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön

Start Where You Are (1994) is an enlightening guide to opening up your heart and mind and learning to feel happier in your skin. Discover the practices that bring calm and serenity to Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as the philosophy that puts people on the path to nirvana. This isn’t advice about what incense and candles to buy; it shows you how to look deep within yourself to confront your demons and find strength in your weaknesses.

Key idea 1 of 8

Meditation can help bring peace of mind by keeping you focused on the present.

What is it about meditation that people find so useful?

Meditation is all about celebrating and living in the present moment – the now.

Even though all we ever have is the present moment, we do a pretty good job of avoiding it. We get bogged down in regrets about the past or worries about the future. But the more you focus your mind on the now and keep it off those hypothetical worries and regrets, the more content you will be.

This is what the simple yet powerful shamatha-vipashyana meditation technique can help you achieve. The name comes from the Buddha, who said meditation should bring tranquility, or shamatha, and insight, or vipashyana.

There are two steps to practicing shamatha-vipashyana meditation, and the first is to focus on your breathing.

Start by sitting upright with your eyes open and your legs crossed. Take a few deep but gentle breaths. As you settle in, be aware of your breathing and your environment. Notice the sights and sounds around you. Is it bright or dark? Is it quiet or noisy outside? Notice these things but remember to keep your focus on your breath.

This simple practice will help you live in the now. And since this is your only reality, it should be the center of your awareness.

While doing this, keep your mind from wandering to your worries and regrets.

Everyone’s mind wanders to happy or sad thoughts. You may drift off to contemplating your to-do list or an annoying event from yesterday, but all you need to do is recognize this as normal thinking and bring your attention gently back to your breath.

Don’t punish yourself or try too hard to prevent these thoughts. You might find it helpful to calmly say “thinking” to yourself as a way to stop a wandering train of thought and return your attention to the gentle rise and fall of your breathing.

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