Packing up all of your most important belongings and moving your life to a new city, state, or country for college can be an exciting and terrifying experience. Although my anxiety has always been a daily obstacle for me, this life transition presented me with newfound difficulties regarding my mental health. I had accomplished the most significant goal I had ever set for myself; attending an exceptional university and continuing my education and passion for writing. Yet, my anxiety about the future did not disappear the moment I set foot in Austin- it worsened. I was ecstatic to begin my journey towards becoming a journalist, yet the path to get there remained unclear. This idea presented me with a new enemy; uncertainty. As much as I have tried throwing myself into a new routine, each day is entirely different. Lacking the schedule, social life, and familiarity with my surroundings that I had in high school, the idea that each day became part of a very uncertain journey was terrifying. My hour-by-hour outline of each day in a color-coded planner stood no chance at the new obstacle I was facing.
I discovered Pema Chodron’s masterpiece of a novel before my move to Austin, however, I ceased to crack open the book before I began college. The first week of classes presented me with some of the most severe anxiety I had ever encountered. After trying nearly every outlet to try and relieve my symptoms, I grabbed Comfortable With Uncertainty off of my bookshelf. My decision to finally read this book was done partially to pass the time during syllabus week but also to distract me from the storm of stress that raged inside of me. Instead of distracting myself, I was shocked to find myself immersed in a world of new concepts and perspectives that I never knew existed.
Within her book, Chodron provides 108 stand-alone readings, each with a different lesson on living in the present and finding comfort in the unknown. These teachings focus on the path to becoming a Bodhisattva; a process that includes “aspiration practices” and ways of “compassionate living.” By following Buddhist practices as a way of living, the idea is that we can coexist with others and exist as ourselves, which will aid us on our path to becoming warriors. Chodron’s perspective on these Eastern teachings challenges the habitual way that one reacts to the world and introduces the universal idea that compassion in all areas of life helps to dissipate fear of uncertainty. Chodron often repeats the idea that sitting meditation can allow us to stay present and acknowledge our thoughts. Becoming comfortable with the presence of those thoughts allows us to let them go so that they do not constrain us from living life to the fullest extent. She explains in the book that seeking “Absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable.” Instead of coming to conclusions, we should accept our emotions and thoughts for what they are; thoughts and emotions, rather than answers.
“Absolute rights and wrongs is a trick we play on ourselves to feel secure and comfortable”– Pema Chödrön, Comfortable With Uncertainty.
The Buddhist teachings found within Comfortable With Uncertainty provided me with a sense of comfort in the moments when uncertainty was consuming me. I additionally discovered that the teachings of conventional religion I am familiar with offer a different perspective than that of Buddhist theology. Despite my unfamiliarity with the religion itself, the number of revelations I experienced whilst reading Chodron’s teachings shocked me and lifted a weight off of my shoulders. They helped me understand that I could take hold of my anxiety by changing my outlook on life and rearranging my thought process.
I know firsthand that changing a mindset is easier said than done. Similar to any skill, meditation and cultivating a mindset of fearlessness and positivity towards every being in this world takes practice and persistence. This book found its way into my hands at the most perfect moment; a point in my life where I was beginning to build myself into a new person from the ground up. While my place in the world remains unknown, Comfortable With Uncertainty has taught me that each day I must reflect on my mindset. Through the good and bad times, life will always be uncertain and unpredictable. Chodron’s American perspective on Tibetan Buddhist theology is a must-read, particularly for college students who find themself struggling with the unknown. Reading the teachings with coffee in the morning or with a cup of tea before bed can help those that struggle with fear and anxiety towards the future to remain grounded and be content with the present.