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by Pema Chodron
Great Path Tapes and Books, 1999
Review by Patricia Ferguson, PsyD on Aug 6th 2003
If you have ever read any of Pema
Chodron's books, and if you liked them, then you will
probably want to own this nice lecture series on tapes. Four tapes from Berkeley, California, 1999, (published by Great
Path Tapes and Books, Portage, MI) deal with different
aspects of how to deal with fear. As might be expected, there are considerable
similarities between the content of her books and the content of her lectures.
I've read her book When Things Fall Apart, and the book is,
to me, much better, but then books typically have more information than tapes
do. I can't say I find the tapes as truly inspiring as I found the book to be,
but in all fairness, this book is a
very special book. The tapes were never intended to replace a book--this is not
a "book on tape." It really is four different lectures. One notable
piece of information on the cover of the tapes is that both Pema
Chodron and her students are available to the public
through the Shambhala organization to work help with
the material. Her organization is a group of Tibetan Buddhists, and Chodron is a nun and resident teacher in a monastery in Canada.
The main reason that these tapes are worth the money
is that if you like what she has to say, having it on tape is a convenience
that can be useful at many different times: riding in the car; attending a
retreat where you might want to listen to tapes when you are alone; and just
before bedtime. Of course, the problem with bedtime is that you may go to
sleep. But if you are a believer in subliminal messages, and I am, this may be
one of the best ways to really immerse yourself in her material.
People who are nervous, phobic, afraid, or simply
dealing with issues of illness and death, will all find her talks about "leaning
into the fear" to be a useful approach. Rather than trying to run away
from the fear, it is much easier, she says, to walk right into it, and face it.
This has been shown in many studies to work well for patients with phobias and
obsessions, and there is no reason to think it isn't also useful for everyday
fears as well.
One of the problems I did find with the tapes is
that due to their lecture format, and poor editing, there are long gaps where I
wasn't sure if the tape was on, had ended, or was merely in a place where she
was thinking of her answer.
Also, her tone of voice was a bit off-putting to me,
as she tends to use a tone of voice that is a bit superior sounding. Her books
don't have that problem, of course, because you can't hear her tone of voice
and I don't "hear" it in my reading of her books.
The tapes are mostly question and answer sessions
following a brief introduction on a topic by Chodron.
The members of the audience appear to be just regular folks from Berkeley (assuming people in Berkeley can be considered "just
regular.") For that matter, the audience could have been from out of the
area, because people like me would also go to see her, and I live four hours
from Berkeley. Her focus
tends to wander wherever the audience questions wander, but there are set
topics such as the use of meditation to deal with fear. She explains that
meditation can help a person identify fear, simply by sitting quietly and
seeing "what comes up."
As a person who also meditates, I agree with her.
Meditation can be calming, or bring up fears, and all kinds of other feelings.
Since the focus of the tapes is on fear, though, that is the way she talks
Although there are too many editing gaps, where the
tape runs on, and they are almost amateurish in their organization, the tapes
are still worth hearing. If you are a Buddhist who follows this school of thought, or just a person who wants to learn to deal with
fear, these tapes can certainly be helpful. I thought that the tape labeled, "Meditation"
would be a meditation tape, but instead it talks about using mediation. To me,
that was disappointing, but I do understand the usefulness of talking about
meditation. Perhaps having both would have been better: a talk about it,
followed by a guided meditation.
With all the "white space" these tapes
could easily have been condensed into two, and saved the listener(s) time. It
is also frustrating not to know when the tape is over, as I said, and this should
have been addressed.
All in all, I would say that for me, the tapes are
worthwhile, but for the general public, it really depends on what you like, and
how tolerant you are of the problems in editing. Her books are so much better
than the tapes that it would be a shame to start with the tapes, get turned off
to it, and then miss out on the good stuff she has to offer the world.
A71: KNOWING THE NATURE OF FEAR Berkeley 9/99 4 tapes. Starting with
appreciating the basic goodness of all beings, the Shambhala
teachings lead to the discovery of gentleness and fearlessness in everyday
life. It is impossible to develop fearlessness without knowing the nature of
© 2003 Patricia Ferguson
Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of California,
a freelance writer and editor, and an artist. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from
San Diego State
University and received her
doctorate from Nova Southeastern
University. Her publications
include research on rape in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, several
articles on nuclear medicine for nuclear medicine technologists, and an article
on group therapy in The Reader's Guide to Social Sciences. She currently writes
book reviews for several venues, has a chapter in "Girl Wars: Twelve Tried
and True Strategies for Overcoming Female Bullying," (Fireside, 2003), and
is an Editor-in-Chief for Apollo's
Lyre, an online magazine for writers. She is also working on a book of