For the last 3 months, I’ve lived in close proximity to a rather famous teacher. Most people know about Gampo Abbey because of Pema Chodron, the spiritual teacher, ‘Gampo Acharya’. Her books “When Things Fall Apart”, “The Wisdom of No Escape”, and “The Places That Scare Us” are often given at a point of personal crisis and suffering and provide much inspiration and devotion. You would think that she was the main reason I came here. Truth is, I didn’t really know much about her. I had read one of her books on the Lojong slogans with the group I sat with in Hyde Park and had heard the name but that’s about it.
So, what’s it like to meet ‘the wealthiest nun in the Universe’? (as she jokingly described herself in one talk) Pretty normal. I’ve gotten to meet her in very regular circumstances, like, removing a charred light fixture from her kitchen cabinets after a toaster fire, or changing a light bulb in her bathroom.We chatted about Chicago and President Obama, she told me that it was good that I was here and hugged me. I also spilled water all over her floor from a cracked jug, soaking my pants and socks. Her response? To get on her knees with a towel and start mopping it up and drying off my socks. Really sweet and regular.
She also called the director about me for a suspected transgression, (I’ll get into that later….) which resulted in a meeting to make sure no precepts were at risk of breaking. All at once, she seemed just like my 70 something year old neighbor in Chicago, Wootzie, who also looked out her window and called the neighbors whenever anything notable happened on the block. And to get us to end the talking period of classes, she raises her hand, and as you see it, you raise your hand and stop talking until the whole shrine room is quiet with raised hands, just like grade school (she used to be an elementary school teacher). What is she like? Like every loving, safe, generous, joyful person you’ve ever met; your Grandma, your teacher, your neighbor, your good friend, regular, relatable, ordinary.
There is an aspect in the Zen tradition of ‘ordinary mind’ and Pema Chodron really embodies it. I think anyway, I’m no pro at these things you know. She encourages questioning and explains things simply, all things that benefit me, and really regard things as ‘no big deal’. It’s been a happy surprise to be taught by her and to receive teachings, both in and out of the shrine room.