Smiling At Fear With Pema

Carolyn Gimian and Pema Chodron

Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery by Chögyam Trungpa begins with this quote:

“When you are frightened by something, you have to relate with fear,
explore why you are frightened, and develop
some sense of conviction. You can actually look at fear. Then
fear ceases to be the dominant situation that is going to defeat
you. Fear can be conquered. You can be free from fear, if you realize
that fear is not the ogre. You can step on fear, and therefore
you can attain what is known as fearlessness. But that requires
that, when you see fear, you smile.”

Last year,  Smile at Fear was published by Shambhala, and it has resonated with a great number of readers. The idea that we could disarm our fear by smiling at it is a rather outrageous proposal, yet one that seems intriguing. Fear seems to be a topic for our time. Each of us is afraid of something: Afraid of losing our job, afraid our relationships won’t last, afraid of dying, afraid of living—afraid of ourselves altogether. What can we do about it? That’s the thing!

Chögyam Trungpa spoke and wrote a great deal about fear and fearlessness as well as about working with hope and fear. Pema Chödrön, the popular teacher, author, and Buddhist nun who studied closely with Trungpa Rinpoche, has also given great consideration to these topics.  When the book was in the final stages of editing, she concurred with me (I was the book’s editor) that Smile at Fear would be a great title for this collection of teachings. She also volunteered to incorporate the material in the book into several forthcoming public programs, mixing it with her own understanding of this topic. She invited me to join her as the meditation teacher for these programs, and this collaboration has been great for the book and for both of us, I think.

Pema’s second and final program is scheduled to take place October 15-17 in the Bay Area. The weekend will be held at the Craneway Pavilion overlooking San Francisco Bay in the Marina District of Richmond. With its beautiful waterfront views, the pavilion will provide a great environment for this urban retreat.

You can read more about the program and register for it at

The weekend is almost sold out, but Shambhala Publications and the Northern California Shambhala Center want you to have a chance to be there. They’re giving away one ticket for all 3 days to one lucky reader of this blog. You have to get yourself there—they aren’t covering travel expenses—but this is still a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the teachings from this book.

How do you enter? Simply share your answer to this question with us: What do you think it means to smile at fear? Leave a comment below telling us and be entered to win a free ticket to this rare weekend retreat with Pema Chödrön’s. Travel expenses, again, are not included.

The winner will be selected by random draw on Monday August, 9.

Congratulations to entrant #501!

I hope to see many of you there. Pema has so much to offer us, and this  dynamic combination of her radiant and incisive teachings with those of the grand master of fear and fearlessness, Chögyam Trungpa, promises to be a powerful experience for all. When you bring a community of people together who share the willingness to open deeply to themselves and one another, the atmosphere and the effect are unpredictable but undoubtedly worthwhile. I look forward to smiling with you.

Note:  If your comment does not appear right away, please do not re-post. Your entry will appear shortly.

834 thoughts on “Smiling At Fear With Pema

  1. Smiling at fear means to take what scares or bothers you the most and look at it as a benefit and a gift, instead of a weight or a defect.

  2. Smile at fear. Ease freely beyond the illusory separate sense of self. Remember there is not two. Recognize the ignorance that created the fear and smile with clarity. Embracing what is, one smiles at fear.

  3. Smiling at fear is the same as smiling at love or clouds or raindrops or anger… it means we don’t elevate it to a greater position than any other aspect of life.

    Using the image of smiling helps me to soften myself, to lean into that which scares me.Then I can remember to place it in perspective again, to recognize that the only thing I truly know is this moment right here.

  4. Smiling at Fear: Yikes, an endless question, a koan.
    It means many things for me…It is like a threat that crosses many points like:

    1. Understanding cause and effect.
    2. Understanding the nature of emotions, of phenomena and (and that includes of course our life too).
    3. It means a change of attitude; it means pausing and transforming the energy of the situation we are in, not trying to modify externally necessarily but somehow looking at how we can just get rid of all the shit we have carry with ourselves all the time (or as Pema says, dropping the story line). This shit includes our idea of our past, the idea of who we are, our limitations. We can just be there with our fear and let it be. Hold it, let the fear have a voice, give it space, give it all the space… all the room but still come back to the present moment and do the best that we can… “being”, coming back to the present from a place of sanity and basic goodness.
    Smiling at fear would have meant that we have incorporated our training as Shambhala Warriors to our life. That is the end result of having digested the teachings with discipline, commitment, effort and lots of kindness. It is not an aggressive approach to face life, but one that has endless gentleness: smiling at whatever comes to our life comes from a place of deep trust in life, in our goodness in our outrageousness.

    Thank you Pema and Carolyn for giving us so much.

  5. Smiling at fear is a great privilege and also a very simple human practice. It involves a conscious intention to stop, to breathe into the heart, identify the trigger and go in the direction of what is making us afraid, smiling at it with love, letting it break our hearts. Then we will see into it and see the emptiness there, see the confusion there, and it will bring us the gift of compassion, of impartial, loving friendliness and freedom.

  6. When we smile, we connect and meet an “other” with recognition and a visual embrace that transcends words.

    To smile at fear is to know one is a separate being that can recognize and acknowledge fear, and still retain the detachment and reserve necessary to not allow it to take over.

  7. When we are willing to go to places that scares us emotionaly, practicing meditation and going opposite direction of comfort, then the fear will be an opportunity to go beyond our limitations and we can smile at our fear.

  8. When you smile at fear you open to the life-lesson it brings. Like a prayer wheel sends its prayer, the lesson radiates to all being. Bringing ease to fear with a smile is like bringing love to your child. Boddihchita activates with each genuine smile.

  9. Smile(song by Charlie Chaplin} “There are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free” Sartre. I had fear for a homeless woman by my apartment . Fear for her health and safety, fear for her drawing bad people etc. I was paralyyzed by her refusal of my oferrers to help her. I overcame my fear and called local homeless services. They did what they could. I smiled. I did my best. I have many fears. I smile and attempt to smile at them. It works. I thank you for your website. I was here through a friend. I cherish her for this. Thank you for showing me the to freedom and happiness.

  10. Smiling at fear means you acknowledge the fear and accept the presence of fear while continuing to live. It means getting out of bed every morning regardless of what is waiting for you. It means pushing yourself to attempt what seems impossible. It means walking in darkness alone. Smiling because you are grateful for the chance to continue the journey. Smiling because you are grateful to the part of you that is simply trying to save your life and protect you by keeping you frozen in fear. Smiling at fear means one more step or one more breath even when it seems the hardest thing you have ever done.

  11. Smiling at fear we both know that it is real and not real. To be taken seriously and be laughed at. To acknowledge as important and discounted as a distraction. Fear knows this. But it is in fear’s knowledge that I do to that we laugh in joyous resonance!

  12. Smile at fear…….

    Damn that’s scary
    but makes me feel alive and in my body
    when I break into a smile
    and the whole world laughs with me
    only then are things are
    as they really are
    cold water makes me feel warm
    warmth makes me feel open
    openness makes me smile
    and laugh at my fear
    that slowly unravels the knot
    that is now undone
    as I enjoy the vast space
    of a smile
    from the heart

  13. that fear is not something to retreat from, run from, avoid, mask with other emotions….fear is something we can all learn from, breathe into, use, to really live the truth of the day to day.

  14. A Poem for Elizabeth Rose

    I used to think
    that hope was for the brave,
    the indomitable
    the blessed positive thinkers.

    But now I see
    that bravery lies in the present moment,
    hope and fear but two sides of the same coin
    (the coin of not being able to bear what is).

    What if I decided to make friends with my fear
    would I then need hope?
    Or would I be able to embrace the all of my life
    and keep opening my heart ever wider.

  15. I’m a classical concert composer, but I view fear as Led Zeppelin did:
    ‘Standin’ on a hill in the mountain of dreams
    Tellin’ myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems’

  16. Bringing the inner smile of love to your lips. I use it when the plane is taking off. I force myself to smile by thinking of the love one I will see when i land. My fear disappears. I also remember to smile when I land, when I give thanks.

  17. when we surrender and smile we welcome fear, we become curious about it and, in turn, make space for it. we meet it with ease, rather than resistance. we explore and demystify it. when we get to know things, they becomes less scary. on a physiological level when we “act as if” we are happy by smiling we activate the universal feeling of happiness that is hard wired into our nervous systems.

  18. I believe smiling at fear is a representation of graciously “facing” our fears during our journey here on earth. Or in otherwords, the relationship between the physical human body acknowledging, aligning, and connecting with core spiritual lessons and issues.

  19. To smile at fear… yes, smile – welcome all that is… embrace the is-ness as it is in its is-ness… Oh yes! Fear! Gasp – smile – ahhh – the big let go. Can you do it? Tighten, relax… smile, greet, welcome, allow the light to squeeze through, to break through, to contract, expand, beam, gleam, flood with love… from a smile, a smile at fear, embrace it – embrace it all. Life’s journey!

  20. For me, smiling at fear means appreciating the opportunity to be afraid; to see it as a chance to grow and learn. All of my life I’ve been afraid of first one thing and then the other. I am finally trying to work through my fear, but I still don’t understand it…

  21. To smile at fear is the realization that fear preesnts an opportunity to explore through sitting what the fear is, what it feels like in the body and by sitting with it long enough or often enough, we beome comfortable with the fear. It no longer can scare us, but teach us to be calm and curious in its midst.

    Smiling at fear means an opporunity to learn about ourselves more deeply.

  22. Fear lurks and sidles up to us. Feel it and release it. Know that it does not have to attach itself for the long-haul.

  23. To smile at fear is to see the ego’s antics, to be with what is and to accept and love the fear as it is because it is.

  24. To me, smiling at fear means meeting fear as an ally. When we can instantaneously meet fear with spaciousness of mind, it will unbind the negative energies surrounding fear, thus empowering us rather than weakening us.

  25. To smile at fear is to accept the unknown, the untold, and the unseen. I have learned to accept the fear. To stare into cancer, and to accept, without worrying about the “what ifs” is sending the message to myself that I am here now, in the present, and can still smile, without ruminating about the future..

  26. Fear is that shark in the water in the movie Jaws; it’s that pain in the abdomen that aches and aches, and then aches more; or the migraine headache; or the fight you had last night with your spouse over whether the bagels were really whole wheat, or just what the difference is between regular wheat and whole wheat anyway.

    Smiling at it is knowing that the fear is you — your own anger, resentment, ego, pride, impatience, or sadness; to be gentle with it and embrace it, then let it go!

  27. To smile at fear means to befriend fear when it shows up, to welcoming it with friendliness and to listen to what it has to say with an open heart.

  28. We sit, and it is uncomfortable, blissful, irritating, empty. A moving picture show of experiences scrolls across the clear blue sky of our buddhanature. With practice, we can develop a gap between our emotional weather and the impulse to respond to it. Exploring our eternal nature, we can learn to smile.

  29. As I sit here experiencing my loss and the sensation of fear rising like mercury, I feel a wave of lightness and draw the faintest smile as I taste and swallow the bitter herb of the moment.

  30. it means to open your heart and mind to everything and look them straight on, with forgiveness and empathy and a flexible mind–because it is all beautiful and intriguing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s