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.

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834 thoughts on “Smiling At Fear With Pema

  1. Acknowledge fear, accept it, live with it’s ‘feel’ and let it be absorbed, toouch it’s depth……when you are done, then set it free.

  2. To smile at fear is to powerfully and lovingly connect to the being who is fearing and elevate that fear to love for the good of all. It is to see through illusion and love what is real and thereby benefit all beings and become greater ourselves.

  3. When you smile at fear, it loses it’s power, because then, when you are no longer afraid of the fear, it can’t stop you from doing whatever you want to do.

  4. To smile at fear is to be brave and feel your own strength. Give your fear a name – own it, possess it and put it behind you.

  5. To smile at fear is to embrace the feeling, get to know it, experience it and watch it become your welcome friend.

  6. For me it is all about trusting the process. This means that there really is nothing to fear as everything (no matter what it appears to be at the time) is bringing me closer to the truth of who I really am and that is definitely something to smile about! You know the acronym about FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real.

  7. When I smile at fear, I look at myself lovingly and with acceptance of all that I am and all of my emotions, including the most troubling ones. In this context I can then become more awake to both the world around me and the world within. I can discover anew that all of my emotions, even fear, are my teachers along this long path to spiritual wholeness and loving kindness.

  8. Smiling at fear is meeting your fear, ackknowledging it, and then realizing that what you are afraid of is an illusion, as is everything. Much easier said than done!

  9. Smiling at fear? Facing cancer that eats away two beautiful souls in my life and learning from its presence. Accepting that these battles are brought upon, not to challenge our humanity, but to give our humanity back to everything.

  10. I survived a near fatal car accident. If I survived, doctors said, I’d be a vegetable, in a wheel chair, etc. Fear is lack of faith. Life has given me Life. I smile. Every morning, every afternoon, every evening, I smile and give thanks. After months in the hospital, a year learning to walk, to speak, writing evedrything down so I wouldn’t forget, I went back to school. Fear? What fear? I smile, I just smile.

  11. I think that to smile at fear means that you make your fear your friend. Our fears give us good information about ourselves and the environment we are in. Fear is the way our mind and body warn us of potential danger or threat. Therefore, we must smile at our fear as our ally in helping us know what is going on around us and meditate on why it has come up, what information we are gaining about our lives and ourselves.

  12. To welcome it as an opportunity to connect with all others experiencing fear and the opportunity to work to alleviate it in ourselves and others.

  13. I have just put this into practice when being crippled up by fear from my cancer diagnosis. Am I going to die, to live and keep suffering, etc. It became overwhelming until I did finally accept my diagnosis, prognosis and my fear and breath it in and smile at it, with it, and through it. To love it all, everything that is happening to me and above
    all love my body for all it is and has been through.

  14. I love smiling at fear right in the face. This may sound far fetch, but I have discovered that in smiling at fear I am makng friends with my fears and then they drop off my shoulders. After this happens I feel spiritually, mentally, and physically lighter; I feel a peace and tranquility I’ve never known before. And the more I practice moving through these veils of fear I can feel my inner light shining brighter. This is not easy to do, but the more I do it, I’m discovering, I’m living more in the moment and optimistic about the future. Truly, when I smile at fear and it falls away, the more I feel I’m moving to my own inner, true light. Thank you for your time in reading my thoughts and ideas of smiling at fear. It would be an honor to hear Pema Chodron.

  15. Smile at fear means literally to create a small gap between your lips.
    Especially when they are so ego-firmly closed
    And this smile-gap is already a kind of opening, a sort of space to rest in and a necessary starting point to dissolve your fear and face the situation

  16. Welcoming fear as a useful and necessary guide if you are courageous enough to really dig deep into your feelings.

  17. To smile at death and touch the purity that’s always been there. After my cancer diagnosis I embraced Pema’s teachings especially tonglen and my life has been incredible ever since. Not easy at times, but always incredible. I bow down to these precious teachings and my teacher.

  18. The most fundamental fear of all is the fear of death and not knowing what comes after.
    Surviving a near death encounter and not being broken by it and going into depression or becoming a angry, negative or cynical person, as so often happens, but emerging with the wisdom, that death is not the end and is not followed by nothingness, and through this wisdom becoming a person that can be strong for others because you can feel this fear rising in other persons and are able to calm them down, no matter what situation…that is smiling at fear.

  19. Fear indicates what’s blocking me and if I turn toward it and smile I have a chance of finding the truth. And the truth ends up setting me free, of course.

  20. Smiling at fear is so good, I emply it at least once a day, usually in the car. Once you smile it is also “allowing” positive thoughts to enter, banishing the old negative stuff.

    Yesterday, I think I smiled too much by writing this upbeat, satirical poem on death and sharing it–perhaps–with the wrong person. Well, what do you think? My brother thought it was “neat,” but then, we are of a kind…


    I rebel against the ashes,

    And I don’t want “the box.”

    Between the dots and dashes—

    How about the pox?

    But I find gravestones very nice,

    With all the grass and trees.

    Or maybe lay me out in ice

    And skip embalming fees!

    Whatever is your wrapping,

    What difference is it, really?

    Once Mr. “D” comes tapping—

    A Serta or a Sealy?

    Kay Weeks 1.11.11

  21. Fear is as basic an experience as is any other state of mind but fear is the feeling we experience when we consider the possibility that things are not quite what we thought or hoped they to be.

  22. Smile At Fear means recognizing the feeling inside my gut that comes up when I encounter a thought, emotion, situation, person, job or anything that scares me. I can smile at fear in seeing all these things as the blessings of the Guru.Whether workable or not, it is what it is, and I can afford to smile and relax, relax, relax.

  23. Smiling at fear is seeing fear and the seeds of fear and not watering them. Just sitting with it, greeting it politely, and letting it go.

  24. Embracing whatever arises with curiosity, affection and cheerful expectation…even fear…disarms the old thought patterns that bully us into habitual reactions, and opens the way for positive creative experience.

  25. Smiling at fear means we can see what is actually happening. We are so fearful that the world and we are not what we want it to be. But everything is fluid anyway. Just seeing fear for what it is, a feeling of insecurity, uncomfortable, just a feeling, part of my present experience can make it possible for us to smile at fear. We can be curious and understand it for what it is.

  26. Smile at fear? First, acknowledge that I am afraid; secondly, feel it in my body and notice where it is; thirdly, be curious about it: how solid is this fear? This is the smile….looking into it and upending it with brave curiosity.

  27. To smile at fear is the bravest a warrior can be. In the daily world, there is so much that blurs our vision, but if you can stop for a moment, breathe and smile, the vision clears. It is that moment between that can make the difference in how you face your world. Lean into it and let it go………….

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