Four years ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, essayist, poet, and short story writer Alice Walker was immobilized with pain over the loss of a loved one. A friend sent her a copy of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron's audio workshop Awakening Compassion. Walker found the practice of tonglen taking in people's pain and sending out relief to be a very healing exercise.
In this conversation recorded live at San Francisco's Palace of the Fine Arts, the two women talk about suffering, anger, fear, joy, and spiritual politics. Chodron, the first American-born woman to receive full ordination as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, believes that tonglen enables us to see suffering as good medicine. Instead of hardening the heart, it softens the heart and opens a path to love of self and others.
Walker is buoyed by the realization that our suffering and our flaws connect us with other beings. Both women reveal the benefits of regular spiritual practice as a way of opening to the world on a regular basis. They also discuss the fruitlessness of violence, anger, aggressiveness, and revenge as tools to make a better world. Compassion is the best path.