Unconditional Confidence


Unconditional Confidence

Unconditional Confidence:

Instructions for Meeting Any Experience With Trust and Courage

By Pema Chödrön

Boulder: Sounds True, 2009

Review by Carl McColman

Here is a wonderful audio book filled with gentle wisdom for transforming all of life’s experiences into occasions for spiritual growth. If you (like me) sometimes feel like you relate to life more from a position of fear or anxiety than from a place of deep trust and confidence, then this teaching program just might inspire you to cultivate courage in your own life.

Unconditional Confidence is really two programs on two CDs. The first disc features a talk given by Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön before a live audience; the second features a more intimate  approach to the topic, in which Pema is interviewed by Sounds True owner Tami Simon. The first disc provides the message of “unconditional confidence” in a more formal way; the interview functions as a “behind the scenes” look at the wisdom and life experience that helped to shape Pema and her message.

And what is her message? Simply put, that if we choose to approach all of life mindfully, we can learn to trust and relax into anything that comes our way — even times of suffering, or anxiety, or stress. Any experience that arises is an opportunity to learn non-attachment, to practice gentleness and mindful awareness, and to cultivate a spirit of trust and basic friendship toward ourselves (even our failings) and our experiences. “Unconditional confidence” does not mean living a robotic life in which we never feel doubt or fear or disappointment, but rather a mindful and “heartful” life in which even the challenges that come our way are seen as dharma — as occasions to grow.

Pema Chödrön is a wise and warm teacher, and her down-to-earth manner makes her message accessible and inviting. Her ability to laugh gently at herself is a witness to her humility (in the best sense of the word) and the quality of her message. Listening to her (whether lecturing or conversing in her interview with Tami Simon), I came away with a sense that true confidence and trust is available to anyone who really wants it; the key is not years of almost super-human meditation practice (although she is clear that a disciplined meditation life can only help the fostering of confidence); rather, the key seems to be learning to cherish every moment that life brings us, by “leaping into, smiling at, and experiencing” all of life, even those moments that seem to be filled with fear or angst.

The interview disc includes honest discussion of such issues of physical pain and health issues, facing death, dealing with explosive interpersonal relationships and “triggers,” and other real-world considerations of when confidence is not something that flows naturally, but must be mindfully cultivated. Pema’s vulnerability in speaking of her own imperfections and challenges is particularly inspiring and reinforces her basic message that unconditional confidence is not about living a perfect life void of any doubt or fear, but simply a life in which all of our messy imperfections are embraced with kindness and mindful non-attachment.

Disclosure: a complimentary copy of  the book reviewed in this post was supplied to me by the publisher. If you follow the link of any book mentioned in this post and purchase it or other products from Amazon.com, I receive a small commission from Amazon. Thank you for doing so — it is the easiest way you can support this blog.


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  1. Thanks for sharing this. One of the things that has always drawn me to Buddhist practice is the emphasis on detachment and letting go and the very practical application to everyday life. While we are sustained by Grace, encompassed about with love and live our lives immersed in the sea of God’s mercy, there is still the need for practical tools in our spiritual tool box. Mindfulness, letting go, acceptance and doing the next thing provide those. As we live mindfully and give ourselves in trust to the divine mystery we feel connected to something larger than ourselves and are able to rest in God.

  2. Thank you for this, Carl.
    Through reading a couple of her books some time back, I learned from Pema Chödrön to welcome feelings that I used to keep at arms’ length… To breathe in the fear and let it go… To dialogue with them…
    I still have much to learn. I’m just always surprised by her wisdom and kindness when I watch her on YouTube or read something she has written.
    Thanks again.

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