Start where you are

Title: Start Where You Are: How to Accept Yourself and Others

Author: Pema Chödrön

Publisher: Thorsons

Year: 2005

ISBN: 9780007190621

Book notes

In the preface, Pema Chödrön sets out the purpose of start where you are; it is instruction on how to open, how to give and how to be there for others. It focuses on the lojong practice and teaching. The practice is a form of meditation. The teaching is a series of slogans. The purpose of both, as I read it, is to teach us how to be more compassionate with ourselves and in doing so, be more compassionate with other people.

The main lessons I took from this book are to lean in to painful or challenging situations, to allow them to open up our vulnerability, while at the same time trying not to cling on to, or pin down, pleasurable situations, in favour of letting them go and sharing the joy we take from them with the world.

Each chapter introduces a new set of slogans. They are presented as a challenge and an invitation to reflect on how we think and behave. There are recurring themes and phrases which reinforce the message of the slogans. Some of these have stayed with me long after I’ve put the book down and I’ve found I return to them often through my journaling. For example:

  • drop the storyline
  • good and bad coexist
  • take down your defences
  • let it go

This is definitely a book that will benefit from repeat readings. The author says herself that we’re not expected to fully understand any of it. It’s about awareness and practice.


The reason we’re often not there for others—whether for our child or our mother or someone who is insulting us or someone who frightens us—is that we’re not there for ourselves. There are whole parts of ourselves that are so unwanted that whenever they begin to come up we run away.

By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things. We are all in this together.

Be generous with your joy. Give away what you most want. Be generous with your insights and delights. Instead of fearing that they’re going to slip away and holding on to them, share them.

Everything is changing all the time, and we keep wanting to pin it down, to fix it. So whenever you come up with a solid conclusion, let the rug be pulled out. You can pull out your own rug, and you can also let life pull it out for you.

Resistance to unwanted circumstances has the power to keep those circumstances alive and well for a very long time.

All of the teachings, and particularly the lojong teachings, are encouraging us, if we find ourselves struggling, to let that be a moment where we pause and wonder and begin to breathe in, trying to feel what’s underneath the struggle.

“You’re never going to get it all together. There isn’t going to be some precious future time when all the loose ends will be tied up.” Even though it was shocking to me, it rang true. One of the things that keeps us unhappy is this continual searching for pleasure or security, searching for a little more comfortable situation, either at the domestic level or at the spiritual level or at the level of mental peace.

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about emma

I am a coach and facilitator helping people to pause, reflect and make conscious choices about what comes next. In my writing I explore themes of personal development, reflective practice and what it means to live well.