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Review of "Knowing the Nature of Fear"

By Pema Chodron
Great Path Tapes and Books, 1999
Review by Patricia Ferguson, PsyD on Aug 6th 2003
Knowing the Nature of Fear

If you have ever read any of Pema Chodron's books, and if you liked them, then you will probably want to own this nice lecture series on tapes. Four tapes from Berkeley, California, 1999, (published by Great Path Tapes and Books, Portage, MI) deal with different aspects of how to deal with fear. As might be expected, there are considerable similarities between the content of her books and the content of her lectures.

I've read her book When Things Fall Apart, and the book is, to me, much better, but then books typically have more information than tapes do. I can't say I find the tapes as truly inspiring as I found the book to be, but in all fairness, this book is a very special book. The tapes were never intended to replace a book--this is not a "book on tape." It really is four different lectures. One notable piece of information on the cover of the tapes is that both Pema Chodron and her students are available to the public through the Shambhala organization to work help with the material. Her organization is a group of Tibetan Buddhists, and Chodron is a nun and resident teacher in a monastery in Canada.

The main reason that these tapes are worth the money is that if you like what she has to say, having it on tape is a convenience that can be useful at many different times: riding in the car; attending a retreat where you might want to listen to tapes when you are alone; and just before bedtime. Of course, the problem with bedtime is that you may go to sleep. But if you are a believer in subliminal messages, and I am, this may be one of the best ways to really immerse yourself in her material.

People who are nervous, phobic, afraid, or simply dealing with issues of illness and death, will all find her talks about "leaning into the fear" to be a useful approach. Rather than trying to run away from the fear, it is much easier, she says, to walk right into it, and face it. This has been shown in many studies to work well for patients with phobias and obsessions, and there is no reason to think it isn't also useful for everyday fears as well.

One of the problems I did find with the tapes is that due to their lecture format, and poor editing, there are long gaps where I wasn't sure if the tape was on, had ended, or was merely in a place where she was thinking of her answer.

Also, her tone of voice was a bit off-putting to me, as she tends to use a tone of voice that is a bit superior sounding. Her books don't have that problem, of course, because you can't hear her tone of voice and I don't "hear" it in my reading of her books.

The tapes are mostly question and answer sessions following a brief introduction on a topic by Chodron. The members of the audience appear to be just regular folks from Berkeley (assuming people in Berkeley can be considered "just regular.") For that matter, the audience could have been from out of the area, because people like me would also go to see her, and I live four hours from Berkeley. Her focus tends to wander wherever the audience questions wander, but there are set topics such as the use of meditation to deal with fear. She explains that meditation can help a person identify fear, simply by sitting quietly and seeing "what comes up."

As a person who also meditates, I agree with her. Meditation can be calming, or bring up fears, and all kinds of other feelings. Since the focus of the tapes is on fear, though, that is the way she talks about meditation.

Although there are too many editing gaps, where the tape runs on, and they are almost amateurish in their organization, the tapes are still worth hearing. If you are a Buddhist who follows this school of thought, or just a person who wants to learn to deal with fear, these tapes can certainly be helpful. I thought that the tape labeled, "Meditation" would be a meditation tape, but instead it talks about using mediation. To me, that was disappointing, but I do understand the usefulness of talking about meditation. Perhaps having both would have been better: a talk about it, followed by a guided meditation.

With all the "white space" these tapes could easily have been condensed into two, and saved the listener(s) time. It is also frustrating not to know when the tape is over, as I said, and this should have been addressed.

All in all, I would say that for me, the tapes are worthwhile, but for the general public, it really depends on what you like, and how tolerant you are of the problems in editing. Her books are so much better than the tapes that it would be a shame to start with the tapes, get turned off to it, and then miss out on the good stuff she has to offer the world.


Available from Pema Chrodron Tapes


Catalog Description:


A71: KNOWING THE NATURE OF FEAR Berkeley 9/99 4 tapes. Starting with appreciating the basic goodness of all beings, the Shambhala teachings lead to the discovery of gentleness and fearlessness in everyday life. It is impossible to develop fearlessness without knowing the nature of fear.


2003 Patricia Ferguson

Dr. Patricia Ferguson is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of California, a freelance writer and editor, and an artist. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from San Diego State University and received her doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Her publications include research on rape in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, several articles on nuclear medicine for nuclear medicine technologists, and an article on group therapy in The Reader's Guide to Social Sciences. She currently writes book reviews for several venues, has a chapter in "Girl Wars: Twelve Tried and True Strategies for Overcoming Female Bullying," (Fireside, 2003), and is an Editor-in-Chief for Apollo's Lyre, an online magazine for writers. She is also working on a book of memoirs.