FUNNY WOMEN #113: BUDDHIST NUN PEMA CHÖDRÖN REWRITES THE CLASSICS

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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

I’ve certainly had better boat trips. I don’t deny there was a certain strangeness to seeing an ivory-trading middle manager succumb to frenzied rituals put on by a tribe who seemed too attached to costumes, masks, and screaming (but I don’t judge them), and that I wasn’t unsettled, ultimately, to see people’s heads impaled on sticks with their scalps sliced open and straw stuck into the gray matter to emulate death rays. I can’t say this was pleasant, but life isn’t always pleasant. It’s just what is. Just as Kurtz let go of the conventions and restrictions of Belgian society, so must I let go of expectations of river trips. Kurtz, I would say, forgot to pay attention to his breath, and  he got a little out of balance, but this happens, we’re all human, and sometimes we’re being skinned alive by screaming cannibals. The world keeps turning.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Why am I so attached to the idea that I have a twin soul and his name is Heathcliff? There’s nothing wrong with Edgar Linton. He’s a perfectly fine fellow and even a little bit handsome if looked at from one angle. Heathcliff, it’s true, has a rugged profile and a dark, smoldering allure, plus I understand every atom of him with a love that surpasses understanding, but those feelings can just be looked at, accepted, and let go. There will be other feelings. What’s so special about those feelings?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“At last I see everything clearly,” Anna said to herself, watching train tracks roll beneath her feet. “Vronsky doesn’t love me anymore, but since we all exist in a state of wholeness with each other, his desertion shouldn’t bother me. All love is self-love. And yes, I’m shunned by Moscow society, but I need to let go of my need for outside validation. Everything we need is within. It’s hard that my husband won’t let me see my son. Yes, that is hard. Things seem a bit bleak right now, but I can still get enjoyment from crossword puzzles and other simple diversions. I’ll go to the dining car for some tea. It’s cold out here.”

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The Unnameable by Samuel Beckett

I can’t go on. Well, I can, but I choose to let negative thoughts dominate me. They keep me from awakening my compassionate heart and embracing loving-kindness. It would be more positive to impartially observe my negative thoughts, apply a joyful state of mind, and then let all my thoughts go. I might begin this passage: “I can go on. Yes, I’ll go on with confidence.” Better.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

That little golden-haired girl has done wonders for my crabbed, joyless existence. But if she roams away to another town and decides to stay with another miser, then that’s the way it goes. She can restore his faith in humanity, and I’ll go back to meditating on all that provokes resentment. Life is change.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

“Our nada, who art in nada” suggests by its bitter, sarcastic tone that there once was something other than “nada” to pray to. But the duality of self and object, self and other, is an illusion. To be accurate, we should just say “Nada.” Or “Nada nada nada, hare hare hare” would have a nice ring. In any case, it’s negative and ultimately meaningless to address, even sarcastically, a hole that a deity once supposedly filled.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

If we get him, we get him. If we don’t, we don’t. There are probably other white whales out there. We can hunt them! In any case, attachment to one goal is unbalanced. Process is more important than results. Also, inner wholeness. I’ve seen the white whale go by more than once, but I haven’t said anything. Ahab would thank me if he fully grasped the importance of letting go.

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I’ve never been so bored in my life . . . yet everything I need is right here, in this small, stultifying village, while I wait for my dull, thick-headed husband to get home. “Need” is a false construct anyway—we only “are.” I feel restless sometimes, but why do I believe things would be different anywhere else? Let me focus on my breath. Why should life be interesting? Even “life” is a false idea. Let me accept that. Null . . . trancelike . . .  nothingness. Is this what they mean by enlightenment?

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Rumpus original art by Annie Daly.

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Kristy Eldredge writes for newyorker.com, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, Brooklyn Magazine, RobotButt, and other websites. She writes the humor blog The Laffs Institute and is the writer-director of the video series Robot Secretary, which is about a robot with a bad attitude. More from this author →