American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron in a collection of short but powerful essays compassionately answers the question, how does one live their life, in the face of fear, anxiety and pain? Self-help and spirituality are woven together to create a beautiful mosaic of hope in a sea of despair; making it indispensable for anyone seeking the wisdom and courage to overcome the obstacles in their life.
My key Takeaways from “When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chödrön:
Takeaway #1 Embrace The Demons
Very few people enjoy feeling scared but it's something we must learn to deal with and overcome rather than run away from or ignore as facing our fears allow us to gain a new perspective about ourselves. Spend time reflecting on your fear, understanding it from a deeper level, so that you can learn about the situation you find yourself in rather than slapping an emotional bandaid on and attempting to fix it blindly. Know that your life is in constant flux and that's normal – things fall into place, fall apart, and then fall back into place in a better way, even if you don't realize it right away.
Loneliness is another feeling that people often try to avoid but actually, loneliness is a fantastic opportunity to observe yourself and develop some self love. When you change the name from negative to positive, loneliness turns into solitude which is needed in order to recuperate and relax. So don't fight against loneliness, use it as an opportunity for self observation and to make friends with yourself.
Takeaway #2 Hope vs Fear
When faced with tough times you may think it's hope that keeps you going. But hope can actually be detrimental to your wellbeing for fear and hope are emotions that go hand in hand. Think about it... we hope life will get better but also fear that it won't. It's important to question our hopes and fears as this can set us free from anxiety, showing us how unimportant they really are and allowing us to a life free from disappointment.
As humans, our biggest fear is our own death but by fearing death we can lose out on enjoying all of life. Accept that death is natural and you'll better be able to accept the other endings in your life be that a job loss, relationship ending or loss of a friend.
Takeaway #3 The Meaning of Life
When searching for an answer to this question just remember to embrace the 3 truths of existence - impermanence, suffering, and egoless as this will help you to become a more compassionate person.
1. Embracing impermanence is easier when done at the beginning of something than at the end ie when a child is born, or when you're in the first flush of new love rather than at the end of the cycle so be happy for a new day, not sad when it comes to an end.
2. Embrace suffering – There's no love without loss, no pleasure without pain so notice how you react to suffering but be gentle with yourself – notice the emotion but don't beat yourself up for feeling that way, instead see what you can learn.
3. Embracing egolessness means you can learn to feel at peace with your past as well as your future meaning you're free to live in the present moment and enjoy every second of it. Lack of ego is not a lack of confidence but instead, a sign of deep inner peace.
Takeaway #4 Putting It Into Practise
Use meditation to recenter yourself when you feel powerless – Don't struggle with your thoughts or emotions, investigate them.
Turn suffering into a wake up call – When you feel passionate, addicted, ignorant, or aggressive don't suppress or deny the feeling, use the tonglen breathing exercise to turn pain into joy. To do this, breath in the pain you feel, and breath out the joy you'd like to feel.
Remember that you are exactly where you need to be and that everything is alive and perfect as it is – Use this moment to work with the lemons you've been given and make lemonade!
When Things Fall Apart Chapters
Chapter One - Intimacy with Fear
Chapter Two - When Things Fall Apart
Chapter Three - Overcoming Your Body
Chapter Four - Relax As It Is
Chapter Five - It's Never Too Late
Chapter Six - Not Causing harm
Chapter Seven - Hopelessness and Death
Chapter Eight - Eight Worldly Dharmas
Chapter Nine - Six Kinds of Loneliness
Chapter Ten - Curious about Existence
Chapter Eleven - Nonaggression and the Four Maras
Chapter Twelve - Growing Up
Chapter Thirteen - Widening the Circle of Compassion
Chapter Fourteen - The Love That Will Not Die
Chapter Fifteen - Going Against the Grain
Chapter Sixteen - Servants of Peace
Chapter Seventeen - Opinions
Chapter Eighteen - Secret Oral Instructions
Chapter Nineteen - Three Methods for Working with Chaos
Chapter Twenty - The Trick of Choicelessness
Chapter Twenty-One - Reversing the Wheel of Samsara
Chapter Twenty-Two - The Path is the Goal
Best Quotes from When Things Fall Apart
"The Most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently."
"Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth"
"The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves."
"Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look."
"To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is ot be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is tobe alwas in no man's - land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again."
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know
…nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. but what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
"Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape -- all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, "May I have permission to go into battle with you?" Fear said, "Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission." Then the young warrior said, "How can I defeat you?" Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power." In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.”
“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”
“We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts.”
“I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us...It was all about letting go of everything.”
“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there's a big disappointment, we don't know if that's the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don't know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don't know.”
― Pema Chödrön - When Things Fall Apart
Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.