When Things Fall Apart

Caroline's seagull 1Between the harbours of our pain and our joy, the sunlit bays that lull, and the rocky coves where beached whales gasp for breath, is the journey. Learning to navigate through clear waters and perfect storms keeps us learning, keeps us evolving, keeps us awake.

Sometimes all it takes is the right book to help us chart our way.

Pema Chödrön’s ‘When Things Fall Apart’ is one of those books I gift to folk and re-read every year, drinking it in to quench a thirst that never goes away. She takes all of life, wraps it up in a gentle smile and makes me grateful to be here right now… and happy to be me. If you haven’t got the time or energy to read one of my long, rambly posts, skip to the bottom; there are some great quotes.

Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives. ~ Pema Chödrön

A new me reads it every year. Last year, a death in the family changed us all; the year before that, I lost two friends to cancer and four survived. And every year, this book speaks to me like a friend who knows and understands the essential me but is aware of my constantly evolving circumstances, offering relevant advice for each one.

This is no bright white toothed self-help guru, survivor turned writer, making me mutter “Oh, give me a break!” This is a person who gently unravels all the pain, happiness and conflicting thoughts and emotions that make us human, but who points out that there, there where we notice those states in ourselves and in others is the learning, the living, the enlightenment and the loving. In the space between the inbreath and the outbreath, the silence between the notes, the glide between the beating of a bird’s wings, that’s where all of our peace and wisdom reside.

Chances are, if you visit my blog, we’ve a lot in common and you’ve probably read this book. If you haven’t, and you’d like a gentle introduction to Buddhism and an instruction manual for a simpler, kinder, richer life, please give it a go. I reread it last week and today’s the happiest I’ve been for months. I accidentally pressed publish on this post earlier instead of saving a draft; the original detailed some of the challenges I’ve had and dealt with this week, but to be honest, I bored myself reading them so I deleted all but one.

I stepped on and broke my cherished old Kindle and feared I’d lost the hundreds of quotes and passages I’d lovingly curated over the years and all the ‘collections’ I’d organised ruthlessly, even though the books themselves stayed safe in The Cloud. But I trawled dozens of forums, tried what folk suggested, and hours later managed to rescue the quotes, because they mattered, because they were pieces of life that had resonated with me and were already distilled right down to the essence.

Which brings me back to Pema. These passages from ‘When Things Fall Apart’ were highlighted in my Kindle. I was going to share them with you gradually, but life’s too short to hold onto things that cry out to be shared.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy…

…Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior…

…Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

        From ‘When Things Fall Apart’ ~ by Pema Chödrön.



  1. Hi Janice – I’ll be back ‘shortly’ … good to see you’ve posted and I look forward to reading your wise words … as you’ve experienced much and can help us all from your calm perceptive space with your thoughts and ideas – for us then to take away and distil what we need today … and can find out what we might need to remember for the tomorrows of life …

    Cheers and hugs – Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary – good to see you (and your cheery hat) as always! Don’t know about wise, well, maybe wise in that I can spot a good book when I read one and extract and cherish the treasure in it. The passages I’ve highlighted in books that sycnchronicity has sent me always seem to resurface when I need to hear them; they buoy me up and stop me going under when it would be so tempting sometimes.

      I guess that’s why I keep coming back to share things here despite the zero and single figure comments; I still believe that there’s a silent reader out there somewhere hoping for signs, for support, someone who just needs to hear that everything’s going to be OK, that being alive and human is enough, that who we are, what we are today, is enough, enough to help us do our own unique bit to heal the world. If we feel pain, we can see it in others and maybe help; if we know joy, we can wish it for other folk; if we’ve been affected by death, we can use it to fuel a fierce desire to cherish life.

  2. Reading the post and your reply to Hilary, two impressions occur. First, the artist offers freely – as you do! And second that life is a series of re-memberings, so often prompted by another’s expression, finger pointing, sharing of vulnerabilities, struggles, resilience clearing the pathway, and more. Thank you for reminding me of this extraordinary book, which I’ve frequently revisited yet forgotten about as a resourceful old friend. XO

    1. Hi Connie – you’re welcome and thanks, as always, for commenting. I deeply appreciate all visitors who still take the time to comment; my stats and comments don’t tally – more views than comments – but I’d be lying if I said the situation didn’t sadden me. I know it’s my own fault – more blog breaks than blogging – but I fear there’s no way back from this one.

      I was tempted to post something cheerfully frivolous to announce my joy at successfully moving my blog to a new root domain, but I was ground down and exhausted by all the technical challenges I’d had to overcome, so I decided instead to share something I find inexpressably useful. I, too, see old books and treasured CD’s as resourceful old friends. New passages and phrases leap out to guide me every time I re-read them, like synchronicity’s very own GPS & SatNav system!

      I’m currently having to deal with a pretty major post-op problem since the root domain transfer – I can no longer upload new photos – and it’s the closest I’ve ever got to permanently throwing in the towel rather than taking a blog break. Yet another reason to read this book with presence and focus.

  3. Dear Janice, How come you always know what I need to hear? Thank you! Now I feel that I can stay with my rumbling stomach and not feel that I am not living until I have overcome it, or escaped from it. That in fact I need to just let it rumble on! I haven’t read the book you talk about but I will certainly have a look for it now. I look forward to spending some moments of wisdom and peace “in the glide between the beating of a bird’s wings” and I do hope you will too.

    1. I’m so sorry, Jane – I just found this comment in my spam filter! No idea why. 🙁 Luckily I recognised your gravatar before I deleted everything. I’m glad to see you back, and happy that this wee appreciation of Pema’s book landed just when it was meant to. So many comments and blogposts from blogging friends do that for me, too; it’s like synchronicitymail. I’m feeling much better, much stronger, thank you, and a lot of it’s due to having lovely friends online. I’m glad I made it back. And thank you for framing my words and making them sound as lovely as a proper quote!

  4. Thanks for this, Janice. The first of the three quotes towards the end really resonated with me – things come together and then they fall apart and things fall apart then come together again and that’s just how it is. There’s another quote I can’t remember about how we tend to wait for life’s problems to go away or be solved so that we can get on with our lives, but the endless appearance and disappearance of these things, well, that actually is what constitutes our life. When we’re in the middle of something upsetting it’s tempting to get into the mindset of believing that it’s forever, but it never is. And what seemed like a major catastrophe this week, can end up being something we take in our stride the next, or at least, something that we find the resources to cope with.

    So sorry to hear of your blog troubles. Don’t be put off by getting no or few comments – a while back I went – quite quickly – from regularly getting half a dozen comments on each post to none or at best one or two. I lost motivation and stopped writing my blog for six months, but what I realise now is that it’s a general thing and that people simply aren’t so likely to leave comments as they used to be. My statistics and my comments don’t match up either, and I’m trying to trust that there are lots of silent readers out there that enjoy my words and pictures even though I’m not aware of it.

    So pleased you managed to get your quotes back, and hope the issue with the picture uploads can be resolved.
    Gilly recently posted…an experiment!My Profile

    1. Hi Gilly – great to see you back! I’m glad you returned to blogging and kept the integrity of what you do, that skillful combination of writing and photography, self expression and subtle mentoring. I’m loving all the honest experimenting and sharing going on over at your blog right now, the way you keep your blog’s contemplative focus while giving your self-expression freedom to explore.

      So many blogs used to have that magic, a blend of unique humanity and focused choice of content, with the bonus of connection, community and inspiration in the comment boxes, but like you, I think folks’ attitudes to blogging and commenting in general have changed.

      Most blogs and twitter feeds I visit these days belong to determined, multi-talented creative people, but what draws me there is the quiet resilience of folk who do what they love and have a simple but powerful longing to share it with the world.

      That quote you mentioned (I wish I could remember it; I think I know the one you mean) reminded me of another one I like by John Lennon; a coaching friend of mine always shares it with me when I’m drowning in my own dramas and I can’t see straight:

      Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

      Just before I found your comment, I managed, with my superhero husband’s help, to get my photos working again. 🙂 He phoned from work to tell me about solutions he’d found in forums and on Google. I was so exhausted, I just pressed delete on something he mentioned and it worked! I’ve had 3 days of email exchanges with server support folk, a different person in each email and I think he did it to save my sanity and help me get some sleep. I’m doggedly determined and can’t give up on something that has value to me, like my blog does. There’s a story in there somewhere but for now, I’m so looking forward to posting my pathetic wee photos; to me they’ll represent a triumph of menopausal determination over digital age challenges!

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