When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Genre: Health
Publisher: Shambhala
Published: 6/7/2016
"The advice Chödrön offers is radically different from other self-help prescriptions on the market. This book could serve you for a lifetime."—Natural Health How can we go on living when things fall apart, when we are overcome by pain, fear, and anxiety? Pema Chödrön's answer to that question contains some spectacularly good news: there is a fundamental happiness readily available to each one of us, no matter how difficult things seem to be.

Book Summary - When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Key Insights

Life has a way of throwing things at us, and it can be hard to shake it off and keep moving. With the help of Pema Chödrön and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, readers get the guidance they need to handle life knocking you down.

While it can be hard to escape struggle, there are ways that we can learn to approach our lives so that even when we approach an obstacle, we can accept it and find a way to move forward.

Key Points

Self-knowledge comes from being able and willing to embrace your fears

While we may not like being scared, there are times when we should learn to embrace our fears.

Getting to know the things that make us afraid, rather than avoiding those fears, can allow us a chance to gain a new perspective on our lives. We can learn more about our past, the relationships we are in, or have been in, and we can even gain a better understanding of our own personalities.

When we are facing a problem, it is often fear that comes on first. And by embracing that fear, we can learn how to move past it.

In order to understand your fears, you must reflect on them, and why you are afraid, to begin with. When things go wrong in our lives, we often try to find a solution without spending enough time learning more about the situation we find ourselves in, particularly what led to this problem in the first place.

One of the first things we need to do is realize that life is always changing and evolving. Things will fall into place as they are meant to, just as they are likely to fall apart at times. And of course, there are times when things will come together in unusual ways.

The only way we can learn to really embrace our fear and learn from the process of life is to allow space for things to happen, both good and bad. Sometimes something positive can come because of those shocking moments in life.

Being lonely is an opportunity for both self-love and personal observation

Much like fear, we often try to avoid being lonely. However, there is something to be said for being on our own, as it gives a chance at a level of solitude that is relaxing, recuperative, and even recentering.

On a daily basis, many of us are juggling a social life with our work life. We are always trying to improve ourselves and achieve bigger and better things. However, there is an alternative to this high energy lifestyle, and that is the “middle way.”

In order to live life in the middle, we must find a way to observe life and problems for what they are. The only way to observe these things is to actually embark on a mission of solitude. It’s important to remember that solitude is not a negative thing.

If you find yourself feeling lonely, don’t think that there is anything wrong with you. Instead, you want to embrace the feeling. These are times to embrace being alone in order to self reflect. In fact, this is a perfect opportunity to try meditation.

Remember that meditation can be about observing yourself and letting go of long-held beliefs. This is your chance to take a peek into your own mind.

Hope can actually be a detriment to our lives

While it has long been believed that hope is what allows a chance to cope with adversity, it can actually make us more fearful. Hope can actually lead us to disappointment and even make us feel anxious about what the future may hold.

In the Tibetan culture, there is a word, re-dok which encapsulates the relationship between hope and fear. Re-dok is a feeling of duality which basically captures our on-going dissatisfaction with ourselves.

In many ways, we are caught between hope for greater things and a fear that if we fail it will reflect badly on ourselves.

When you think of the last time you were dissatisfied with yourself, did you spend time exploring the embarrassment you felt? By taking the time to question both our hopes and fears, we actually give ourselves the freedom to let go of constant disappointment.

By actively questioning the things we fear and the hopes we have, we are showing ourselves how unimportant these things really are.

While we all have a unique set of fears and hopes, the one thing that seems universal is a fear of mortality. This fear of death can prevent us from fully embracing the lives we live. It doesn’t help that every day we are being presented with so many different endings, from the end of relationships to quitting a job.

However, if we can find a way to accept these endings as a natural part of the flow of life, we can learn that even death is something we do not need to fear.

We get close to the meaning of life when we celebrate our suffering and impermanence

As humans, we tend to struggle with the question of why we exist. And while there is no concrete answer, there are still things to consider.

First, it is important to understand that the essence of life is impermanence. While it can be scary, we should be celebrating that impermanence, because we can recognize the beauty in new beginnings. These new beginnings include everything from falling in love, giving birth, and even starting a brand new day.

Suffering is something we should all expect to experience in our lives. We should remember that with pleasure comes pain, and we are often inspired by things that others may see as wretched. While it may seem odd, we should celebrate suffering for what it allows us to appreciate in terms of finding happiness even in the midst of misery.

Finally, we should be embracing the psychological state of egolessness, which is when we feel no ego. This will actually allow us to embrace our past, present, and future while helping us live more at the moment.

Rather than thinking of a lack of ego as a lack of confidence, we should really think of this as a sign of happiness. Break free of being self-absorbed by being more curious. This will also help us appreciate the life we are currently living in.

We love ourselves more when we are more compassionate with others

Taking the time to work on yourself is not actually as egocentric as it sounds. Instead, it is a way to become more compassionate with others. And this is important to love yourself more.

Compassion is not just about making a connection with people who are less fortunate than us, but all of the people around us. When we practice a more compassionate lifestyle, we also find that we are more accepting of ourselves.

A zen teacher spoke to the author about being compassionate with others and explained that in their own life they found that when they built relationships with people that others in society had cast aside, it allowed them to get in touch with the parts that they themselves had rejected internally.

We should be training ourselves to want to help others. We should feel compassion for all living things. This sense of encompassing compassion can help to give us a better sense of community, purpose, and even overall connection with others.

We can get through tough times with the help of breathing, meditation, and a new perspective of the world

All of these lessons can be applied to our lives in an effort to get us through the tough times in life. However, it can be hard at times to practice these things. In order to stay on track, there are strategies we can practice to live a more happy life.

Using meditation to recenter yourself is very important when you feel a sense of powerlessness. Remember to embrace the negative thoughts and really investigate why you feel the way you do. Find a way to answer the tough questions.

Use your times of suffering as a sort of wake-up call. Remember to use breathing techniques to breathe in the negative and then breathe out in an effort to feel a sense of freedom within yourself.

Remember that everything is perfect the way it is and we need to stop trying to make ourselves look better because we are as we are meant to be. And we need to stop hiding from problems that can’t be ignored. Instead, we need to face these things head-on.

Learn from the present and allow it to be a teacher.

The Main Take-away

You can better face challenging times when you find a way to incorporate things such as self-acceptance, reflection, and an appreciation for living in the moment. By learning about the things you fear, as well as embracing being alone, you can learn to deal with life in a better manner than before.

And when you practice compassion with others, you will find that you are able to better love yourself as well.

Accept where you are in life right now and remember that meditation is about more than just a breathing technique, it is a way to become more mindful of the self, while also incorporating a sense of stability and calmness into your life.

About the Author

Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist, ordained nun, the former acharya of Shambhala Buddhism and disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She’s the author of several dozen books and audiobooks and a principal teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, Canada.

She was born in 1936 in New York City. She grew up on a New Jersey farm with her sister and brother. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a degree in English literature. She also obtained a master’s in elementary education from the University of California, Berkeley.


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