Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambala Classics, 1997).
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. Its 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.
When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure….
When things fall apart and we’re on
the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on
that brink and not concretize. The spiritual journey is not about
heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In
fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable.
Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what
in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and
round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly. The very first
noble truth of Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human
beings as long as we believe that things last – that they don’t
disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for
security. From this point of view, the only time we ever know
what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we
can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either
to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now –
in the very instant of groundlessness – is the seed of taking care
of those who need our care of discovering our goodness…
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-centre, 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 – that is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gentling and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior…”