Good day team,
The theme of this week’s challenge is about coping with situations when things fall apart.
A few days ago, I learned that a child of one of my clients died in a terrible accident. This put me into a state of shock and despair. What could I do? I felt so helpless. My heart went out to my dear client and her family. Her loss reminded me how impermanent life is and how we take it for granted.
I found comfort in the wisdom of a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. She is a prolific author and well known Buddhist teacher. In 1997, she wrote a book entitled, “When Things Fall Apart.” I have found her thoughts to be very helpful in times of difficulty.
Here is some of what Pema Chodron has to say about dealing with loss and uncertainty.
“When the bottom falls out and we can’t find anything to grasp, it hurts a lot. It’s like the Naropa Institute motto: “Love of the truth puts you on the spot.” We might have some romantic view of what that means, but when we are nailed with the truth, we suffer. We look in the bathroom mirror and there we are with pimples, our aging face, our lack of kindness, our aggression and timidity – all that stuff.
“This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.
“It’s a kind of testing, the kind of testing that spiritual warriors need in order to awaken their hearts. Sometimes it’s because of illness or death that we find ourselves in this place. We experience a sense of loss – loss of our loved ones, loss of our youth, loss of our life.
“I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking. He said, “I didn’t want this, and I hated this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.” He said, “Now, every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me.” Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift.
“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. 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.
“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 a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.
“I read somewhere about a family who had only one son. There were very poor. This son was extremely precious to them, and the only thing that mattered to his family was that he bring them some financial support and prestige. Then he was thrown from a horse and crippled. It seemed like the end of their lives. Two weeks after that, the army came into the village and took away all the healthy, strong men to fight in the war, and this young man was allowed to stay behind and take care of his family.
“Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.
“The very first noble truth of the 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 has been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations to either wake us up or put us back to sleep. Right now – in the very instant of groundlessness – is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and 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-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.”
This week, your challenge is to try not to escape your pain and suffering. Instead, try following Pema Chodron’s advice about “moving toward painful situations to the best of your ability with friendliness and curiosity, relaxing into the essential groundlessness of our entire situation. It is there, in the midst of chaos, that we can discover the truth and love that are indestructible.”
This week has reminded me of what’s important to me. It’s allowed me to show my appreciation for the life and people that surround me. It has opened up opportunities to be kind to others. It’s a great comfort to extend kindness out to another when you are suffering yourself. And, if suffering has caused your life to fall apart, let it fall. Trying to prevent real suffering is like trying to catch sand falling through open fingers. Things will change and one day, you will notice the suffering is gone and you are experiencing joy.
“Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, to not run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. Fear of death is the background of the whole thing. It’s why we feel restless, why we panic, why there’s anxiety. But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.” Pema Chodron
Have a good week!
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