When Things Fall Apart

Two weeks ago the mother of a dear friend died of breast cancer. I will be seeing her this Saturday for the first time in a year. This past weekend a former employee of the school I work at died of a heart attack and he was only 35. Yesterday one of the dear ninth grade students at my school fell into a coma. This week has definitely reinforced the bittersweet reality of life.

This evening I was searching for my copy of Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” to give to my friend whose mother passed away (coincidentally her mother is a childhood friend of my mother’s) when I see her in a few days. I decided to type up some of my favorite excerpts from this very beautiful, inspirational book.

“the need for maitri (loving-kindness toward oneself), and developing from that the awakening of a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.  It seemed to me that the view behind every single talk was that we could step into uncharted territory and relax with the groundlessness of our situation… “leaning into the sharp points” (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche)…making friends with our own demons and their accompanying insecurity leads to a very simple, understated relaxation and joy. (p. 1-2)

 “becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye—not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking. The truth is when we really begin to do this, we’re going to be continually humbled…the kinds of discoveries made through practice have nothing to do with believing in anything. They have much more to do with having the courage to die, the courage to die continuously.” (p. 7)

“we don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know…the spiritual journey is not about heaven and getting to a place that’s really swell…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 t satisfy our hunger for security.”  (p. 15)

“the spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.” (p. 23)

“we sit in meditation so that we’ll be more awake in our lives.” (p. 24)

“the point is still to lean toward the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than to protect ourselves from it.” (p. 25)

“awakeness is found in our lease and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.” (p. 26)

maitri = unconditional friendliness

“opening and relaxing with whatever arises.” (p. 31)

“as meditators we might as well stop struggling against our thoughts and realize that honesty and humor are far more inspiring and helpful than any kind of solemn religious striving for or against anything.” (p. 32)

on maitri…

“self-deception becomes so skillfully and compassionately exposed that there’s no mask that can hide us anymore…what makes maitri so different is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain g away of to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideas fall apart.” (p. 37)

“the trick then is to practice gentleness and letting go. We can learn t meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax.” (p. 37)

“if we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.” (p. 51)

“nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of  the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. We sometimes think that dharma is something outside of ourselves—something to believe in, something to measure up to. However, dharma isn’t a belief; it isn’t dogma. It is total appreciation of impermanence and change…dharma gives us nothing to hold on to…For those who want something to hold on to life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view theism is an addiction.” (p. 53-54)

“abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning…hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.” (p. 55)

“taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma and Sangha is about giving up hope of getting ground under our feet…Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we’re going to make the journey with the hope of getting security. If we make the journey to get security, we’re completely missing the point…we can do our meditation practice with the hope of getting security; we can study the teachings with the hope of getting security; we can follow all of the guidelines and instructions with the hope of getting security; but it will only lead to disappointment and pain. We could save ourselves a lot of time by taking this message very seriously right now. Begin the journey without hope of getting ground under your feet. Begin with hopelessness. ” (p. 56)

“giving up hope is encouragement to stick with your self, to make friends with yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on…if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up hope of all 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.” (p. 59)

“our fundamental situation is joyful.” (p. 79)

“the essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter.” (p. 95)

“wanting situations and relationships to be solid, permanent, and graspable obscures the pith of the matter, which is that things are fundamentally groundless…everything is ambiguous; everything is always shifting and changing.” (p. 110)