PEMA CHÖDRÖN’S “WHEN THINGS FALL APART”
The Wisdom Of Pema Chödrön
Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing cracked pottery and ceramics with precious metals. It literally translates as golden joinery or golden repair. By mixing gold, silver, or platinum in with the glue that binds broken pottery shards back together, the final form serves to emphasize the cracks and breakages in the piece. I can’t think of a more illustrative philosophy for life.
We have all had times in our lives when it feels like the world has shattered beyond repair. It can seem at some point that the life we have been building for ourselves has been irreparably destroyed. This can come in many forms. A sudden career change. A life-altering injury. A broken relationship. What can we do when this happens?
In my last article about Pema Chödrön and fear, I touched on how the Buddhist guru approaches the feeling of fear. In this article, I want to delve a little deeper into some of her teachings, and introduce people to one of her most inspiring books: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Out of all of Chödrön’s books, this one has had the most profound effect on my life.
What To Do When Things Fall Apart
The first thing to realize is how lucky you are. This sounds absurd, I know. Your life has fallen apart and become unmoored from reality – how can this possibly be lucky? Let’s look into a fundamental Buddhist philosophy, the process of life and rebirth. You now have the chance to rebuild and become new. However, if you want to become new, the old has to die. Colonel Steve Austin didn’t just become the 6 million dollar man spontaneously – he was destroyed and rebuilt.
Pema Chödrön says that the feeling of “hopelessness” when life falls apart is the basic ground. We can begin our new journey without the hope of security and the ties to our last chapter – the chapter that has fallen apart. Shed your last life, in the way it sheds your skin.
Another point that Pema Chödrön emphasizes is the importance of meditation. I think one of the biggest changes you can make in your life is to start meditating. There are hundreds of resources out there to help you start, from books and classes to helpful apps like Headspace. However you want to approach it is fine – but make sure you start.
In When Things Fall Apart, Chödrön highlights the goal with meditation – the idea that we meditate not to pull away from the life, but to become more connected. If your life plan has suffered a disaster and you find yourself un-moored, it can be tempting to run away and escape. But the best tactic to take is not one of escape, but moving closer.
In Chödrön’s teachings on fear, she tells us not to face away from what we are scared of but face into it, and touch it. When meditating, this is the goal. We aren’t escaping our life – we are connecting to it, facing towards it and embracing it. It can often be tempting to look at teachers like gurus on top of the mountain, who can escape modern life. But look at Chödrön – she doesn’t escape from her meditation or ascend to the top of the mountain. She connects with life every day with her teachings.
I think that the biggest thing I took from When Things Fall Apart is that “life is a good teacher”. When disaster strikes and it feels like fate has had its evil way with us, it feels like life can be the enemy. But this simply isn’t the case. I do genuinely believe Pema Chödrön when she says that life is a good teacher and a good friend. The disasters that I have, and the ones that are undoubtedly to come, are all opportunities to grow. Just like the ancient art of Kintsugi, take things that have shattered and rebuild them with gold.