“When Things Fall Apart,” by Pema Chodron, is a short 146 page book that is stunning in its truth and simplicity. I feel the title is not a good choice because it is such a life affirming book. This book could change your relationship to the inevitable changes that occur in life.
Chodron, an American Buddhist monk, helps us understand how our thoughts can increase our pain and confusion and cause harm in ourselves and others. She proposes many fascinating ways to stay on the brink of change and not concretize. Although we can’t avoid pain, once we realize that things come together and things fall apart, then come together again and fall apart again, there is room for healing.
We can make room in our lives for grief and joy. We don’t have to hold our breath in fear of the next change. For example, as I type these words, I know I’ll never be writing this review again – that moment has passed. Can I adjust to that? Can I accept that even with the miracle of word processing, my words are impermanent? I don’t know what will happen next, but this day will be over and I have no idea what will actually happen tomorrow.
So many of our reactions are habitual. Chodron offers several ways to observe the spinning off we do as a result of the reactions to our impulses. As she says, “Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear.” This book, written from Western sensibilities, is an effort to calmly and concisely address the need for loving kindness towards oneself and developing from that a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.
These are priceless teachings on honesty, kindness, and bravery. This book is profoundly relevant to the ups and downs of ordinary life. Restlessness, heat and an uncomfortable desire for escape accompanies transition. In this book, change itself is given a place to be understood and looked at with a new perspective.
As a bonus, the author is very funny! She’s warm and witty and the book comes alive with her light touch. This lightness makes it a perfect summer read.