Pema Chödrön vs. Marilyn Monroe.

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“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ~ Marilyn Monroe


Do we prize “truth” on its merits, or weigh it differently depending on the source?


“We think that the point is to pass the test or 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. 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.”
~ Pema Chödron

So which is it? Can you glean wisdom from an actress who “lived fast, died young, and left a beautiful corpse?” Or does wisdom need to come from someone dignified and educated, someone who has dedicated her life to teaching dharma?

Maybe we can make room for both. Maybe the truth is true wherever you find it. A graffiti scrawl, a lecture, a childish exclamation…even the longings of a desperately lost young Marilyn Monroe trying to make sense of life. Maybe in the midst of things falling apart, and coming together, and falling apart again, we learn where we can. We find our gurus wherever they show up. We don’t wait for the “right” conditions.

But don’t take my word for it:

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
~ Pema Chödron

Who was your most surprising teacher this week?


Image: Marilyn Monroe: Wiki Commons

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anonymous Jul 5, 2015 7:45am

Interesting, Kate. Your question about sourcing is especially relevant as, of course, Pema Chödron's comes from his book When Things Fall Apart, but there is no evidence that Marilyn Monroe ever said, let alone wrote, the quotation in your piece that is often attributed to her. Does a "quotation" change its relevance or power, if any, by having a famous name attached to it?

anonymous Feb 26, 2013 1:15pm

[…] of Betty White with a dash of Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball, and a princess or two thrown in for levity, and that’s just a hint of how […]

anonymous Mar 16, 2012 12:36pm

[…] In the words of Marilyn Monroe, […]

anonymous Jan 7, 2012 10:42pm

[…] turn the page. Things fall apart, and come together, and fall apart again. It’s scary. There might be dragons. You might fall down a hole. You might discover treasure. […]

anonymous Dec 30, 2011 7:39pm

[…] 12. Blonde ~ Joyce Carol Oates. Marilyn Monroe is-it-fiction-is-it-a-biography goodness. Sad and lovely, like Marilyn. […]

anonymous Dec 4, 2011 10:10pm

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anonymous Dec 2, 2011 6:53pm

Great Post! Everyone we meet is a teacher. My biggest challenge is to learn from the people who drive me crazy.

anonymous Dec 2, 2011 12:52pm

What a thoughtful and wonderful way of looking at life. Our lenses can often cloud our true calling and learning. I must admit, after reading Marilyn Monroe's quote here I found distaste in my mouth and mind. I think your idea of rethinking that is important. I wonder if I hadn't seen her picture next to it and rather a Buddhist monk, would my mouth and mind like the taste? I do agree with you that gurus are everywhere and we are also our own gurus. I think we often forget about ourselves as the ultimate guru. The important thing is to be willing to keep our lens clear. Thank you!

    Kate Bartolotta Dec 2, 2011 1:23pm

    Thank you! I agree – keeping the lens clear is very important!

anonymous Dec 1, 2011 12:15am

Love this!

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anonymous Nov 30, 2011 9:33pm

All these comments have me picturing Marilyn sitting down with Pema. Can you picture it? Pema gives Marilyn a big hug, listens as Marilyn speaks and together they discuss life & spirituality. And I'm pretty sure they both come away from the table having learned from each other.

    Kate Bartolotta Nov 30, 2011 9:46pm

    I love it!!!! I want to be at that dinner party!

anonymous Nov 30, 2011 12:25am

This post is a teacher in itself. Thank you. Namastè.

anonymous Nov 29, 2011 11:40am

I think this is terrific, Kate. While i can appreciate the syntactical nuances in both statements, I do see a great similarity in both. Additionally, I think the overarching question you bring to bear is an important one. It makes me think of the double-edged expression, "consider the source". Generally, an expression like that has a negative connotation and is often associated with a vitriolic statement made by a person whose input is not to be considered of much value. I know that a statement like that has other meanings and connotations as well, but to your point, if we hear similar wisdom from two different sources, do we interpret the wisdom differently based on who said it? Nice work, Kate.

    Kate Bartolotta Nov 29, 2011 12:20pm

    Thanks Andrew! I know that if I always got hung up on considering the source, I'd miss out on many amazing teachers.

anonymous Nov 29, 2011 8:40am

Terrific post, Kate. The sexy and spiritual, the profane and the profound. Teachings are everywhere all the time, hidden within all things and all moments. We'll get our understanding when we have opened our hearts and minds to see beyond the apparent differences.

anonymous Nov 29, 2011 5:27am

I don't think things happen "for a reason", as Marilyn states. I think you can use what happens for a reason, you can make a teacher of what happens to you. So…. I suppose my latest teacher were the cockroaches in my apartment. The bitches made me stronger. Now I don't gag or scream anymore. I gather myself more easily from nausea and emotion. 🙂

And as for Marilyn vs. Pema, (aside from the whole of their personas), it seems like the background, unspoken issue would be wisdom vs. beauty… And I don't want to pick! I think there's a space for the sexy in the spiritual, just as there's a place for the spiritual in the sexy. Can I be Marilyn Chödrön? 🙂

    Kate Bartolotta Nov 29, 2011 5:52am

    Wow! Learning from the cockroaches! Bleh!

    I like your contrast of maybe making your own reason, taking control of how a situation affects you rather than "it happened for a reason." I think the background issue I see is sacred vs. secular. But you are right! We are all both. We are sexy and spiritual, not one or the other. One more good reason to find wisdom in unusual places!

      anonymous Nov 29, 2011 6:03am

      Sacred vs. secular. I like that much better. By wisdom vs. beauty I don't mean that M & P don't have them both but that each one highlights one or the other. (as in "beauty & brains" or the "sexy feminist", two of my favorite topics).

      …It's hard to be taught. Still not digging the roaches, but I'm more “elastic” now… 🙂

anonymous Nov 28, 2011 10:05pm

yes it is an interesting question kate! 🙂 we are generally biased in all sorts of ways that prevent us from accurately seeing/interpreting…

anonymous Nov 28, 2011 9:52pm

fair comment, however, the difference is right there is the quotes – marylin's is kinda corny and new agey, pema's contains real wisdom.

pema is not saying anything like "everything happens for a reason" – she is saying learning to let go makes us more free.

these sentiments are related in a certain way, but come from a much different level of depth.

    Kate Bartolotta Nov 28, 2011 9:54pm

    Absolutely! They are both quotes I enjoy, but on the whole, I learn much more from reading Pema than Marilyn.

    It did make me think about the larger issue though…are we reluctant to accept wisdom if comes from an unexpected source?

      anonymous Nov 29, 2011 2:12pm

      I have to agree with you Kate, I think most of us are reluctant to learn and/or accept something if it doesn't come from a valid source.

        Kate Bartolotta Nov 30, 2011 11:22am

        Thanks Priscilla!

        anonymous Nov 30, 2011 8:28pm

        how does one determine a "valid source"?

          Kate Bartolotta Nov 30, 2011 9:17pm

          I think it's self imposed. We all have our biases. I consider both Pema & Marilyn valid sources, but chose to juxtapose them this way because I thought it might pique interest & some readers might not.

Kate Bartolotta Nov 29, 2011 5:46am

Thanks Gigi…Yes! We should definitely celebrate each other! I love Marilyn as well, and yes, she did try to push her boundaries and grow as a person. I think sometimes people are reluctant to accept wisdom if they feel the source is not worthy enough. (Hence the "vs.")

I posted the Marilyn quote on Facebook not long ago and had several comments from people who were surprised she said it, made disparaging comments about her, etc. It bugged me & made me think about the fact that sometimes our biases against a particular source might keep up from receiving what he or she has to teach us.

Kate Bartolotta Nov 30, 2011 9:18pm

Agreed! I think every single person can teach us something if we are open enough to learn.

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Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven.
She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds.
Kate’s books are now available on and Barnes &

She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives.

You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.