April 18, 2020

When Things Fall Apart: My Favorite Pema Chödrön Quotes for Shakey Days.

Relephant read: Elephant’s Continually updated Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon

Someone recently reminded me of Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

I have read it so many times that you’d think I’d have it memorized. You’d think the dog-eared, highlighted, and bookmarked pages would be burned into my brain, line by line.

But I forget. I forget, over and over and over. That’s the constant. I forget what life really is about, what I’m here for—or how brave I can be.

I forget how to deal when things get sh*tty.

So once again, I find myself curled up in exhaustion, reading Pema’s words—and I sigh and cry and laugh a little. The tears feel like a soft liberation rolling down my cheeks.

Perhaps we all forget.

It’s all too easy to get caught up the currents of the world—in achieving, being “good enough,” avoiding what hurts, trying to be someone or something, going here and there, and hustling to make all of our dreams come true.

And now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are being asked to do what many of us fear most of all: to sit still. 

Run while you can! Are you with me? Just kidding…but I know we might feel like running away in the million forms that can take. It’s not easy, that’s for sure; it can even feel like hell.

And it truly is a scary time in the world, but Pema’s words make me remember.

I don’t have to run away from fear.

I can actually sit with loneliness.

I don’t need to be perfect and shiny or—gasp!—impress everyone around me with cool skills I’m acquiring while in quarantine.

It is okay to feel pain, sadness, the roughness of uncertainty, and not figure it all out in three seconds flat.

Pema’s words remind me that when things seem to be unraveling around us—it is hard, it is brutal, yes—but it is also okay. It is shockingly refreshing, maybe even beautiful sometimes. It smells like the mud of springtime mixed with the subtlest scent of opening buds in our tender, tired hearts.

It tastes of opportunities to be explored.

Because mindfulness is not a fair-weather friend, oh no. Mindfulness is here for us in the toughest of times—it is real and raw and gentle. It is substantial, a kick-ass companion as face the uncertainty of the days ahead.

So I hope these quotes make you think. I hope they make you not think. I hope they make you feel and breathe spaciousness into every single part of you. May they inspire authenticity, some goosebumps, and of course—compassion—for our own hearts, others, and this fragile seeming world.

Without further ado, here are my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes for uncertain times:

“Could we just settle down and have some compassion and respect for ourselves? Could we stop trying to escape from being alone with ourselves? What about practicing not jumping and grabbing when we begin to panic? Relaxing with loneliness is a worthy occupation. As the Japanese poet Ryokan says, ‘If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after so many things.’” 

“Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.”

“We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have cancer, a brick is going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head, somebody’s going to spill tomato juice all over our white suit, or we’re going to arrive at our favorite restaurant and discover that no one ordered produce and seven hundred people are coming for lunch.” 

“The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought.”

“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. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.” 

“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. 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.” 

“Learning how to be kind to ourselves, learning how to respect ourselves, is important. The reason it’s important is that, fundamentally, when we look into our own hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering. We’re discovering the universe.”

“Finally, never give up on yourself. Then you will never give up on others.”



More Relephant Reads: 

How to Enjoy Life Amidst the Coronavirus Fear: Your Go-To Guide from Books to Podcasts & Wellness Practices.
What the Coronavirus is Teaching Me: 5 Lessons from Uncertain Times.
The Artist’s Stay-at-Home & Stay Sane Guide.
10 Simple Ways to Boost your Immunity without Leaving the House.

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