“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say the writings of Pema Chödrön changed my life.
My first time reading “When Things Fall Apart,” while things were actively falling apart (not a coincidence), her lessons on how resistance to change and avoiding these situations was the cause of pain in your life hit home with me.
I began to read more of her writings because it appealed to me, but she was also prone to tossing out what I’m sure were totally half-baked ideas like:
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment” ― Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change
I doubt it was the first time I’d heard this, but it was the first time I listened. Really listened. Even if she was off her rocker.
It was the start of my era of learning to roll with it; the beginning of at least not inflicting more pain on myself because I didn’t want to adapt.
The first part is an easy concept to grasp: when you fight inevitable change, it’s only going to cause you frustration, anxiety, fear. Pain. It’s not nearly as easy to put into practice. But it’s the second part that is the real whammy: when faced with a painful experience, you are supposed to move toward it.
WTF, Pema. I’ve got enough problems on my plate.
I mean, she was right, but whatever. It was HARD.
So, I’m supposed to embrace the pain, open myself to the pain of those who caused my suffering, move toward treating myself with kindness, and grow in understanding of others?
What a ridiculous bunch of …
All I wanted was for someone to fix it and fix it now.
With time, though, I allowed myself to do these things. Leaning into the change was the first step. Letting go of my hopes and dreams around the situation. It was not easy, but it became easier with time (and now, I dare say, I do this pretty quickly when bad news comes to town).
Treating myself with kindness was very difficult for me – still is – and more so when I’m supposed to lean into the pain caused by others. I have a strong desire to blame myself for all things, so it’s hard to think about someone else’s pain that led to mine and not turn it back on myself. With practice, though, this has become an important skill. It helps me see people for who they really are and it may have helped me head off some painful situations before they reached me.
I am far from perfect at these practices, but they are just that: practices. I have a little book of Pema’s writing called The Pocket Pema Chödrön and I just love the idea I can carry around her in my pocket. I reference her writings often, just for a bit of “attitude adjustment” or inspiration, or simply to remind myself of who I want to be.
It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve totally fallen apart, even though I’ve had plenty of situations that called for it. I’m definitely happier now, having let go of attachments to dreams, allowing myself to feel the pain of their loss, and learning to move on because no one knows what comes next.
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