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When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (1996)

by Pema Chödrön

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2,507464,360 (4.26)24
Pema Chödrön's perennially best-selling classic on overcoming life's difficulties cuts to the heart of spirituality and personal growth--now in a newly designed 20th-anniversary edition with a new afterword by Pema--makes for a perfect gift and addition to one's spiritual library. How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart--when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy.… (more)
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English (44)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
A good explanation of some foundational Buddhist beliefs, written with Chodron's typical humility and wisdom. The title is a little off-putting, as it is not really a recovery kind of book, but is for all times, not just difficult ones. ( )
  evenlake | Mar 23, 2021 |
Quite possibly the most impacting book I have ever read in my life. I picked this up when I thought things were going wonderfully. I had no idea how much more there was in life. "As I become more wholehearted in my journey of gentle honesty, it comes as quite a shock to realize how much I've blinded myself to some of the ways I've caused harm. My style has been so ingrained that I've not heard when others have tried to tell me, either kindly or rudely that I am causing harm by the way I am or the way I relate with others. I've become so used to the way I do things that somehow I thought that others were used to it too." Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Heart advise for difficult times, intimacy without fear... I honestly avoided this book because of the Buddhist perspective. Instead, it was a beautiful LIFE perspective, not a book on Buddhism. Coming from a thick Christian perspective, I found this book to have a healthy, fertile journey of what everyone who wants fullness, peace, healing. Absolutely the most wonderful book I have ever read. ( )
  CultDoctor | Mar 1, 2021 |
Pema Chödrön is one of my favourite spiritual authors. I think this is the third of her books I’ve read.

I’ll start with a few ”negative” aspects of her books and this book – there is no index, and no definitions of her special Tibetan (?) terms. Some of these terms we may know beforehand but often I, at any rate, do not. Sometimes she does explain the terms but I forget what she said, thus the need for an index.

One such term is dathun, another dharma (I know, I should know what that means).

Pema is an American Buddhist who lives in a Tibetan monastery in Nova Scotia. She is a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and I will have to try and get hold of his books too.

I’m very fond of her teachings though I can’t say I always understand them in full; sometimes her writing is a bit vague and metaphorical. And what does she really mean by “the groundlessness of our situation”?

I was lucky to get hold of this book from the library before it closed, for an indefinite period of time, it seems.

In the author’s introduction, she quotes her teacher as saying “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news”, and this seems to be one of the main tenets of her teachings. (So we can really benefit from her books in these present Corona days – we can benefit from the uncertainties of this time.)
Pema tells us of her own problems and how she learnt from them.

When she first became the director of Gampo Abbey it was like being boiled alive. Everything fell apart. All her unfinished business “was exposed vividly and accurately in living Technicolor, not only to myself, but to everyone else as well”.

Things come together and then they fall apart, then they come together again and fall apart again. “”The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen, room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

“Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.”

The first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable.

Pema’s whole reality gave out on her when her husband told her he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. This saved her life. Annihilation of her old dependent clinging self was the only way to go.

To stay with shakiness, a broken heart, a feeling of hopelessness, is the path of true awakening. “Getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos … is the spiritual path.”

In meditation we start to see what’s happening. We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is. We “lean toward the discomfort of life” and see it clearly rather than protect ourselves from it”.

The very moment is the perfect teacher, and it’s with us wherever we are.

Chögyam Rinpoche taught that in meditation we should “put very light attention on the out-breath.”

The out-breath is the object of meditation. Rinpoche advises “Touch the out-breath and let it go.”

When thoughts occur we merely say to ourselves “thinking”. When we do this, we are cultivating that unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in our mind - maitri, or loving-kindness.

Meditation is about opening and relaxing with whatever arises. It’s definitely not meant to repress anything.

Pema hears from many who think they are the worst person in the world – these are people with no loving-kindness for themselves.

The most important of all is to develop maitri, loving-kindness, and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.

We must practice gentleness and letting go.

Pema teaches that hopelessness is the basic ground. “If we make the journey to get security, we’re completely missing the point”. We should begin with hopelessness.

We need to accept that we’re going to die. Death and hopelessness provide proper motivation for living an insightful, compassionate life.

Kinship with the suffering of others is the discovery of bodhichitta, which means “noble or awakened heart”.

We awaken the bodhichitta when we can no longer shield ourselves from the “vulnerability of our condition, ---the basic fragility of existence”.

In difficult times it is only bodhichitta that heals.

The practice of tonglen – sending and receiving – is designed to awaken bodhichitta. We take in pain and send out pleasure.

Whenever we encounter suffering in any form we breathe it in with the wish that everyone could be free of pain. Whenever we encounter happiness in any form we breathe it out with the wish that everyone could feel joy.

When we protect ourselves from pain, that protection becomes the armour, “armour that imprisons the softness of the heart”. When we breathe in pain, it penetrates that armour. The armour begins to fall apart and “a kindness and a tenderness begin to emerge.”

In order to feel compassion for others, we must feel compassion for ourselves.

Tonglen practice is a method for connecting with our own and others’ suffering.

We begin the practice by taking on the suffering of a person we know to be hurting and wish to help. We breathe in others’ pain so they can be well and when we breathe out we send them what we think would bring them relief.

Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have died, anyone in pain.

The path is the goal.

Trungpa Rinpoche said “Whatever occurs in the confused mind is regarded as the path. Everything is workable.”

I would recommend this little simply written book to encourage you on your path. It will give you knowledge, insight and inspiration. ( )
  IonaS | Jan 24, 2021 |
Today is a tough day. Good advice here. ( )
  LoisSusan | Dec 10, 2020 |
I had multiple people recommend this book to me when I was hit with my cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic -- if that isn't a difficult time, I guess I don't know what is! Chödrön is an American Buddist nun and this book is a collection of talks she gave from 1987-1994. She calls on us to turn towards the difficulties in our lives, to use them as a path to wisdom and peace, and to break the habit of distracting ourselves when faced with suffering. She does this with a light touch, some helpful anecdotes and techniques, words from her Buddhist teachers, and often some humor. I particularly liked the technique of Tonglen -- using the breath to take in pain, and let out feelings of healing and peace, starting with your own and extending out to others (https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-tonglen/). The chapters are short and rich and I did a lot of marking passages that I know I'll come back to again and again when I need a little perspective.

I have been working to incorporate meditation into my daily life for about six months, and doing a lot more reading about the mind and both Buddhist and non-Buddhist approaches to non-dualism and nonattachment. A lot of it is clicking for me and truly is helping with my mental health. I am, however, always a little concerned about appropriating a culture and religion that isn't my own and sometimes struggle with finding ways to use the techniques of this rich cultural and spiritual tradition that are respectful and honest. Basically I don't want to be all white mindfulness convert lady with this stuff, because I think there is way more here than can be condensed into a motivational phrase or comforting instagram story.

I'm still trying to figure that out, and I'll continue to explore what is out there and what works for me. I'm glad that this text can be part of my journey and I'll definitely be pulling Chödrön off my shelf again in the future. ( )
  kristykay22 | Oct 25, 2020 |
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Pema Chödrön's perennially best-selling classic on overcoming life's difficulties cuts to the heart of spirituality and personal growth--now in a newly designed 20th-anniversary edition with a new afterword by Pema--makes for a perfect gift and addition to one's spiritual library. How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart--when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy.

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How can we go on living when things fall apart—when we are overcome by pain, fear, and anxiety? Pema Chödrön’s answer to that question contains some spectacularly good news: there is a fundamental happiness readily available to each one of us, no matter how difficult things seem to be. To find it, according to traditional Buddhist teaching, we must learn to stop running from suffering and instead actually learn to approach it—fearlessly, compassionately, and with curiosity. This radical practice enables us to use all situations, even very painful ones, as means for discovering the truth and love that are utterly indestructible.
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