When Things Fall Apart

IMG_5269It has been perhaps the toughest week yet, with separation emotions running very high. I have spent most of it at a very good friend’s cabin, allowing the painful reality to wash through me. I feel like I have been run over a few times by a train. The worst part is knowing how badly she is feeling and knowing that I am the cause, or at the very least, have contributed to it. And that I cannot fix it.

I drift in and out of sleep. I read. I cook. I work on my music. I exercise. I eat. I bounce around. I sleep some more. I hope that when I wake up it will be better.

I have not been very “up.” I thought of apologizing for the quality of my company, but there is no need with a good friend. He just gets it. Rather, I am very grateful for being given the space to just be. A gentle nudge now and then to get up and do something, but he never pushed me. Thank you Dan-o.

There is a small bookshelf at the foot of the bunk bed, and one book title jumps out at me, like a neon sign: “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Timely. And certainly not coincidental. Things seem to come to me when I need them most. When I allow them to come.

Here are a few passages that left a mark. Maybe they will resonate with you.

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on the brink and not concretize. Yet spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact that way of looking at things keeps us miserable. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last–that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. To stay with that shakiness–to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting revenge–that is the path of true awakening.”

“We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape–all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

“We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario with the worst person in the world, in the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.”

“Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters in our minds.”

“Underneath our ordinary lives, underneath all the talking we do, all the moving we do, all the thoughts in our minds, there’s a fundamental groundlessness. It’s there bubbling all the time. We experience it as restlessness and edginess. We experience it as fear. It motivates passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride, but we never get down to the essence of it. Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–is a method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear. It’s a method of setting into groundlessness. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up space.”

“To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic. To seek for some lasting security is futile. Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone “out there” is to blame for our pain–one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide. Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together.”

“In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something…from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

“Death in everyday life could also be defined as experiencing all the things that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working, our job isn’t coming together. Having a relationship with death in everyday life means that we begin to be able to wait, to relax with insecurity, with panic, with embarrassment, with things not working out. ”

“One of the classic Buddhist teachings on hope and fear concerns what are known as the eight worldly dharmas. These are four pairs of opposites–four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don’t like and try to avoid. The basic message is that when we are caught up in the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. Becoming immersed in these four pairs of opposites–pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame–is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara.”

“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

“Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things OK. That quality comes from never having grown up.”


20 thoughts on “When Things Fall Apart

  1. You have given to others at a time when you have needs of your own. I pray that healing comes in time. Warm embrace from a wordpress friend, Belinda. I plan to purchase this book. Thank you for providing some entries from it.

  2. Oh dear..I do not know the full extent of you pain but think I can read between the lines. I shall not offer advice but merely say that 5 years ago the world as I knew it completely shattered …I had no friends to comfort me, shelter me from the noise of the world yet through that small bit of Grace I held deep in my soul I managed to walk through the pain and today I feel so blessed. I have much respect for you, your love of humanity shows me the goodness you contain in your heart. I shall lift you and her up in prayer and ask the universe to carry your sorrows far away..

  3. These are the hardest of times, but you will surely survive! Tonight maybe you can sit in that same place by the water in the grass and enjoy the stars! And just breathe! Peace!

  4. Jonathan, I have this book in my personal library. I have, on more than one occasion, looked it up for words of comfort and wisdom. Thank you so much for sharing some of those words here.

    And thank you for sharing with us the vulnerability of the space that you’re in. The pain and the suffering, the hurting and the cursing, the blame and the guilt, the what if’s and what might have been’s….surely can relate to that.

    You have such a big heart Jonathan. And you are so blessed to have a friend who is also such a dear heart to share his space with you, literally and otherwise. And to simply allow you to be. Letting you be paves the way for you to let go. What a gift that your friend is giving you during this most crucial time in your life. Bless your hearts — both of you!

    Healing and loving energies on your way…♥♥♥NadineMarie♥♥♥

      • Jonathan, I just remembered a book which has helped me tremendously when I was also going through the pain of a separation. Coming Apart: Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours by Daphne Rose Kingma.

        I don’t know of any other book that takes the reader through every stage with such deep wisdom yet with much practicality and groundedness. I’m sure there are tons of other books and resources on breakups but this one was truly a gem for me. The author is really an expert on matters of the heart. I felt like she was holding my hand while I was going through the process and as I was doing the exercises in the book. Marianne Williamson so aptly describes Daphne as someone who “more than speaks to your soul; she knows how to heal it.”

        Here’s the link

        Here’s the book description:

        “Next to the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship is the most painful experience most people will ever go through. Coming Apart is a first-aid kit for getting through the ending. It is a tool that will enable you to live through the end of your relationship with your self esteem intact.

        Daphne Rose Kingma, the undisputed expert on matters of the heart, explores the critical facets of relationship breakdowns: Love myths: why we are really in relationships; The life span of love; The emotional and unconscious processes of parting; How to get through the ending; How to create a personal workbook for finding resolution.”

        I know you know you’ll get through this. Hopefully this book will help ease the process.

        Much love and much blessings,

  5. Hello Jonathan,

    I have largely checked out of the blogosphere since mid-April (when my son was born). I saw the comment you left on my blog and I just read this post of yours and the quotes from Pema (one of my favorites to read).

    I’m sorry to hear about your pain and your separation. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any gem words or advice. Pema’s words are great, but when I have experienced a separation, I have performed miserably trying to live up to her advice. For me, the separations I experienced were to a woman I deeply loved and knew deep down I wanted to to be with. And so the pain of separation was laced with a sense of injustice, “it doesn’t need to be this way”-ness, as well as just deeply missing the person. I don’t know whether the pain of separation is worse than death or not–I’ve contemplated this many times. Death is a hard fact; there’s closure; you’re forced to move on; but you’re left begging the Universe, the gods, God, for one more chance, one more moment. With separation, you have that possibility, but it seems sooo remote, so slight that it might actually happen.

    Like I said, I don’t have any great words of advice or insights; just that I’ve been there or somewhere maybe near there, so I can imagine what you’re going through. You will make it through. That is one thing I kept telling myself. At some point, something will change: the pain does lessen. That’s the big lesson in life: impermanence. Good times and bad times, pleasure and pain are both, on a long enough timeline, temporary. Things change. But I don’t have any great advice on the low times. That you have a good friend there by you through all of this, that is the best advice. (And reading and writing [thinking with a pen or through the keyboard] a lot during my most painful times was a necessity for me during those times–as essential as sleep and food. It was food for my soul.)

    Kindest regards, Jonathan!


  6. Hi Jonathan. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself returning to Pema Chodron’s book and it is one I give to people I know when they are in that place. It has helped me so much to learn to be present with pain and discomfort and know that the blessings or medicine of life often come from that place. I have found the Tonglen practice that Pema shares to be most beneficial in these difficult times. Sending lots of love and light your way.

  7. And i followed your link and was not disappointed.
    What caught my attention to this post was a passage from the book you found (its almost always the things we find with no intention to look that make sense in some way):
    – “We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back.”
    I don’t know at this moment how are you but if there was one thing on your post was that the fact you wrote it, you were illuminated.
    When we have the courage to expose who we are in times of pain, its a great blessing.
    “Defo” coming back here for more.

  8. Pingback: Are Things Falling Aapart or Are They Coming Together? | Aligning With Truth

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