December 30, 2011

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

With everything that's happened in my life this year, my mom found this book and thought it would be a good read for me. And indeed, the title was very very fitting, however, actually applying what is in this book could prove to be very difficult.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist and as such, this book is mainly about Buddhism and its practices. And maybe its just because I know barely anything about Buddhism, but I found this to be a very high level book. She talks about using dharmas, loneliness, meditation and other ways of looking at the world. The prevailing theme is that things that make us uncomfortable should be examined instead of ignored. We shouldn't be scared of loneliness, despair, and loss but rather should examine them and accept them. She offers tips for how to do this and shares stories about the ways other people have found to live this way. And she odes warn that it is a struggle.

As said before I found this book to be very high level. In fact, I really didn't understand most of what she was talking about. Which I wasn't prepared for from the cover and the back cover description. It seemed like something that would be more for everyone. But I would highly recommend someone knowing a little something about Buddhism and its terms before reading this book. Otherwise, they may be just as lost as I was. That's not to say I didn't understand everything though. There were a few passages that spoke to me and that I could relate to. In particular, she talks about how we as humans build sandcastles and guard them jealously, even though in the end we know they'll be swept away by the sea and we're ok with that. She says that kind of nonattachment is healthy and something we should strive for. And that makes sense.

I also was quite fond of a quote found in there. "Honesty without kindness, humor, and goodheartedness can be just mean." This really spoke to me because in my last relationship, all the nasty things that were said to me by him were excused by him as just being "brutally honest." But is it good to be honest when the only outcome is to hurt someone? I don't think so, and I like Chodron's theory that honesty involves incorporating kindness as well. It is not noble to always tell the truth with no thought of the consequences. I'm in no way advocating lying, but there is a way to tell the truth with compassion. And one person's truth is not always anothers.

Definitely not the book I thought it was going to be, and I think if I had been educated further on Buddhism I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As such, there was just too much that was really only geared towards practitioners of Buddhism and hard to understand for the rest of us. But there are some valuable lessons to take away from this book even without that knowledge.

When Things Fall Apart
Copyright 1997
146 pages

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