Bountiful Books, Reflective Reviews, Wonderful Writing

“When Things Fall Apart”

Heart Advice for Difficult Times

This book was recommended to me last year, when my life framework shifted and I lost my grounding. Published in 1997, I’m surprised it hasn’t come across my radar earlier … it’s been a great one to discover, now!

Author Pema Chödrön is an American-born nun within the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. She is the director of the western monastery Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She has written many books, conducted study tours and talks, and is an inspiration to many for her messages of self-compassion and staying present to oneself during the tough times.

When Things Fall Apart is a book I found difficult to read, for two reasons.

1. I’m not familiar with the majority of Buddhist terms she uses, and if I’d read an ebook instead of a print copy, I could have searched the terms and refreshed my understanding of what they mean. I would have gained more of the message, I think, if I had had this easy search tool at my disposal. (Closing the last page I felt compelled to immediately read it all again, to garner more wisdom from its pages.)

2. I found the terminology – her definitions – difficult to access. I recognise this is partly because I’m not overly conversant with Buddhist theory and texts. However, it was also that I wasn’t confident I was interpreting her meaning correctly. I found myself reacting to some content with my internal voice protesting, ‘No, I don’t agree with that’ … only to continue reading and realise I had misinterpreted what she was saying, and actually, with new understandings gained from different phrasing, ‘Yes, I do agree with that, now that I understand more clearly what is meant by it’.

The concepts are challenging: letting things fall apart completely in order to regain a life of fulfilment in line with core soul values, right here and now, while simultaneously discarding that which no longer serves me … additionally, on the surface, some ideas can appear contradictory (and therefore confusing).

I read this heart advice at a time I was trying to regain my ground, having had my known frameworks knocked out from under me and being lost in the spiritual wilderness. I therefore found the main message of embracing groundlessness unsettling. And profound.

This is a book which will stay with me, I predict, long after I finish the last page.

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