When Things Fall Apart.

Over the duration of the past week, I have witnessed many of my close friends and coworkers express deep pain, sadness and depression. From a selfish perspective, this is a hard thing to witness. I want to be able to help them, to fix them, to tie everything up in a bow and say “Look, all better!” I hate the helplessness that comes with knowing you can’t do anything to directly ease the minds and hearts of loved ones. You can be there for them (which is always greatly appreciated and maybe in the end, the most important and generous act), but this doesn’t take away the immediate hurt.

(“The Telephone is Ringing” – photo by Marty Desilets)

I know what it is to be so far away from feeling like a worthwhile person, able of doing any good and instead seeming to only cause destruction and inflict hurt on others. I think this especially hard because we are inherently good people. (How can someone “good” do something so “bad”? What kind of monster am I!?) This makes it hard to want to reach out to people because if we are already feeling so miserable about ourselves, or have acted in ways that have caused others to think and feel badly of us, we don’t want to add more people to that mix.

(Photo by Marty Desilets, Hotel Bethlehem)

I remember on the night after one of my worst moments, a friend agreed to meet me for coffee and she said with so much sincerity “Please, please call me if that happens again.” We dubbed that moment and those feelings “going to the roof” (for reasons that are self-explanitory, I’m sure). While my friend couldn’t reach into my heart and mind and pull out the sick parts, her kindness and reassurance that someone is there if I ever need to “go to the roof” meant the world. It gave me a sense of belonging, and reminded me that even when time passes and those people we mutually care about are people we haven’t talked to in a while, we have huge impacts on the lives of others – and they want to be there to remind us of that in our darkest hours.

If you have a friend who needs your help, reach out. Even if it’s just to tell them “You are important to me and I am here for you no matter what.” You can’t imagine what those words mean when you have nothing else to grasp onto.

And if you are someone who feels sad and feels alone, please believe me – you aren’t. You touch the lives of people in positive ways you can’t comprehend. So many people’s lives are better simply because you are in them. Please believe me.

I’m an avid reader, and in searching for books to help me heal and understand my pain, I came across When Things Fall Apart by buddhist monk Pema Chodron. No matter your beliefs or religion (or lack thereof), I believe her compassionate wisdom rings true for all hearts that need healing, or even just a reminder that “things come together and things fall apart”.

Below I have included some passages of that book that have been particularly helpful:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

Letting there be room for not-knowing is the most important thing of all.”

“Disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, anger jealousy and fear… 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.”

“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”

“Whatever occurs is neither the beginning or the end. The painful thing is that when we buy into disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we buy into harshness, we are practicing harshness. The more we do it, the stronger these qualities become. How sad it is that we become so expert at causing harm to ourselves and others.

We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario of 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. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, or throw a pot as a way of not facing whats happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face-to-face.”

“Now is the only time. How we relate to it creates the future. What we do accumulates: the future is the result of what we do right now.”

“The first noble truth is that when we feel suffering , it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move.

We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better ‘me’ who will one day emerge.  We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we’re not there. It’s better to take a straight look at our hopes and fears. Then some kind of confidence on our basic sanity arises.”

“We can use everything that happens to us as the means for waking up.”

“We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same.”