Derek Sivers

When Things Fall Apart - by Pema Chödrön

When Things Fall Apart - by Pema Chödrön

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Profound philosophy on facing the negative emotions head-on and getting to know them well, instead of trying to avoid them or escape.

my notes

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

He said he was determined to get rid of his negative emotions. All his meditation had been nothing but further separation and struggle. He accepted - really accepted wholeheartedly - that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure - wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. Intimacy with fear caused his dramas to collapse, and the world around him finally got through.

Become familiar with fear. Move closer.

Nothing is what we thought. Emptiness, mindfulness, fear, compassion, love, Buddha nature, courage. Not what we thought. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.

A monastery has very few means of escape: no lying, no stealing, no alcohol, no sex, no exit.

Not knowing is the most important thing of all. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.

When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of who-knows-what, the test for each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.

Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.

The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation: a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.

Relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic - this is the spiritual path.

Disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.

Events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news.

We don’t need to try to create situations in which we reach our limit. They occur all by themselves.

We use all kinds of ways to escape. All addictions stem from the moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, so we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain, so we don’t have to feel the full impact of the pain that arises when we cannot manipulate the situation to make us come out looking fine.

It’s so good to meditate every single day and continue to make friends with our hopes and fears again and again.

When we see our indulging and our repressing clearly, they begin to wear themselves out. Wearing out is not exactly the same as going away. After a while, we stop struggling and relax in our daily lives.

As each breath went out and dissolved, there was the chance for all that had gone before to die, and to relax instead of panic.

Say to ourselves “thinking” and, without making it a big deal, to simply return again to the out-breath. Each time you say to yourself “thinking,” you are cultivating that unconditional friendliness toward whatever arises in your mind. Thoughts go through our minds all the time. Whether we call it pleasant or unpleasant, the instruction is to label it all “thinking” with as much openness and kindness as we can muster and let it dissolve back into the big sky.

He said it was never a good idea to struggle in meditation. So if our legs or back were hurting, we were told it was fine to move. However, it became clear that by working with proper posture, it was possible to become far more relaxed and settled in one’s body by making very subtle adjustments.

We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.

Meet whatever arises with curiosity and don't make it such a big deal.

Three kinds of awakening: awakening from the dream of ordinary sleep, awakening at death from the dream of life, and awakening into full enlightenment from the dream of delusion.

The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face. When we feel resentment because the room is too cold, we could meet the cold and feel its iciness and its bite. There is no cure for hot and cold. They will go on forever.

Being preoccupied with our self-image is like being deaf and blind. It’s like standing in the middle of a vast field of wildflowers with a black hood over our heads. It’s like coming upon a tree of singing birds while wearing earplugs.

Mindfulness: It’s a lifetime’s journey to relate honestly to the immediacy of our experience and to respect ourselves enough not to judge it.

It’s painful to face how we harm others. We see our desires and our aggression, our jealousy and our ignorance.

Don't grab for entertainment the minute we feel a slight edge of boredom coming on. Practice not immediately filling up space just because there’s a gap.

Refraining - breaking the habit of acting out impulsively - has something to do with giving up entertainment mentality.

Warrior asked Fear, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

A thoroughly good relationship with ourselves means there’s no compulsiveness. We don’t overwork, overeat, oversmoke, overseduce. In short, we begin to stop causing harm.

Our minds at ease are like a still lake without ripples: so full of unlimited friendliness for all the junk at the bottom of the lake that we don’t feel the need to churn it up.

Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice.

Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, or someone better to be, we will never relax with where we are or who we are.

Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one. We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves. Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves.

Trying to get lasting security teaches us a lot, because if we never try to do it, we never notice that it can’t be done.

When we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong.

Hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

Acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit. Explore the nature of that piece of shit.

We can’t just jump over ourselves as if we were not there.

Monastic rules that advise renouncing liquor, renouncing sex, and so on are not pointing out that those things are inherently bad or immoral, but that we use them as babysitters. We use them as a way to escape; we use them to try to get comfort and to distract ourselves.

Begin with hopelessness. All anxiety, all dissatisfaction, all the reasons for hoping that our experience could be different are rooted in our fear of death.

Experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment.

Hopelessness is the basic ground. Otherwise, we’re going to make the journey with the hope of getting security.

Instead of automatically falling into habitual patterns, we can begin to notice how we react. When someone praises us, how do we react? When someone blames us, how do we react? When we’ve lost something, how do we react? When we feel we’ve gained something, how do we react?

When we become inquisitive about these things, look into them, see who we are and what we do, with the curiosity of a young child, what might seem like a problem becomes a source of wisdom.

It’s actually a desire to know, like the questions of a three-year-old. We want to know our pain so we can stop endlessly running. We want to know our pleasure so we can stop endlessly grasping. Then somehow our questions get bigger and our inquisitiveness more vast. We want to know about loss so we might understand other people when their lives are falling apart.

Feel more tenderness for the human race.

When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing cool loneliness.

Less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts.

Be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up.

Be lonely with no alternatives, content to be right here with the mood.

Unnecessary activity is a way of keeping ourselves busy so we don’t have to feel any pain.

Obsessively daydreaming of true romance: our minds just go wild trying to come up with companions to save us from despair.

Sit still, just be there, alone. Sit still long enough to realize it’s how things really are. We are fundamentally alone. This basic truth hurts, and we want to run away from it. But coming back and relaxing with something as familiar as loneliness is good discipline for realizing the profundity of the unresolved moments of our lives.

What we’re doing as we progress along the path is leaving home and becoming homeless.

Trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the natural scheme of things.

Impermanence is meeting and parting. It’s falling in love and falling out of love. Impermanence is bittersweet, like buying a new shirt and years later finding it as part of a patchwork quilt.

Peace is the well-being that comes when we can see the infinite pairs of opposites as complementary.

We don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.

Listening to the teachings of Buddha, or practicing meditation is nothing other than studying ourselves. The reason that we’re here in this world at all is to study ourselves.

Honesty without kindness makes us feel grim.

Being irritated by ourselves and our lives and other people’s idiosyncrasies becomes overwhelming. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on kindness.

The only reason that we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.

The more we relate with others, the more quickly we discover where we are blocked, where we are unkind, afraid, shut down. Be soft and nonjudgmental to whatever we see right at that very moment.

To relate with others compassionately is a challenge. Really communicating to the heart and being there for someone else - our child, spouse, parent, client, patient, or the homeless woman on the street - means not shutting down on that person, which means, first of all, not shutting down on ourselves. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away.

Only in an open space where we’re not all caught up in our own version of reality can we see and hear and feel who others really are, which allows us to be with them and communicate with them properly.

A Zen teacher who runs a project for the homeless said he doesn’t really do this work to help others; he does it because he feels that moving into the areas of society that he had rejected is the same as working with the parts of himself that he had rejected.

There's a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong.

Blaming others is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blaming is a way to protect our hearts.

Could our minds and our hearts be big enough just to hang out in that space where we’re not entirely certain about who’s right and who’s wrong?

It’s more daring and real to not shut anyone out of our hearts.

Be mindful not only of what feels comfortable, but also of what pain feels like.

Aspire to stay awake and open to what we’re feeling.

We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us.

Two kinds of selfish people: the unwise and the wise. Unwise selfish people think only of themselves, and the result is confusion and pain. Wise selfish people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy.

The poet Jalaluddin Rumi writes of night travelers who search the darkness instead of running from it, a companionship of people willing to know their own fear.

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all the others behind - our drunken brother, our schizophrenic sister. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape. Open our hearts and allow ourselves to feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify us and make us far more loving and kind.

Don’t set out to save the world. Set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

Give away whatever blocks connecting. Give away our dark glasses, our long coats, our hoods, and our disguises. Let ourselves be touched.

The magic of discipline and not being swayed by moods.

What we discipline is not our “badness” or our “wrongness.” What we discipline is any form of potential escape from reality. In other words, discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment.

Discipline provides the support to slow down enough and be present enough so that we can live our lives without making a big mess.

If you sit still, you’ll see something. If you’re very quiet, you’ll hear something.

The more we connect with a bigger perspective, the more we connect with energetic joy.

It’s like waking up on a cold, snowy day in a mountain cabin ready to go for a walk but knowing that first you have to get out of bed and make a fire. You’d rather stay in that cozy bed, but you jump out and make the fire because the brightness of the day in front of you is bigger than staying in bed.

One of the best practices for everyday living when we don’t have much time for meditation is to notice our opinions. We tend to take them as truth. Label them as opinions, just as we label thoughts as thoughts. All ego really is, is our opinions, which we take to be solid, real, and the absolute truth about how things are. To have even a few seconds of doubt about the solidity and absolute truth of our own opinions, just to begin to see that we do have opinions, introduces us to the possibility of egolessness. We don’t have to make these opinions go away, and we don’t have to criticize ourselves for having them.

Don’t let ourselves be swept away by opinions of good and evil or hope and fear.

The less our speech and actions are clouded by opinion, the more they will communicate.

Do everything as if it were the only thing in the world that mattered, while all the time knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.

To speak and act without aggression is an enormous challenge.

Ideas about how to live and how to act and what is important in life.

Intellectually he knew all about compassion, but when he saw a filthy, lice-infested dog, he looked away.

The truth is like a dog yearning over a bowl of burning oil. He can’t leave it, because it is too desirable, and he can’t lick it, because it is too hot.

Meditation practice is how we stop fighting with ourselves, how we stop struggling with circumstances, emotions, or moods.

Start by working with the monsters in your mind: “It is wonderful you demons came today. You must come again tomorrow. From time to time, we should talk.” Invite what scares us to introduce itself and hang around for a while. In her tradition they did not exorcise demons. They treated them with compassion.

Approach what you find repulsive, help the ones you think you cannot help, and go to places that scare you.

Use difficult situations to awaken our genuine caring for other people.

Instead of thinking of it as sitting down to meditate, we can think of it as training to lighten up, to have a sense of humor, to relax.

Thinking that we have ample time to do things later is the greatest myth, the greatest hang-up, and the greatest poison. If we knew that tonight we were going to go blind, we would take a longing, last real look at every blade of grass, every cloud formation. If we knew that we were going to be deaf tomorrow, we would treasure every single sound.

The samaya bond: If the student accepts and trusts the teacher completely and the teacher accepts the student, they can enter into the unconditional relationship called samaya. The teacher will never give up on the student no matter how mixed up he or she might be, and the student will also never leave the teacher, no matter what. The student and teacher are bound together. It’s like a pact that they make to attain enlightenment together. The whole samaya relationship - whether it’s with the phenomenal world as absolute teacher or with an individual person - is about softening us up. It softens us up so that we can’t deceive ourselves.

Looking for alternatives - better sights than we see, better sounds than we hear, a better mind than we have - keeps us from realizing that we could stand with pride in the middle of our life and realize it’s a sacred mandala.

The student of vajrayana Buddhism should always be in a state of panic. It is so unfamiliar to us to make such a total commitment to being awake that it unnerves us.

What the dharma is about; turning all our habits around, reversing the process of how we make everything so solid,

Stop. Do something unfamiliar. Do anything besides rushing off in the same old direction, up to the same old tricks.

The source of wisdom is whatever is going to happen to us today.

If we find ourselves in what seems like a rotten or painful situation, think, “Well, how is this enlightenment?”

We feel frequently - maybe continuously - at a crossroads, never knowing what’s ahead. It’s an insecure way to live. Use it as a question about how to let this very situation wake us up further. Use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity.

There are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free.