I’m drafting this on Day 168 of quarantine and life continues to be a mucky, banal ache. The Bay Area is still on fire and Chadwick Boseman lost his battle against colon cancer this week. 2020, can I fold my hand now?Somehow through the power of clicking around on the Internet, I came across the book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön. The book stood out to me for a few reasons.

  1. This is a difficult time.
  2. I’m very interested in personal development and transformation.
  3. I’ve recently developed a daily habit of meditation.

The author, Pema Chöndrön, is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun who provides us with a universal outline to help us chart our way through the challenging and uncomfortable moments in life. 

Key Points & Favorite Quotes

Run Towards Fear and Become Friends with Your Demons 

“Fear” is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth

This is Pema’s overarching mantra throughout When Things Fall Apart. She wants us to run towards fear and become friends with our demons. And when you sit with actual friends, you give them your attention, you’re not there to judge or fix them, you’re there to share space and time with them.

“What we’re talking about is getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye–not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and thinking.”

By encouraging us to go towards our fear, we will see fear as an opportunity to grow rather than an ominous being. Being afraid is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. What we consider problems are in actuality how universe teaches us where we’re stuck. Confronting the uncomfortable is developing a relationship to communicate with them daily.

You Can See with Clarity Through Meditation

And what should we do once we run towards fear? Duh, go meditate!

“Well-being of mind is like a mountain lake without ripples. When the lake has no ripples, everything in the lake can be seen. When the water is all churned up, nothing can be seen.”

Meditation slows us down enough to notice what we say and do, shutting down in ignorance is no longer an option. Only then will we have a clear view of where we’re closed and what habits have we built to escape. The more we witness and understand our emotional chain reactions, the easier it is to refrain. Refraining is staying in the moment and not immediately reaching for a distraction when we’re on edge. Refraining is the method that allows us to pause, to relax, and to reflect.

What we do accumulates; the future is the result of what we do right now. When we find ourselves in a mess, we don’t have to feel guilt about it. Instead, we could reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess will be sowing the seeds of how we will relate to whatever happens next.

We don’t practice meditation to become good meditators. We meditate to prime ourselves to be better human beings for the rest of life.

Nothing Last Forever and Nothing Can be Controlled

“Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else. Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.”

There’s something very zen with thinking about life as a circular wave the ebbs and flows. Nothing lasts forever, but impermanence is forever. This is the core issue with my millennial generation. We’re always hustling to get to the next thing and then the next right after that thing. Only after achieving x, y, and z can we be happy. We’re so caught up in chasing security to avoid feeling unsafe. However, according to Pema:

Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control.

Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy.

When we let go of control and recognize impermanence as impermanence, we can then see the moment-by-moment evolution of our experience, our thoughts, and our emotions.


Never give up on yourself. Then you will never give up on others.

Pema’s take on compassion goes beyond the typical notion of relating to those less fortunate than ourselves. She emboldens us to dig deeper by showing compassion to ourselves. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all our imperfections and unwanted parts. There are many times when we are sincere about wanting to benefit others, but sooner or later all our own unresolved issues will come up; we’ll be confronted with ourselves. If we reject the parts that we hate within ourselves we will continue to reject it when we see it in others.

Rather than beating ourselves up, we can use our personal stuckness as a stepping stone to understanding what people are up against all over the world. We can use our personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.

This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like.

Giving ourselves this form of compassion will create space for us to be more open and nonjudgemental. This space lets us see how others think and feel without filtering them through our own lens of reality.

Final Thoughts

When Things Fall Apart is a short read (176 pages), yet, I surprised myself with how much time it took me to marinate over Pema’s words. As I read, I found myself reflecting on how I acted in past hard times and how I’m going to change my future behaviors.

This book will continue to live in my Kindle’s library for future reference. It’s also most likely going to be one of those books that I’ll find myself re-reading at different stages of my life for new perspective.

I’d highly recommend giving this a read!


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