When Things Fall Apart

There are two tragedies in life.

One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.

George Bernard Shaw


 Photo by Philippe Lopez, Getty-AFP, Nov. 11, 2013

Many thanks to the survivors and heroes of the families in the wake of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.   Because no one is exempt from personal disasters in our lifetime, Pema Chodron shares her insights on dealing with tragedy in When Things Fall Apart.  Far from a quick fix, life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries self-help manual, this book is an experience laced with sadness, relief, and a kind of temperate joy.  What to do when the rug, the roof, and the walls are all swept off you at once?

How do you embrace fear, sorrow, groundlessness?  Why sit through pain, confusion, disorder?   How do we keep one foot moving in front of the other until we get to a place where the pain does not seem so big or so deep, where we can see beyond to its good purpose?  Tough times keep us  fully present to who and what is in front of us, sharing loving kindness, generosity and compassion, a mandatory break from our compulsion to zone out in front of the TV/computer, the constant busy-ness of getting and spending. Dark times sift through the fluff and clarify what and who matter in the joy of living.

Things falling apart requires us to change, take action that we would otherwise delay or not consider an option.  The familiar is no longer there  and  it is only by surrendering our resistance to change despite the fear that we allow an opening to solutions and a new way.   We suffer more when we cling  to what we know and insist on,  giving us the illusion of control in a world where impermanence is the inevitable human experience.

We owe much to survivors and heroes.  They remind us that the human spirit is invincible, that difficulty is eased by helping hands–our own and that of others. As Pema puts it, “To stay with that shakiness — to stay wth a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge– that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic– that is the spiritual path.”

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share what you once considered a personal tragedy that has turned out to be a great blessing in your life.

How can I help Haiyan survivors?

To donate to Philippine-based organizations who know the local needs and how best to respond, contact the Community and Family Services International and the Philippine Red Cross as recommended by Jessica Alexander, the author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.  This is the link to her article:



Photo by Ted Aljibe, Getty-AFP , Nov. 11, 2013

Aftermath in the super typhoon devastated city of Tacloban

Photo by Francis R. Malasig, EPA, Nov. 9, 2013


Photo from BBC UK


Photo from CNN



6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mountain
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 20:57:27

    I had seen all these photos except the first one. Have you ever seen such a look of determination and I will survive on any ones face? I haven’t, until now. The faces of the children tell such heartbreaking and heartwarming stories. Anything I would consider a personal tragedy or even the couple of local disasters I have witnessed in my lifetime pale in comparison to what these people are going through. The photo of baby Bea Joy is a ray of sunshine, thank her strong Mother and God she is OK.


  2. Mountain
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 09:30:35

    I rarely get on my high horse and I’m not very political but sometimes something will happen or in this case not happen that pisses me off. First I would like to say that I’m proud to be from a country that offers to lend humanitarian help anywhere in the world where it is needed without concern of cost or politics, it’s people that matter. As I have read story after story of so many other country’s that have also supported the Philippines it makes you feel better about being a human. Then there is the one country that I wont even mention by name that has a new and close by hospital ship made for humanitarian help and it sits in a bay. This country did pitch in, $100K…how nice of a country that collects trillions of $’s from the world trade market. That is like tossing a penny in a fountain and wishing for the best, in this case maybe not even wishing. In non-support of this nameless country, I will look at the “Made in” info of anything I buy and be willing to pay more to support mine and any other country. Lastly, thank you US NAVY as you prepare the USNS MERCY hospital ship to head for the Philippines to save a life or a limb.

    Maybe that country at some point will step up, lift anchor and lend a hand. My optimistic side speaking..:)



  3. Mountain
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 08:13:20

    You may be right, Sharky! I accept that theory. Something I was exposed to growing up, how soon we forget.

    Love the added photo of big brother’s helping arms.



  4. Mountain
    Dec 25, 2013 @ 10:51:06

    Yesterday, Christmas in the Philippines, I was reminded as I read an article with a photo of a Christmas tree fashioned from empty plastic bottles, a beautiful tree. I thought, what a strong spirit as these people make the best of what they have. That is the Christmas spirit not just there but all over the world. We take time out to forget about our troubles and just enjoy peaceful and joyous thoughts. I recall a line from a song ” Why can’t everyday be like Christmas”


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