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



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