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When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

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The beautiful practicality of her teaching has made Pema Chödrön one of the most beloved of contemporary American spiritual authors among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. A collection of talks she gave between 1987 and 1994, the book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties. Chödrön discusses:

• Using painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and courage
• Communicating so as to encourage others to open up rather than shut down
• Practices for reversing habitual patterns
• Methods for working with chaotic situations
• Ways for creating effective social action

148 pages, Paperback

First published December 24, 1996

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About the author

Pema Chödrön

167 books4,550 followers
Ani Pema Chödrön (Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, closely associated with the Kagyu school and the Shambhala lineage.

She attended Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, she traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Ani Pema received her ordination from him.

Ani Pema first met her root guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Trungpa, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Sixteenth Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ani Pema served as the director of the Karma Dzong, in Boulder, CO, until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche gave her explicit instructions on establishing this monastery for western monks and nuns.

Ani Pema currently teaches in the United States and Canada and plans for an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,193 reviews
Profile Image for Kristy.
110 reviews
September 13, 2008
I read this book over and over again. I LOVE her and her simple, straightforward way of talking about really deep spirituality. What initially attracted me to this book is kind of a funny story actually, I was going through a rough breakup and happened to be wandering through the stacks at the ICPL. I pulled this book off the shelf, just by chance.

So she begins the book by telling the story of how her marriage ended, when her husband drove up to their house one day and announced that he had met someone else, had been having an affair and their marriage was over. I was feeling rather bitter that day because of my own situation and remember thinking, oh great. She's going to go on about how Buddha Lovingkindness flooded her soul at that moment and she just released the whole thing and her soul became lighter and a chorus of Tibetan angels started chanting and it was so great blahblah (like I said, I was bitter). But instead she said she was still for a moment, and it was one of those moments where you can't for the life of you tell if it was a second long or an hour long, and then she picked up a rock and threw it at him. It was then that I knew that this was my kind of nun, and decided to read on.

Needless to say, she doesn't keep throwing rocks at people. She actually finds many brilliant ways to cope with pain and ego and loss and all that stuff through Buddhist teaching, and then articulates practical ways for regular non-nuns like myself to deal with pain and ego and loss in their own life. I've since bought and loved a lot more of her books, and I highly recommend this one to anyone who is dealing with something difficult or just curious about Buddhism in general. Very good stuff.
Profile Image for Nita Costello.
100 reviews54 followers
November 13, 2020
It was divine intervention that I found & read this book. I had just hurriedly packed a trailer full of stuff & moved out of my house. I was in a bad place. I lost my job. My marriage was a huge disaster. And at age 30, I had to move in with my parents along with my son, 12. I was so wrecked, I often went into the bathroom to cry. I didn't want my son to see me in this state. Broken. I stayed in a depression for months. Seeing this, my mom suggested we go to Half Price Books to get out of the house. I had no money to buy a book. I really had no desire to read anything. At the store, I browsing thru the shelves, I saw this book spine. "What a load of crap," I thought before I opened it. But when I read the first section in the store, I felt better. Hmmm, maybe there is something to this. I bought it with a credit card. If you asked me now how I got thru that difficult time, I can honestly answer, "this book was instrumental." I read the book that day. Then I reread it over & over. Then after, I used this time off of work to figure out where I wanted to go & hatched a plan to help get me there. I don't know who said it, but it's true, when you find yourself in a very dark place, use this time to reshape yourself like a butterfly does in its cocoon. And when you come out, you will be something different, something better. This book was not only a HUGE turning point, it was life saving. If I could write this out this in 100-point bold type, I would.

2020 UPDATE: The year that tested us all. My industry collapsed. I lost my job. COVID-19 struck and has killed off friends and family members. I've exhausted my savings and retirement. I've been quarantined for 8 months. I severely sprained my knee and was bedridden for a month. I was rushed to the ER after a horrible fall at home. And I'm about to file for divorce. So, yep, this year is worse than ever before. But as you know, life is a giant exhausting, frustrating roller coaster. I've built up from the ashes before and I will do it again. Just like 2001, this was a horrible, outlier year. But the good news is that I am alive to tell the tale, and I am going to make today a better day than yesterday, and I am going to keep going until I get to brighter days on the other side of this dark tunnel.
Profile Image for Kermit.
9 reviews28 followers
April 8, 2014
My therapist recommended this book when I was dealing with the end of my 11-yr relationship. She introduced it to me saying that often, when things seems the darkest, it just means we on the verge of breakthrough. I was like "OK, that makes some sense." Then it sat on my book shelf for 8 YEARS! Then my roommate Anya read it and told me it was a MUST READ. So I did. Wow! No, really ... WOW!

I have never heard Buddhist philosophy laid out so clearly and accessibly for the Western mind. And you don't have to be Buddhist. And you DON'T have to be falling apart. (Though if you feel like you are it can help a lot.) So many goodies!

The title refers to the suffering brought about by CLINGING to fragile security-blankets that give us the illusion of immutability in a universe where impermanence is the inevitable human experience. Accepting the impermanence of our own worldly existence, she says, opens our hearts to the vast beauty of the sacred. When we are on the verge of such acceptance, it seems like the world is falling apart, when, in fact, it is just our illusions that are facing imminent dissolution.

She describes meditation as the practice of pure compassion -- first for yourself (when you first attempt the deceptively and frustratingly difficult practice of meditation, and later when meditation provides more insight into self), and then for loved ones, and all humanity, ...

Brilliantly accessible. It just makes sense.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews27 followers
February 12, 2023
Audiobook…. read by Cassandra Campbell
…..5 hours and 18 minutes

This review is mostly notes to myself.

“We experienced a sense of loss…..loss of our friends, loss of our youth, loss of our life”…..

Things falling apart is a kind of testing. The truth is we never really ever resolve things. They come together, they fall apart, and then they come together again….. and fall apart again. The healing comes from letting it all be —
grief, misery, not-knowing, joy, disappointments, etc.
The spiritual journey is not about getting to heaven and feeling as though everything is swell.
Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure, and avoid pain is a hopeless cycle that goes round and round — causing us to suffer greatly.

The only time we really know what’s going on, is when the rug is pulled out from under us, and we have no idea where to go.

We harden into bitterness, righteous indignation….
….every day we can think about the aggression in the world.
….every day we can ask ourselves, are we going to add to the aggression in the world?
Good question—

Am I going to practice peace or am I going to war?
I’m guilty of going to war and sometimes I do try to practice peace
I wouldn’t be reading this book if I didn’t need to practice more inner peace.

Anger, jealousy, fear, disappointment…. are actually very clear moments of teaching us where we are—-they show us where we are stuck.
People who trigger our unresolved issues are actually doing us service. I know - it doesn’t feel like it!The triggers occur all by themselves with regularity.
Each day, we are given many opportunities in which to open up, or shut down.

Working with chaos—awakens us to the relax with burden—
We don’t need any more depression, or discouragement, or more anger to what is already here,
its becoming essential that we learn how to relate effectively to our challenging times .
I’m trying!!!

Meditation-our breath-is a tool we can use to stop fighting with ourselves. We could look at it with a non-judgmental attitude.

This was the 20th Anniversary Edition—-
I read it many years ago —
And since I have found myself with my back against the wall, quite a bit in recent months, I decided to listen to this book again….. with the intention of trying to let go of grief, resentments, regret, anger, and suffering.
Profile Image for Swrp.
665 reviews
April 2, 2023
Beautiful. Profound. Thoughtful.
Profile Image for Sleepless Dreamer.
853 reviews226 followers
December 1, 2020
It's the Jewish new year now. During the Jewish month of Alul, I usually try to spend time evaluating the last year and figuring out what's next. 

And man, this year. 

This year wasn't good for anyone, I realize that. And yet, I'm finishing this year feeling thoroughly disappointed with myself in practically every aspect. Without getting to deep into my own life, I didn't manage to achieve nearly every goal I set for myself. Somehow, it feels like I lost myself this year. I stopped doing things that I used to think defined me without realizing that I was shedding away critical parts of myself. I worked so hard but I wasn't working for the right things, I forgot that you also need time for other things. 

Last year was so perfect that it makes sense everything afterwards would be a little harder. Chödrön mentions that it's easy to talk a big game about inner peace but much harder to achieve it once you're actually in pain. This is remarkably accurate. It was so hard to focus on the right things once so much was going on.

Reading this book felt like healing. It reminded me what's actually important. It's such a grounded book and it's full of exactly the life advice I needed now. Last year, I forgot how to be kind, I didn't strive to be attentive, I focused on proving myself to other people, I lost my happiness in order to fit into a space that was never mine. I let myself think too much about my own issues with confidence instead of truly opening myself to others. This book reminded me that there are other ways to live. It put things into perspective. It made me question why I ever held these things in high regard. I lost myself but this book made me feel like I can find balance again. 
It made me realize I want to get back to volunteering, to helping other people without getting anything from it, to be surrounded by people who are doing good in this world. I want to find spaces to do art again, to do theater again, to create things recklessly without worrying about making a career out of them. Chödrön talks about simply relaxing, thinking about things lightly, and I realized that that's exactly where the problem has been, I've been doing a lot but most of it hasn't been right. 

There's so much joy and beauty in life and I'm furious that I missed out on so much this year because I was busy criticizing myself, that I let myself believe my grade in Micro-economics matters the slightest in this world, that I forgot true happiness comes from balance, it comes from harmony and self acceptance, it doesn't come from getting 100s. I want to succeed in this degree with my curiosity and enthusiasm, not with anxiety and panic. Striving for good grades is a form of escapism, my own security blanket against a future that seems scary. I'm done with that.
Chödrön discusses the three truths: impermanence, egolessness and suffering. Reading that one chapter felt like suddenly breathing. It's such a healthy way of looking at life. I haven't given myself space to think about life at all in the last 10 months and I'm realizing how harmful that was. 

To conclude, I'm really glad I came across this book now. I'm definitely going to take some time to figure out how to actually infuse these ideas into my life. If you're also looking for some spiritual advice, this is a solid book.

What I'm Taking With Me
- I feel like I read one self help book a year but I'm very particular about when and which ones.
- Man, three days without my phone, I am so excited.
- I appreciated that this didn't feel religious, it felt very practical.

Sometimes, you're fortunate enough that a book shows up in your life precisely when you need it. This is one of those times. Review to come!
Profile Image for David Peirce.
69 reviews6 followers
April 24, 2013
Pema Chodron is one of the first Buddhist writers I found as I began to explore Buddhist philosophy, along with Tara Brach and Thich Nhat Hanh. These are writers who understand the disconnection of Western culture.

She writes and talks primarily about dealing with both the subtle undercurrent of fear and the rushes of fear from turbulent events that we all face in life from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective. This is my favorite book by her of the 4 or 5 that I own, and I've read it at least 10 times in the past 4 years.

I could pick any number of quotes from the book to summarize its purpose and premise. Here's one: "To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again."

Pema teaches about dealing with the ups and downs of life. The Buddhist perspective on this is to face them and let them be as they are. Through 22 short chapters, Pema eloquently progresses from laying out the problem, which is that shit happens and we squirm, to teaching that the solution is to let everything be as it is to teaching several techniques for doing that. It's a true discipline to not reach for entertainment, distraction, or medication and to just let things be.

She writes: "As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity."

In another chapter, she writes: "Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again 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."
Profile Image for Megan.
387 reviews992 followers
February 26, 2023
After struggling with some medical stuff on and off since September, I’ve been feeling pretty icky. I was looking at my bookshelf the other day, and When Things Fall Apart was screaming at me to read it. I really do think books come to us at times when we need them, and I’m so glad I picked this up! So many good reminders that I definitely needed 💜
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,567 followers
June 9, 2016
A thought-provoking book about embracing pain and approaching our struggles with openness and curiosity. Similar to Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, When Things Fall Apart encourages us to accept our fears to better understand them, instead of running away from our doubts or distracting ourselves in unhealthful ways. As someone who has had his fair share of traumas and heartbreaks - as well as joys and privileges - I loved Pema Chodron's continued emphasis on appreciating times of pain as well as times of prosperity. I also enjoyed her focus on recognizing impermanence and how we all try to cling to notions of forever, when in reality everything comes to an end: so cherish every moment, and make the good ones last. While this book contains a steady stream of wisdom (more free-flowing and less applied than Brach's Radical Acceptance), I will share two specific, wonderful quotes to end my review.

On letting there be room: "We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and they 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."

On being fully alive: "To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man's land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again."

For more insight, check out When Things Fall Apart.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 22 books87.7k followers
November 1, 2020
This book is what I would call "tough-ass Buddhism." There's no chicken soup here, nothing cuddly or sentimental--it's not a consolation for tough times, but rather, a cool-toned introduction to the simple but rigorous practice of Buddhism as a vehicle for change, a different way to view one's self and the world.

Outwardly, it often resembles the Stoic reaction to adversity--"that which one cannot change should be a matter of indifference." But there's something of the trickster in Chodron and her Buddhism, the advice to move towards what's painful, to be curious about it rather than armoring against its pain. To give up hope one can achieve security or absence of pain, and so, relax into that state of hopelessness which suggests a new way of being in a world without resolution or security. Not to grasp for relief from the chaos, but the patience to just let it be, to let things unfold and see what happens--to me a VERY different way to be in the world.

I read it, of course, when I was in a state of extreme anxiety over a personal matter--and decided to try the patience method, not to clutch at 'saving' anybody, at heading off disaster, but to let things evolve as they would without my intervention. It was certainly work trying not to DO anything. But in the end, the situation did work itself out without me 'handling' it in any way. A big surprise.

One of the strongest ideas I got from this was that we don't know if something is really good or bad--because a good thing can lead to a bad situation and vice versa. Change is the one constant. Her are my notes: ". But surely gratitude for the impermanent good is not the same as thinking it has to last. Accepting what is while trying to relieve suffering. Gratitude for the impermanent good."

Most important to me of the book's concepts is--when painful things happen, soften, rather than harden. Accept rather than resist, and not make it a Problem, a narrative. To feel the pleasure but not attach to it, to feel the pain but not run or shut down or amuse it away." That's a noble tool in the toolkit.

"The joy there is the joy of equilibrium, rain or shine. Peace." But I struggle with the concept of peace as the highest good. As a creative person, I feel one has to embrace the whole piano of emotion, that the deepening our humanity, the embrace of the whole thing, is the highest good. That if you're going to experience the joy of living, the passion and delight and pleasure, one must at least be ready to accept the pain and fear and grief as part of it and not add resistance to the suffering. And know that this moment's trouble is just this moment's trouble. To wait for the flower to open, without prognosticating the future.

So while I don't embrace everything Chodron is advocating here, I do find it a useful, especially when things are going absolutely go to hell. Knowing that whatever I imagine is fantasy, and something else always happens. Life is surprising and we don't control it by our wishing it was different.

The most important thing, says Chodron is:

"When you get squeezed, did you close down o open up? Did we feel resentful and bitter or did we soften? Did we become wiser or more stupid? Were we more critical of our world or more generous?"

Knowing when it's time to listen, to be open, to embrace the new situation, to retreat, to accept, "to find a new place to sit." When dealing with problems, the book suggests one take a new approach, the one you haven't tried before. That a lone was worth the price of the book.

Where meditation comes in--and meditation is a the heart of this book--is developing a self that can sit still. That can be that patient. To sit with strong emotion and not give it a story. Don't make it a story, don't make it a problem.

This is a book I will re-read over the years, full of things that bear thinking about when life seems like it's tearing itself apart. Tough observations about our way of being in the world, and how we increase our own suffering (suffering because our reaction to the negative things that happen to us) by struggling against the event, presenting other modes of living and thinking. Invaluable.

Profile Image for Sienna.
359 reviews75 followers
May 21, 2012
This is the sort of book that enters your life precisely when you need it, when you're living the title and not much else. Or, more precisely, this is the sort of book you don't pick up until you need it — when your husband hands you his copy, your mother extols the virtues of the author and your best friend nods sagely from the other side of the world because if there's no wisdom in love, where are you going to find it? Take another look.

There's so much to admire in Buddhism, and so little, I've always thought, of Buddhism in me. I have no desire to be without desire, to embrace suffering or settle for hopelessness — and I know that statement reflects a lack of understanding, but I am too close to hope right now to set it aside. Still, Pema Chödrön writes so elegantly and eloquently about pain, grief and anger that it's nigh impossible to read her words without being changed by them: last night I dreamt a nightmare and turned toward the fear instead of running away from it. On the surface, nothing happened. Whatever had frightened me became an inky fog that enveloped a suddenly-much-less-worried dream-self and, eventually, became these words.

When Things Fall Apart contains twenty-two chapters that will ask a lot of you. You'll need to approach them with honesty, openness, patience and gentleness. You'll have to be willing to hold a mirror up to yourself and not only accept what it shows you, but love that reflection. It's easy to read these brief meditations in moments of stillness and sense the rightness they contain; much more challenging is the act of practicing in the midst of despair or joy or distraction. But practice is exactly what they demand, and what we need. Neither indulging obsessive thoughts that aren't doing anyone any good, least of all those of us nurturing them, nor suppressing uncomfortable feelings that we might deal with later, if by "later" we mean "never." What good will never do if we fail to experience now, which is always available to us?
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
August 16, 2015
This book has come up multiple times in conversation in the last year so I decided to get it from the library. This will be a book I will buy to keep in my collection, to pull off the shelf and read bits of when I'm having a rough time. I actually wish I had it a couple of years ago when things really did fall apart for a while. More typically, life is full of moments where minor things go wrong, when you get angry or sad about a particular situation, or when you get bogged down with the shoulds. This book addresses the bigger difficulties as well as the daily ones.
“To stay with that shakiness - to stay with 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 - this is the spiritual path.”

Despite the fact that I'm proclaiming I will buy this right away, I still am giving it only four stars. I am not Buddhist and don't have a glossary of Buddhist lingo in my head. I struggled in some chapters with remembering the meanings of some of those words, and it interrupted the flow for me. I would rather have had the ideas presented in simple language than feel like I was being Instructed in Buddhist Precepts (and that there would be a quiz at the end.)

The general concepts boil down to that we can learn to live with discomfort, with pain, with dark times, because they are a part of life. And if we can be compassionate with ourselves we will be able to pay more attention to our own thoughts and feelings, while also extending it outward to other people and our community. If that's Buddhism, sign me up. :)
Profile Image for PsychoSchematics.
121 reviews6 followers
September 15, 2019
Quite possibly the most impacting book I have ever read in my life. I picked this up when I thought things were going wonderfully. I had no idea how much more there was in life. "As I become more wholehearted in my journey of gentle honesty, it comes as quite a shock to realize how much I've blinded myself to some of the ways I've caused harm. My style has been so ingrained that I've not heard when others have tried to tell me, either kindly or rudely that I am causing harm by the way I am or the way I relate with others. I've become so used to the way I do things that somehow I thought that others were used to it too." Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Heart advise for difficult times, intimacy without fear... I honestly avoided this book because of the Buddhist perspective. Instead, it was a beautiful LIFE perspective, not a book on Buddhism. Coming from a thick Christian perspective, I found this book to have a healthy, fertile journey of what everyone who wants fullness, peace, healing. Absolutely the most wonderful book I have ever read.
Profile Image for Anastasiia Mozghova.
373 reviews569 followers
June 20, 2022
2022: перечитала и еще раз убедилась в том, что это одна из лучших и самых важных прочитанных мною книг.

2020: пять наборов из пяти звёзд! пятьдесят пять. бесконечность из пяти звёзд ставлю я этой книге. если вы готовы прочитать одну книгу за год, пусть это будет ��на.
Profile Image for Virginia Cavanillas.
Author 27 books146 followers
May 16, 2018
A pessimistic message but a very honest one. I don’t know how to rate it tho... I guess if you’re able to extract one single thing from it and apply it to your life that’s a success itself and it deserves all the stars. But I’m very divided here because were these Buddhist advices helpful? Well, I’m not sure about it. I don’t know if I can deal better with pain or death now than before reading it but it was interesting enough to keep me invested and make me think a bit, and that’s always a good thing even if the thinking is about how ephemeral everything is.

But the main reason I’m not rating it, is the fact that I’ve read the Spanish version of it and the translation was... how could I put it nicely? Well, bad. It was bad. At times, even difficult to read and understand the idea. And I don’t get this kind of things, not for any book but less with international best sellers as this one is.

So...I hope this book helps you if you read it. No, no, scratch that, I hope you won’t have the need to read it BUT IF you do, I wish you will find in its pages what you’re looking for.

Reviews for Book Lovers
Profile Image for Ron.
761 reviews128 followers
April 21, 2012
I was just finishing this book in September 2001 when the events of 9-11 turned the world upside down, and things truly fell apart. There suddenly were all the vulnerable feelings that Pema Chödrön encourages us to embrace: fear, sorrow, loneliness, groundlessness. And in the days of shock and grief that followed, there was that brief and abundant display of "maitri," or loving kindness, which emerged in waves of generosity and compassion for one another. For a while, we were in the world that she points to as an alternative to the everyday routine of getting, spending, and constant activity.

It is nearly impossible to summarize or characterize this fine book. In some 150 pages it covers more than a person could hope to absorb in many years, if not a lifetime. We may know the Buddha's famous insight that human pain and suffering result from desire and aversion. But few writers have been able to articulate as well as Chödrön the implications of that insight in ways that make sense to the Western mind. As just one example from this book, her discussion of the "six kinds of loneliness" (chap. 9) illustrates how our desires to achieve intimacy with others are an attempt to run away from a deep experience of ourselves. Our continuing efforts to establish security for ourselves are a denial of fundamental truths, which prevents our deep experience of the joy of living. Our reluctance to love ourselves and others shrivels our hearts.

Chödrön invites us to be fascinated, as she is, by paradox. On hopelessness and death (chap. 7) she writes: "If we're willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path." She gets us to acknowledge our restlessness (even our spiritual restlessness) for what it is, something we do instead of simply paying attention to ourselves in the moment and to what happens next, without judgment or preconceptions.

In addition to this book, I recommend acquiring one or more of her audio tapes and hearing her voice as she speaks before audiences. For all the high-mindedness that may come across in descriptions like the one above, or what you might take away by reading the cover of her book, Chödrön is down to earth and unpretentious, speaking in her American accent (don't let the appearance of her name fool you) and with a self-effacing sense of humor. Her message is in her manner, as much as it is in what she says.

This is a book to buy and read, and reread at intervals, for it is always new, always speaking to you exactly where you are, right now.
Profile Image for Blair Hodgkinson.
662 reviews20 followers
May 5, 2017
I was warned away from this book early on in therapy due to its reputation as a victim-blaming book. For this reason, it's considered unsuitable reading for victims of rape and other traumas. It may have benefits for those who have not been subjected to truly difficult times, but it has been linked to suicides and has been suggested as a book that grooms additional victims. Some of the portions highlighted by my therapist reinforced this view. Approach with caution.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,377 reviews1,437 followers
April 30, 2014
Chodrun's writings challenge me to approach my practice and life situation with more humor and kindness than I believed possible. Her words are simple but powerful.

I don't know what else to say about this book except: read it. And may you and all beings be free from suffering.
Profile Image for Carrie Poppy.
305 reviews1,090 followers
December 1, 2020
My fiancé and I read this, spread out, over the year 2020. My "uncle" (long time family friend) had recommended it to me after a bunch of personal tragedies fell in my lap at the same time, and during a pandemic, when everyone was (is) suffering and too emotionally worn thin to bolster one another the way we normally would.

The book was wonderful. It helped me many times, mostly to see and be in the feelings and not run from them. My uncle said he found this book many years ago, and he has returned to it many times since then ("a sort of Buddhist Bible," he said). I can see why. An instant classic.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,864 reviews43 followers
September 5, 2011
I couldn't more strongly disagree with a lot of Chodron's "teachings." For example, that if you'll just accept that theism is a crock and accept hopelessness as the "proper motivation for an insightful and compassionate life," you'll be much calmer and happier. Poppycock. There is a whole lot of focus on how all of us are afraid of death and that we will do anything to "ward off the sense of death, no matter what." Making blanket statements about the fear of all humanity is pretty off-putting to me. I have never had a fear of death. I think about it fairly often in the context of, "If I were to die today, would I be ready?" The idea of death does not strike fear into my heart at all. She really does her best and wholeheartedly believes in what she's sharing. The first section is a lot about meditation. I think meditation is a necessary and healthy thing, but I believe that breathing patterns aren't as important as focusing on your relationship with God and where you stand with Him. I believe hope is also a essential and healthy thing. It was definitely difficult to scare up enough stamina to finish a book that teaches precepts to which my whole life has been lived in direct opposition. It's not that I'm offended by her opinions, but I'm really baffled by her all-encompassing statements about the human family and how we all supposedly think and feel. If you buy what she says, it would have been impossible for me to have lived any sort of content life. However, I have lived a happy life. With hope, with God, etc. She says we "don't deserve resolution, but just an open state of mind to paradox and ambiguity." Again, I am all for resolutions, but along with resolution, I accept responsibility. I must do what I can to find resolution. I better quit my rant there. It makes me sad - the idea that anyone could pick this up and accept it as the end-all, be-all for finding happiness. She does have some good things to say about serving others and helping to release their pain. She has a lot of focus about kindness to others, which I appreciated. There's just a lot more to life than sitting and breathing properly, accepting defeat and thereby being at ease with hopelessness.
Profile Image for Sondra Jones.
24 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2014
In this book, Chodron calls us to "an unconditional relationship with reality".

Here are two quotes that capture this book's essence for me.

"When we are training in the art of peace, we are not given any promises that, because of our noble intentions, everything will be ok. In fact, there are no promises of fruition at all. Instead, we are encouraged to simply look deeply at joy and sorrow, at laughing and crying, at hoping and fearing, at all that lives and dies. We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness".

She also says "Every time we give, every time we practice discipline, patiences or exertion, it's like putting down a heavy burden".

I will keep Chodron's wisdeom close by always.

Profile Image for Sara Budarz.
650 reviews25 followers
May 8, 2015
No. Just no. I am not sure why so many people have recommended this over the years? Any love of buddhism I had was squashed by Chödrön's tone and general pessimism. Admittedly, there were a few insightful ideas or quotes, but overall, I would never recommend this to anyone.
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,086 reviews149 followers
March 26, 2020
Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.

In the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, I turned to Pema Chödrön and her 1997 book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Truthfully, I should probably listen to it on an unending loop right now. Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun, and has been writing and speaking for decades. This is a compilation of a variety of talks, and strong editing brings them together with clarity and flow.

Every topic Chödrön discusses feels applicable to global pandemic and social distancing. They range from loneliness, love, and compassion to fear, hopelessness, nonaggression, and nonattachment. Buddhism has unique ways of approaching today’s stressful topics. And yet, the methods Chödrön suggests are approachable and nondenominational, at least in my eyes.

One of her suggestions is the practice of Tonglen. Essentially, it means “sending and taking” and is designed to awaken compassion. With each in breath, we visualize taking in the pain of others. And on the out breath, we visualize sending whatever will benefit them. This article gives you an idea of how it works.

Tonglen reminds me that I’m part of a bigger whole and not alone. Even though I’m quarantined with my husband, this virtual and spiritual connection with the world helps. You might find that something else from the book means more to you, though.

My conclusions
If you’re looking for a comforting book and are spiritually inclined, give Pema Chödrön a try. She strikes a lovely balance between strength and gentleness. This book contains a lot of instructive material, but never seemed preachy to me. I know I didn’t grasp it all, and that I’ll listen again. All I wanted was to learn a few new strategies, because things do feel like they’re falling apart. And Chödrön gave me exactly that.

Pair with anything reflective, whether fiction or nonfiction. Here are some ideas:

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, because it talks about finding creative ways to solve unsolvable problems

Two books about resilience, for obvious reasons.
You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha and
Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
Profile Image for Paul Ivanov.
60 reviews13 followers
May 30, 2012
This was my first Buddhist-related read for a decade, now, and I was able to reflect on how large chunks of my overall attitude toward life was shaped by the few sources I read back then. Reading this now not only helped that sink in, but also provided much needed advice for difficult times, as advertised by the subtitle.

Useful read. It was recommended by and borrowed from my therapist (reading some reviews, I see at least one other person who got the same recommendation from his). I did not care much for many of the specific personal anecdotes related to her main teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, since I ended up reading a bit about him prior to starting the book and found what I read to be a bit too cult-like and off putting.

On the other hand, descriptions of the process of practicing unconditional love, especially toward yourself, as well as resisting the urge to react and do the same thing you typically end up doing to resolve a crisis and instead let it all sink in, were well developed and well presented. Suffering is as much a part of life as joy, trying to shield yourself from it is shielding yourself from life itself. Life will always continue to offer both suffering and joy (and a myriad of other things) in unexpected ways, so there's no point in trying to cling on to a (false) sense of security, or be addicted to hope for some better future - both lead to a cycle of unnecessary (avoidable) let downs of not facing the truths of the human condition: fallibility and impermanence being pretty high up there.

And as Vonnegut eloquently put it: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you've got to be kind."
Profile Image for Katie.
515 reviews205 followers
July 13, 2020
This is easily one of the most important books I've ever read. I've been dealing with a lot of stress lately and I think somehow this book found me at just the right time. Chödrön explores an incredible number of useful lessons in empathy, compassion, and patience in such a short number of pages. This is one of those books you could read a chapter of every day for the rest of your life and you would always find something new, something useful to help you live your life in a better way. She talks a lot about appreciating the present moment, that what we consider problems are often opportunities, and that we shouldn't strive to make everything perfect, because life isn't perfect. Simply put, this is an amazing book about the power of being mindful, of letting go, and about the importance of introspection.

"Some of us can accept others right where they are a lot more easily than we can accept ourselves. We feel that compassion is reserved for someone else, and it never occurs to us to feel it for ourselves."
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,052 reviews212 followers
November 17, 2020
This ended out on my list as a recommendation from GR. . . .dove in naked, so to speak - no idea other than probably not fiction. . . .I'm just looking to feel a little better in my world as it is right now.

Buddhist. This is a book about feeling better using Buddhist thinking and beliefs. As I listened, racing around doing my tasks it all washed over me and I really did begin to feel better, calmer, less stressed. This was a stunning thought to me - some of the ideas are counter to anything I've ever learned (hope is a problem????? Wha? I thought it was the answer?!), but some of it almost began making sense. Most of it did make sense. Honestly, this is the first connection I have really ever made with Buddhist concepts.

That's as far as I will go on reviewing - Just like I wouldn't make a judgement on any belief system other than in my heart, and not in a "star" system, please note the stars I'm giving reflect only my response to the writing and my further pursuit in this author's work and direction. And for that, I'm going to re-read this book in a hard format so I can see the words, note them and have them at hand, and will continue to read more along this line. If it makes sense. . .
1 review
Currently reading
March 15, 2008
This is one of those great keepers you read, reread and then loan to friends in times of need. Though I was baptized an Episcopaelian, I appreciate the philosophy and spirituality of most religions. This I first read after my mom was killed before Christmas the year I got my B.A., when I devoured everything from Thich Nhat Hanh to Mother Teresa to Gandhi and the Bible and even Dr. Phil. The great message is remembering that we need to learn to live with this sort of groundlessness, when the world pulls the rug, even the earth, from beneath our feets and nothing is ever the same again. This is life--unfair, even brutal at times, but oh-so-beautiful and magical if you just hang on long enough to make it through the darkness. Next to Wolfelt's books, this is one of the best books I read in the throes of my deepest grief and return to anytime I am confused or overworked, or simply stressed out. It balances me.
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,216 reviews61 followers
December 30, 2011
With everything that's happened in my life this year, my mom found this book and thought it would be a good read for me. And indeed, the title was very very fitting, however, actually applying what is in this book could prove to be very difficult.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist and as such, this book is mainly about Buddhism and its practices. And maybe its just because I know barely anything about Buddhism, but I found this to be a very high level book. She talks about using dharmas, loneliness, meditation and other ways of looking at the world. The prevailing theme is that things that make us uncomfortable should be examined instead of ignored. We shouldn't be scared of loneliness, despair, and loss but rather should examine them and accept them. She offers tips for how to do this and shares stories about the ways other people have found to live this way. And she odes warn that it is a struggle.

As said before I found this book to be very high level. In fact, I really didn't understand most of what she was talking about. Which I wasn't prepared for from the cover and the back cover description. It seemed like something that would be more for everyone. But I would highly recommend someone knowing a little something about Buddhism and its terms before reading this book. Otherwise, they may be just as lost as I was. That's not to say I didn't understand everything though. There were a few passages that spoke to me and that I could relate to. In particular, she talks about how we as humans build sandcastles and guard them jealously, even though in the end we know they'll be swept away by the sea and we're ok with that. She says that kind of nonattachment is healthy and something we should strive for. And that makes sense.

I also was quite fond of a quote found in there. "Honesty without kindness, humor, and goodheartedness can be just mean." This really spoke to me because in my last relationship, all the nasty things that were said to me by him were excused by him as just being "brutally honest." But is it good to be honest when the only outcome is to hurt someone? I don't think so, and I like Chodron's theory that honesty involves incorporating kindness as well. It is not noble to always tell the truth with no thought of the consequences. I'm in no way advocating lying, but there is a way to tell the truth with compassion. And one person's truth is not always anothers.

Definitely not the book I thought it was going to be, and I think if I had been educated further on Buddhism I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As such, there was just too much that was really only geared towards practitioners of Buddhism and hard to understand for the rest of us. But there are some valuable lessons to take away from this book even without that knowledge.

When Things Fall Apart
Copyright 1997
146 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2011

More of my reviews can be found at www.ifithaswords.blogspot.com
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