Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

When Things Fall Apart: How to Cope in Difficult Times


Did you know an eclipse – lunar or solar – can trigger sudden, irrevocable change in your life that comes about due to external circumstances? I used to fear eclipses for this very reason.

I disliked unexpected change.  The kind of change that can make your head spin in disbelief and leave your knees knocking loudly.  The kind of change you didn’t ask for.  The kind of change you don’t want.

Fortunately, every eclipse doesn’t effect every person so dramatically.  But still, you can’t escape change forever.  There’s also the unfolding of karma – the fruition of your past actions – which can twist your world around in abrupt and surprising ways.

Change will arrive in this lightning-like way at some point in your life.  What will you do?

Heart Advice for Difficult Times

My suggestion is to immediately stop on the spot and start reading When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön.  This thin volume, only 146 pages, is a primer on wrangling with change and winning.  As a side bonus, you receive an introduction to basic meditation, the practice of loving kindness and compassion, and the fundamental principles of Buddhism like impermanence, renunciation, and emptiness.

This is not a book for the faint of heart.  You’ve already had the rug pulled out from under you.  You’re probably scrambling for secure footing.  Now Pema Chödrön – this charming yet uncompromising Western nun – will try to convince you that feeling and being groundless is the best place to be.  She attempts to lure you into an intimate relationship with fear.  She says:

So the next time you encounter fear, consider yourself lucky.  This is where courage comes in.  Usually we think that brave people have no fear.  The truth is that they are intimate with fear.

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought.  That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again.  Nothing is what we thought.  I can say that with great confidence.  Emptiness is not what we thought.  Neither is mindfulness or fear.  Compassion—not what we thought.  Love.  Buddha nature.  Courage. 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.

In these chapters, Pema Chödrön takes your hand, and shows you exactly how to lean into change, meet pain and suffering with curiosity, and loosen your grip so you can lighten up and relax into chaos.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think that the points 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.

This part stuck me in particular:  “…things don’t really get solved.”  Because so much of life is about finding the solution, isn’t?  Whatever we understand intellectually, on a deeper level we’re anticipating happily-ever-after.

But what if things don’t really get solved?  I’ll leave you with that profound question.

So what do you think?  Do things get solved or not?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this and on flowing with uncertainty.

Thank you for your presence!  May you be well, happy, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. I need to read this book Sandra.

    I like what you said here about describing the book: “loosen your grip so you can lighten up and relax into chaos.”

    We never want to let go 🙂 and that likely causes much of our suffering (especially when things fall apart)

    • It’s a wonderful book, Vishnu. I sense that you’ve become quite good at this though after all the changes you’ve been through. Still, it’s not easy to let go, it’s been a long-held habit so encouragement like this really helps, I find. Wishing you well!

  2. Sandra,

    Thanks for this wonderful post reminding us of Pema’s Chodron’s wisdom. Her books and teachings were very helpful in a difficult period in my life. I always love being reminded of her philosophies. I quote her on my blog this week too!

    • Isn’t the synchronicity interesting, Debbie – that we both quoted her this week? I feel she’s so brilliant and her message so down-to-earth and helpful. It always helps to have encouragement in the wings like this, I feel. I’m glad you found this support when you were going through such challenging times.

  3. I’ve always found that resistance or ‘pushing against’ something, even fear never worked our very well for me Sandra…best to simply allow, in faith that you come out the other side stronger and more able to sit with fear without allowing it to control you.


  4. Yes when all things fall apart- had one of those days last week and i find that stepping away and looking at what is really going on immediately brings sanity to the situation. Then I usually see that this was a necessary step on the growth to enlightenment path. thank you xxoo

    • That’s such a helpful way to approach those “falling apart” moments, Suzie. It takes courage to step away, but that’s often how we find our center and our wisdom so we can deal with the situation with more clarity and ease. Everything can be a step for our personal and spiritual growth when we see it this way. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. This message is something for me to journal on this week. I’m the sort of very structured, high controlling person who likes to be on top of every detail – and ambiguity and unexpected change is something I don’t always respond to well.

    After working in the middle east and se asia for a couple of years I’m more comfortable – as things change here all the time! – but it’s still an area of growth for me. x

    • I appreciate how you’re so open to taking this on, Ellen, and seeing if you can get even more uncomfortable with uncertainty. Like you, I’m not a lover of uncertainty, but I’ve gotten more comfortable too. I’ve been to Asia too and the whole pace and approach to life is so very different. I can see how that’s a good training ground for dancing with change! Thanks for your honesty and openness.

  6. I love this line, “The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” I have read Pema’s book, but after reading your post, I think I could read it again. Thanks for the reminder.

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