When Things Fall Apart

The Big Ideas!

  •  Things do fall apart sometimes—stuff happens! But that’s not what defines us; it’s how we choose to react and handle the situation. We can work with chaos instead of fighting it.
  • Groundlessness (fear, anxiety, vulnerability) feels terrible, but it’s simply a sign that you’re on the verge of a new experience. You always have a choice: react with resentment and anger about the situation, or acknowledge what you’re feeling and see where it leads you.
  • The practice of maitri (pronounced “my-tree”), or self-compassion, allows you to transform difficult experiences by changing your inner perception of what is happening.

Neutrino’s Nutshell

In every stressful situation, there is a choice between two distinct reactions.

Choice #1: Believe the inner “story line” in which X always happens because of Y. (“I always mess up my relationships because I’m awful at communicating”.)

Choice #2: Acknowledge the difference between what is actually happening here and now (the observable facts) and what is taking place in your mind (emotions and thoughts). Then take action with a clear head, based on the facts.

This book proposes that the more you are able to choose Choice #2, the more peaceful and happy you will become.

Negative occurrences or outcomes are a way of life. It is unavoidable, whether an argument with a friend, a fender-bender, a mistake at work, getting laid off, or the death of a love ones. While these things cause us pain, if we allow ourselves to fall prey to “story-line” thinking, we might forever get stuck in that mindset. The blame is focused inward, at our own perceived shortcomings. As a result, we won’t be able to acknowledge and process the painful event which would allow us to move onto the next moment. Instead we’d fall into the mode of making excuses for why bad things happen to us.


“Just seeing what’s going on—that’s the teaching right there. We can be with what’s happening and not dissociate. Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives.”

IMEO (In My Eudaimonian Opinion)

Embracing life includes embracing all the challenges that come along with it. There is no way to cut out all negativities, stresses, tension, or chaos. The only option is to work with whatever happens to us on a daily basis. Being able to adapt, and accept that bad things will happen to everyone will make us a stronger, happier, and more resilient person. We can take a hit and move on, hopefully to a positive situation or circumstance. The earlier we learn this sense of mindfulness and awareness, preferably as children and teens, the better we will be equipped to handle any obstacle that gets in our way.

Take action, humanoid!

Whenever a difficult situation arises, try these steps to return to a clear-headed state in which problem-solving is much more effective.

1. Name what’s happening—just the facts. (“Jamie missed curfew by half an hour. It’s the third time this month.”)

2. Notice the thoughts and feelings that are coming up in relation to what’s happening. (“I’m furious! Jamie is just doing this to push my buttons!”) Then label them as thoughts and feelings, not facts.

3. Become aware of your body’s reaction to the situation. For example, is your pulse racing? To return your body to a calm state, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. It sounds extremely simple, but that’s all it could take for you to clear your head momentarily, so that you are able to process what is going on in that very moment.

The Deets

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Author: Pema Chödrön
Publication date: 1997 (147 pages)strong

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