When Things Fall Apart

When Things Fall Apart
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Pema Chodron has a wonderful book called When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times which was given to me many years ago. It sat on my bookshelf and I hardly opened it.

About six months ago, she was on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday" series and I was absolutely fascinated by her story. Before she became a best selling author and famous Tibetan Buddhist nun, she was a regular woman who grew up in NJ, taught elementary school and had two children. Her life fell apart, she said when she discovered that her husband of eight years was having an affair and left her while her children were very young.

I was completely drawn into her story because it was so similar to mine and began to follow her teachings. All of us have at one time or another had our lives fall apart. A loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, we lose our job and in the process, our identities, a relationship ends, we are battling an addiction or someone we love dies. Whatever the event, it's easy for us to go to the place of being a victim. To feel sorry for ourselves. "Why is this happening to me?" What did I do to deserve this?"

We did nothing to deserve it. Bad things happen to good people all the time. The trick is to reframe what is happening to us. To get out of the story and get into the gifts and opportunities presenting themselves. I'm not saying this is easy. Far from it. But it's possible. If you can surrender to what is happening.

A year ago, I was at an event when this man I had never met before overheard me telling the "story" of what had just happened to me. I couldn't get through the story without crying. He said, "I've been listening to your story and I'm not trying to diminish the pain that you're feeling but I'm wondering if I can tell you a different story. The one that is actually true." Intrigued, I agreed to listen to his version of my story.

In his story, I wasn't a victim. In his version of the story, the person who had hurt me was actually my greatest teacher. The way he saw it, I was incredibly lucky that this person had showed me who he truly was, and freed me up to live the life I was meant to live. In his version of my story, I wasn't "not enough" as I had been telling myself and anyone who would listen. I was "more than enough..." and the universe had manifested an amazing opportunity to prove to myself and everyone around me how strong I was... that I could handle myself with dignity and grace in the face of such a betrayal. I had been given an opportunity to show compassion and forgiveness towards someone who had hurt me. Wasn't that a gift, he asked?

At first I found this version of the story a hard one to swallow and certainly a hard one to tell. It was *much* easier to be the victim in my story. And I didn't have to stretch myself by having actual compassion for the person who had treated me with such dishonor and disrespect.

But as the months went one, more and more people I spoke with saw the same story as this man. Just when I was in another fit of pity and anger, they would say to me, "Look at all the amazing things you are doing with your life now! You wouldn't be doing any of these things if this hadn't happened to you." Or "Wow. What an amazing lesson from the universe to teach you forgiveness and compassion."

So in my writing, rather than pouring out all the self-righteous anger and sadness I was feeling, I spent more time writing down all the lessons. All the things I was learning about myself. All of the old behavioral patterns I was breaking. All of the amazing friends and family I had in my life who were showing up for me and being there in ways you can't even imagine. All of the friendships that were strengthened because I was learning how to ask for help -- something I *never* allowed myself to do in the past. As my life fell apart... I was broken open -- and I came together like never before.

As I went through my own spiritual journey, I watched others I loved suffering their own trials. My brother-in-law lost his only brother to ALS. My friend suffered her third miscarriage. My co-worker bravely and tirelessly battled Stage 4 cancer. My good friend lost his job, another friend lost his father. Friends started confiding in me that their marriages were falling apart and they didn't have the courage to leave. And it was as those things happened, I saw that I had a responsibility. I could be an example of how to reframe the tragedies in our life and create something magnificent out of it. Or I could stay the victim.

All of us are going through something right now. What I've learned is as awful as these things are when they happen, they are always temporary. They pass in time and happiness and joy find their way to us again. So, just for today I have chosen to not be a victim of my "story." Today I'm choosing to be an example of all the wonderful things that can happen when things fall apart.

Because the only thing that can follow things falling apart... is it all coming back together.

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