book reviews · gen reads

gen reads: when things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times

Hey friends!

This book review is on a book I think EVERYONE should read. I give it as a gift quite often and have lent it out quite a few times to friends who are in dark places.

I had never heard of Pema Chödrön until Sean’s stepmom gave us her book.

The book sat on our bookshelf for awhile since I am more into fiction and memoirs than “self help books”. Then Sean’s mom was diagnosed with cancer on a Friday in late December and the following Monday I had to quit my job abruptly due to being told I couldn’t take time off to go see her at the hospital and meet with her oncologist. I had a full book that day and I like making money…but come on!!! I had been unhappy there for quite some time but after a horrifying phone conversation about how “cancer is a slow process” (its sometimes not as Robin died exactly 13 days later) I knew it was time to say “Deuces Im out!” When I went in to put my 2 weeks I was met with a barrage of insults and comments about both my character (I was called a thief, a liar, and a crappy esthetician).

I left the job I had been at for several years in shock and completely at a loss for words.

I went home literally shaking with anger, fear, and sadness , grabbed When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times with my knitting and headed to the hospital. I sat reading in Sean’s mom’s room all afternoon while Robin napped.

It was the perfect time to pick up this book all about life falling apart because that was happening all around me.


“Pema Chodron, a student of Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche and Abbot of Gampo Abbey, has written the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of Harold Kushner’s famous book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. As the author indicates in the postscript to her book: “We live in difficult times. One senses a possibility they may get worse.” Consequently, Chodron’s book is filled with useful advice about how Buddhism helps readers to cope with the grim realities of modern life, including fear, despair, rage and the feeling that we are not in control of our lives. Through reflections on the central Buddhist teaching of right mindfulness, Chodron orients readers and gives them language with which to shape their thinking about the ordinary and extraordinary traumas of modern life. But, most importantly, Chodron demonstrates how effective the Buddhist point of view can be in bringing order into disordered lives.” (publisher Weekly review Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

All of When Things Fall Apart is based around Tibetan Buddhist teachings and primarily focuses on when bad things happen which life is inevitable. The novel part of what Pema says is so important is the acceptance she pushes the reader to find. Bad things happen and they happen to all of us. There’s nothing we can often do to change certain situations nor can we stop other situations from even occurring? How do we find peace in the uncertainty and in the pain?

We think that the point is to pass the test or 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.

Another vital part of the book for me was Pema’s words about looking inward. One of my favorite lines from the book on this subject is “the most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves”. This line is so poignant and so very true for me. In all my times of fear and anxiety, I am often the big bad monster, the creature lurking under the bed. I haunt myself as crazy as it sounds. In certain areas of each of our lives, we have the ability to haunt ourselves because it is easier than looking fully at one’s self.  Pema instead pushes you to look deeply at yourself, your patterns, your fears and to face fully what scares you.

nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know 
…if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”


Its hard to fully put into words how intense and beautiful this book is. It is brilliant and soft and hard and loving. Do yourself a favor and get it.

I’ll leave you with my most favorite quote of the book,

“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.”


“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move. In reality, however, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow, and we continue to suffer a lot.”

If you do decide to purchase this amazing book, you can purchase the book here through amazon and help me pay off my medical bills. Just saying. Get it either way though friends <3


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