I've had these words bangin' around in my head for the past few days. They're from the one and only Pema Chodron in her book "When Things Fall Apart." I first came across her and this book back in the early days of my marriage, when life was throwing us one massive curveball after another, and I myself was gasping for air daily. I was in an unrelenting state of not wanting to be where I was. Wishing for things to be different than they were. Wishing I could disappear, runaway, and save everyone around me from the pain that would cause. I had no idea how to proceed.
I would listen to Pema on my iPod every night in bed, on my walk to the train, on the bus. Her words were oxygen. She told her own story of her marriage, how her husband approached her on their porch one hot, dusty summer day in Arizona and announced that he was leaving, that he was in love with another woman, and that she threw rocks at him and spit words of hate. She described the hot anger, the frightening rage she felt towards him and this other woman, the plans she made to hurt them, the arresting thoughts of violence and how her own mind attacked her moment after moment.
She also described how that experience set her life on a different course. Not immediately, and not easily, but it cracked her open in such a way that the former version of herself and her life were annihilated. In an attempt to find some way out of her pain, she was talking to a friend who recommended she read an article written by Chögyam Trungpa. The article was about how we relate to negative feelings - and that it's not the negative feelings that hurt us, but the stories we tell ourselves about them, which are often filled with thoughts of shame, self-hatred and blame. It awakened something in her. The possibility that there was another way to move through this. This set her on the path to being a student of his and eventually becoming the first Tibetan buddhist nun, a prolific author and one of the most renowned spiritual teachers of our time.
In my own case, working through her books and workshops and listening to her words helped me navigate the next several years. "When Things Fall Apart" is one of the seven ten books I keep on my desk at all times. As with all big lessons, they take different meaning over time. You could study buddhism until the day you die and never grasp it all -- the lessons never end. But there is something pure and essential about the idea that sometimes you just have to let everything fall apart.
Two years ago this concept meant letting go of my marriage without having any guarantee of what the future would hold. Letting it all fall to the ground without knowing if I would be forgiven, if I would be loved again, if I would be able to support myself, if I would have to fight to keep custody of my daughter, if I would one day regret my decision and if I could even make it through the next day, and the next, and the next without being swallowed whole by the fear. It meant telling the raw, honest truth about the mess we'd created and my own part in it. It meant not knowing a fucking thing but letting it happen anyway.
Today, the story has different characters and circumstances, but the lesson is the same. I've found myself thinking, again? We are here again?Really? But this is the part of the lesson I missed or ignored the first time around.
“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. ”
Until we learn something the universe will keep feeding the lesson to us. This is the good news and the bad news. We are given a lot of chances. As long as we wake up, we have another chance. But we have to do the work to actually change. We have to jump off the cliff.
Two years ago, I jumped off the cliff that was my marriage. It turned out to be okay, but it was not okay for a long time. There was a lot of free fall.
Today, the characters and circumstances are different, but the concept is the same. I'd avoided jumping off the cliff into sobriety for a long time. Really jumping off; not just peeking over the edge or hanging from it looking down while still clutching onto the rocks and dirt. I'd asked others to push me off (they cannot). I'd even hung some limbs out there in hopes that maybe a big wind would just scoop me up and throw me over (also does not work). Turns out the only thing that works is actually closing your eyes, taking a breath, bending your knees and launching yourself forward. Only when you've jumped do you need to fly. I'm remembering I can fly.