A few days ago I came across a quotation by Cesar A. Cruz: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” This struck me as true. Even more so for the dharma. Why? When we are comfortable, we often need to be shaken out of our routines so that we can grow, and when disturbed we need to be comforted so that we can find our balance. There is no question that Pema Chodron’s teachings fall into the “upsetting the apple cart” category. Her classic When Things Fall Apart is an insightful and very readable book. It is made up of 22 meditations about how to be intimate with whatever arises, especially the difficult challenges. As she says, our mindfulness
nails us. It nails us right to the point of time and space that we are in. When we stop there and don’t act out, don’t repress, don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then we meet with an open-ended question that has no conceptual answer. We also encounter our heart. As one student so eloquently put it, “Buddha nature cleverly disguised as fear kicks our ass into being receptive.”
Pema tells us clearly and vividly what it is like to be challenged and how to work with it. I strongly recommend this book to people who have been practising steadily in any tradition for a few years and want to step things up a bit. Otherwise you might lack the stability of awareness and purpose necessary to turn up the heat and be able to handle it. Oddly enough I also recommend it to people who have little spiritual experience but have been thrown into an intense crisis. Having been pushed into the deep end of the pool by death, illness, or loss, they need to learn to swim quickly, and this book can really help.
This is one of my favourites. Pema is funny, clear, grounded and compassionate. Very highly recommended!