When Things Fall Apart, Start Where You Are, and Persevere

Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear…Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment…Things like disappointment and anxiety are messengers telling us that we’re about to go into unknown territory. — Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, (13-14)

With active ambivalence – one day I’m going, the next day I’m not – I finally succumbed to my deep knowing that to sit in silent retreat for a week would be not only energetically healing, but also a “rhythmic bookend” to how I had begun my leave last year.  I also knew it would mean sitting with myself, encountering all the emotions, assumptions, interpretations, actions, and deeply imbedded programs that had been contributing to the deep unsettling of the past weeks. 

And so it was that I packed up, again, to take myself to the restful and natural sanctuary offered by the Providence Renewal Centre, to sit in the comfortably familiar setting, among the comfortably familiar “sangha” of meditators.  Heeding instructions, I brought a “wheelbarrow full of good intention, and a bag full of patience and self appreciation” – both of which needed constant replenishing throughout the five days – and three books, that together with two on the meditation table, created the container for this particular sit:

“Ye tangche” means totally tired out…it describes an experience of complete hopelessness, of completely giving up hope.  This is an important point.  This is the beginning of the beginning.  Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be – we will never relax with where we are or who we are. — Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, (38)

When I read this, I realized I was at this place that early Sunday morning, a week or so ago, when I wrote my last post, “Is This Who You Want to Be?”  That piece evoked a range of response from family and friends, the common denominator being concern for me and my present state of well-being.  I remember after writing I hesitated a few moments before pushing the “publish” button, sensing I’d revealed more of my vulnerability than previously.  And yet I knew this was a continuation of my journey down the “U,” through “open heart,” and “open mind,” into “open will,” the deepest place where the ground gives out and groundlessness, hopelessness and, paradoxically, fearlessness, are found.

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, to not run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones no matter what’s going on.  — Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, (45)

Hour after hour, I sat or walked, and stuck with myself, chewing down to the bare bones of who I am. Every time I considered leaving, to run away from myself, I recalled the remark made last year, by the woman now sitting beside me. At that retreat’s convivial conclusion, I had asked where she and her husband were from: several hours’ drive south.  Upon confirming that I lived close by, she remarked I could have easily left whenever I wanted.  She is a long time meditator, and so after a moment’s reflection I came back and asked if after all these years of practice did she still have moments of wanting to leave? “Yes, of course,” was her compassionate reply.  This year I had occasion to thank her, and she remarked with equal compassion, “It’s a hard practice, isn’t it.”

Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something and they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold onto hope and hope robs us of the present moment…We can drop the fundamental hope that there is a better “me” who one day will emerge.  We can’t jump over ourselves as if we were not there.  It’s better to take a straight look at our hopes and fears, and then some kind of confidence in our basic sanity arises.  This is where renunciation enters the picture – renunciation of the hope that our experience could be different, renunciation of the hope that we could be better. — Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, (41)

Now home nearly a week, I feel the push to attend to so much of my life that I put on hold since my return, as I, curiously enough, tended to my life.  Again that stepping out of the depths of my “U,” and metaphorical cocoon…following the wise advice from the retreat leader to “refrain from charting any radical new courses and behaviour, and rather blend healthy doses of gentleness into everything I do over the course of the next few weeks.  Avoid hard and fast conclusions as they will inevitably be influenced by the conditioned perspectives formed over many years.”

We think that if we just meditated enough, or jogged enough, or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect.  But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death.  Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole and self contained and comfortable, is some kind of death.  It doesn’t have any fresh air.  There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that.  We’re killing the moment by controlling our experience.  Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later we’re going to have an experience we can’t control.  From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all loose ends and finally getting it together is death because it involves rejecting a lot of your base experience.  There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice, smooth ride. — Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart, (71)

Recognizing a disposition to this kind of thinking, I observe the truth of my groundlessness, sensing that the “I” I’ve known for a long time, is changing.  I find myself remarking that given these times, any notion of being or feeling “settled” is unlikely, instead learning nimble, light-footedness. I claim that last year I gave notice to the Universe that I was prepared for the total ground of my being to be changed. 

I have been heard. I start where I am. I persevere.

About Katharine Weinmann

living and leading with courage, clarity, compassion and creativity
This entry was posted in Pilgrimage, Theory U and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to When Things Fall Apart, Start Where You Are, and Persevere

  1. Terri Blair says:

    I am in a very good place right now. It feels comfortable and right, but what I know for absolute certainty is that I would not be here now if I had not gone ‘around the circle’ more than once in my life. The ups, downs, learning, sorting the learning, seeing how the truth ‘sits’ in my soul has all been going on for a long time. I know that I will continue to go ‘around the circle’ but when I move off the ‘top spot’ I will lean on what has become my philosophy….tell the truth, show up (for life), pay attention and let go of the outcome (this has always been the hard one for me). Always, Terri

  2. Pingback: Day 143 – Successful failure (or why I it’s great I can’t sit right now) « A Year Of Living Wisely

  3. Shannon says:

    I said to my friend, yesterday, “I feel like I have 3000 sighs to sigh.” She said, “Well, if you do 10 a day, you be done in less than a year.”

    I had been feeling my body puddle on the ground, muscles relaxing after a tough school year, a taxing seven day meeting in another country, a night without sleep, and a day of plane flights. Puddle: a lump of limp.

    Then I read your entry here, Katharine. And as I read about intentionally giving up hope, my arms oozed even more of whatever it is I am oozing. “Here I am, not en route to better, just here and now.” And even as I type those words, I have doubts. My own deepest fear is that if I give up hope, if I give up my nimble feet, if I give up my restless desire for moving forward, I will descend into a kind of coma. I fear that without my nimble feel, I have nothing else.

    Are there others who have given up hope and come out the other side?


    • Hello Shannon
      It is a provocative perspective, this intentional surrendering of hope, as it truly goes against so much of our culturing. Pema Chodron and Meg Wheatley write eloquently of it as a necessary way in and through these times. My own experience is telling me of groundlessness. As I reflect on your writing, I am struck again by the paradox, this experience of sitting and staying with groundlessness. Settling into one’s body and from that comes a different knowing from which nimbleness, lightness,responsiveness emerge. Maybe read Chodron’s books. I and others find them “accessible” and helpful. Warmly….

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