If there’s one thing I love in life, it’s synchronicity. Those little things that happen at just the right time and are just a little bit too coincidental to explain away. You know what I’m talking about: Like when you randomly think of someone you haven’t seen in years, then they email the next day. We all have many examples of things like this. I see synchronicity as a sort of nod from the universe that you’ve somehow managed to stumble your way on down the right path; that there is a method to all the madness.
In preparation for yoga training, we trainees are required to read a book off of a prescribed list and write about our reaction to it. Since I was added to the class at the last minute, my teacher recommended that I go with one of the shorter books, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. My teacher approaches this training with somewhat of a Buddhist slant, and this book reflects that–it puts some of the basic Buddhist concepts in very plain language that’s highly applicable to everyday life. I was a theology major in college with a concentration in eastern religions. For a long time, Buddhism really spoke to me–I found so much comfort in the life-based philosophy. Over the years, though, the specifics of it have sort of faded away. It felt so good to come back to it.
But back to synchronicity: As I wrote in my previous post, although I’d been kicking around the idea of yoga teacher training for years and really honing in on it recently, the final push I needed to stop talking about it and start doing it came in large part from, well, things falling apart a little bit. My general philosophy in life is that, cheesy as it sounds, everything happens for a reason. I believe that even the most difficult endings are really only paving the way for better new beginnings. In fact, oh-so-ironically, just a few days before everything came crashing down, I wrote an essay about “the unknown.” In it, I wrote: … there have been countless circumstances that have led me away from what I wanted and toward what I needed. Relocations have been forced, relationships have broken down, jobs have hit the skids. In the moment, pretty much all of these derailments have run the gamut from scary to seemingly tragic . . . but it has to be said that looking back at my life so far, all the best things and people have come along through some sort of domino effect resulting from a great cosmic shove into the unknown. And, oddly, it also seems that the more scary and dramatic that push into the unknown has been, the greater and more rewarding the actual long-term results.
Uh huh. Sure, I believed this when I wrote it. But it’s always easier to believe when the universe appears to be working on your behalf. It’s a different story when it feels as though everything has gone haywire and you’ve lost control; when you’re being pushed along a path you don’t want to walk. Which is all to say I was having a very hard time buying into my own words when a relationship came to a screeching halt a few days after I wrote this.
So it was a great reminder when one of the first things I read in When Things Fall Apart was this: “Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” It is so simple and basic, but sometimes we have to be reminded—we just don’t know.
Like many others, throughout my life I’ve had the bad (though well-intentioned for alleged emotional preservation) habit of attempting to shove those more difficult emotions down and covering them up with more palatable ones. I found so much freedom (and logic) in Chödrön’s message that our emotions are there for a reason: to enrich our life experience and to grow and learn from. Most of all, she says, we need to get through the heartbreaks and disappointments by making our way through them, rather than by attempting to banish them (which, let’s be honest, is usually futile anyway). It was a good reminder that part of being human and being alive is experiencing sorrow and loss—this is supposed to happen, just as much as the joy is. For all of us, it is a fact of life. And, it’s true that when I look back at my life so far, I know that I have grown the most from the difficult times. The good times are what we all want, but the more difficult times are when we are stretched and strengthened. If we don’t allow ourselves to experience these more painful and trying experiences, ultimately we are only hurting ourselves more by denying our humanity and giving up an opportunity to grow.
And, finally, she speaks about how we are always moving forward and getting stronger; we need to utilize life on a minute-by-minute basis to grow into the person we want to be. “When we find ourselves in a mess, we don’t have to feel guilty about it. Instead, we could reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess will be sowing the seeds of how we relate to whatever happens next. We can make ourselves miserable, or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives. … well-being is often a result of having been brave enough to be fully alive and awake to every moment of life, including all the lack of cheer, all the dark times, all the times when the clouds cover the sun. Through our own good spirit, we can be willing to relate directly with what’s happening, with precision and gentleness. That’s what creates fundamental cheerfulness, fundamental relaxation.” So empowering.
In the end, I highlighted and annotated the vast majority of the book. So much of it resonated and spoke to all of the things I was struggling with in that very moment. It showed me a productive way through it all. I’m sure that if I were to read the book again a year from now when I’m in a different place, other things would stand out. I was so grateful to have these powerful words show up in my life at just the right time. I feel like this bodes extremely well for the weeks ahead.