When I downsized before moving west I got rid of a lot of books, but there were a select few that I saved and brought with me. One of those keepers is Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. For such a slender book, it packs quite a punch for me, and while I first purchased it way back in 2009 after my divorce I still have yet to finish it.
The chapter on loneliness has pulled me back again and again, and I’ve written on it twice before, here and here. Since I’ve had some feelings of sadness and loneliness lately, I thought I’d pull out the book again and remind myself why the feeling of loneliness is not a horrible thing to be avoided but one to be embraced.
After some reviewing and underlining of passages, I moved to another chapter in the book, and — wham! — just like that, I have another set of resonating concepts to consider and process through. (This is why I like this book so much; I’m always finding something to which I relate and on which I can reflect.)
Chapter 11 on the four maras is my new work, I think. The first mara, devaputra mara, is when “we react with this tragically human habit of seeking pleasure and trying to avoid pain.” I’ve done my share of that over the years, but I think I’m doing well with recognizing this tendency in myself and accepting that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin.
Skanda mara “has to do with how we always try to re-create ourselves, to try to get some ground back, try to be who we think we are.” This one bears more thinking about. “Instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we can touch in to that mind of simply not knowing, which is basic wisdom mind.” This one isn’t coming to me easily, so it needs more reflection.
Klesha mara is about how we use our emotions.
We use them to to try to deny that in fact no one has ever known or will ever know what’s happening. We use them to try to make everything secure and predictable and real again, to fool ourselves about what is really true. We could just sit with the emotional energy and let it pass….Instead, we throw kerosene on the emotion so it will feel more real.
…By becoming aware of how we do this silly thing again and again because we don’t want to dwell in the uncertainty and awkwardness and pain of not knowing, we begin to develop true compassion for ourselves and everyone else, because we see what happens and how we react when things fall apart.
Oh, yes! Over the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing a lot of emotion and just letting it happen. It can be a challenge when the emotions surge during inconvenient times, like while I’m working or when I’m around other people who I still don’t know very well. It’s not looked upon well when you show a lot of emotion at work, especially if you’re a woman.
And then there is yama mara, which Pema describes as having to do with the fear of death.
The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens…From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic 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.
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. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together. So even though we say the yama mara is fear of death, it’s actually fear of life.
Yes, plenty to think about and plenty to process here. This is why it’s been taking me years to get through this book.