“Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time—that is the basic message.”
~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
With so much time spent confined to the few square metres of a London flat, I’ve curated a list of audiobooks that is so long that I probably couldn’t listen to all the titles on it even if the lockdown went on until 2023. Pema Chodron features heavily on the list. Reading her above quote I was struck by how uniquely fitting a lot of her guidance is for our current predicament. Her bibliography reads like the road map for dealing with the Coronavirus crisis: Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings; Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change; The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness; The Wisdom of no Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness; When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. And only last year Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World was published. Did she see it coming? Should we all have seen it coming? Had you told me on Christmas Day that come March I’d be locked up inside my four walls, with most shops closed and a majority of the world’s airplanes grounded, I’d have hopefully smiled accommodatingly and silently wondered if you are the one who needs to be locked up. And yet, that is precisely the future that came to pass.
There’s a lot of talk about how uncertain everything is right now: when a vaccine might be found, how the economy will hold up, when people will be able to attend a football game again. Imagining what the world will be like in August seems utterly impossible. But the fact that on Christmas Day we were perfectly nonchalantly expecting things to be much the same in March proves the folly of assuming any kind of position of certainty towards any point in the future.
Is Pema Chodron able to see the future? Maybe. But more likely she’s embraced a little bit more wholeheartedly than most of us one of the basic truths of our existence: impermanence.Here’s another one of her quotes: “Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things.” What is Covid-19 if not a powerful reminder that the “natural scheme of things” includes little germs capable of causing huge havoc. Chodron’s assertions about “things having no lasting substance”, about hopelessness and death at first glance do little to calm present mental turmoil. But if we managed on Christmas Day to feel precisely zero anxiety about the lockdown in March, then why feel anxiety now? Potential dramatic change was a fact then, just like potential dramatic change is a fact now. There wouldn’t be the sombre threat of unexpected changes, if only we lived our lives always expecting them. The good news is, that everything really is impermanent – even lockdowns and pandemics.