When was the last time you let yourself be sad or upset and didn’t seek a remedy? You let yourself cry without a shoulder to lean on or a bottle to drown yourself in because, damn-it, you will make that pressing sorrow go away.
I’m currently reading Pema Chördrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, not because my life is in dire straits, but more so because I recognized my life was in transition and wasn’t sure how to handle it. While I still have yet to finish the book, so far I have come away with one key theme:
You’re allowed to be sad or upset, and even further, you should sit in those feelings sometimes.
I never realized how many of my self-care techniques are me, as Chördrön says, running away from my fears: fear of being lonely, fear of being bored, fear of failing. As soon as unpleasant feelings arise, I try to fill the void with a distraction to change my state of being to something more desirable.
Chördrön’s ideas are a fascinating perspective to consider, especially if you’re someone like me who feels this pressure that every moment of every day needs to be productive. It’s not that I look down upon slowing down — quite the opposite, actually. But I would be lying if I said the speed at which social media and corporate America operate don’t unwittingly sweep me off my feet when I’m least expecting it.
In a way, Chördrön is advocating for a slower-paced kind of self-care, which makes perfect sense when you learn that her advice is based on Buddhist teachings. And as is probably expected, her advice challenges the quick-fix culture the self-care industry has unfortunately adopted, like everything else in society.
No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear.
— Pema Chördrön
Most of us don’t consider how quick we are to run away from fear. We’re afraid of falling behind — whatever that means to you — and so we work ourselves into a perpetual burnout cycle.
We fear being alone, so we sign up for all the dating apps or meet-ups we can find, desperately hoping to discover that one person or group who helps us feel emotionally sound.
We fear making mistakes, so we seek validation from others who have experience and who we inadvertently allow to make decisions for us so that if anything goes awry, it’s not on us.
However, Chördrön argues there are lessons to be derived from our fears if we would only sit with them for a while. Instead of seeking an external antidote, the best medicine is to allow ourselves to feel bad sometimes and internally find the “why” to our current state of mind. And as if that’s not the epitome of Buddhist thinking, I don’t know what is.
I’m not ignorant to the fact that all of this is much easier said than done. Chördrön and most Buddhist teachings are asking us to fight our very real human defaults, and at times, that can feel like more work than it’s worth, especially considering self-reflection and internal self-care are a never-ending process.
But you know, there’s something to be said about not hearing of Buddhist monks that suffer from paralyzing depression or fear.