In her book “When Things Fall Apart,” Pema Chodron writes, “When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.”
But how do we stay on the brink? All our instincts seem to tug us away from looking at what is scary and uncomfortable. The trick is to stay with the feeling of uncertainty and avoid distracting ourselves with any of the things we habitually use to distract.
That means that whenever we become aware that we are indulging in distractions, we bring our attention back to the feeling of uncertainty, again and again. This is how we can wake ourselves up, Pema Chodron writes. This is the spiritual path.
The things we use to distract ourselves from the feeling of uncertainty take many forms. The stories we tell ourselves are a frequent and powerful source of distraction. So are addictions both large and small. You don’t have to be a drug addict to be hooked on distracting substances. Compulsively checking a smartphone, surfing the web, or watching television can all be everyday addictions that help us avoid facing the feeling of groundlessness.
Experience your emotions
Although Pema Chodron says that staying on the brink is a “test,” she doesn’t mean it’s the kind of test that you pass and move on. Instead, she says that things in life don’t really get solved. They come together, then fall apart, then come together again, then fall apart again. Staying on the brink means accepting that this is how life is and creating room to experience all the emotions that arise.
Next time you feel the pain of loss, become aware of how your mind wants to lose itself in distractions. Gently bring your attention back to embrace the tender and vulnerable uncertainty of being on the brink.