In the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, I turned to Pema Chödrön and her 1997 book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Truthfully, I should probably listen to it on an unending loop right now. Chödrön is an American Buddhist nun, and has been writing and speaking for decades. This is a compilation of a variety of talks, and strong editing brings them together with clarity and flow.

Every topic Chödrön discusses feels applicable to global pandemic and social distancing. They range from loneliness, love, and compassion to fear, hopelessness, nonaggression, and nonattachment. Buddhism has unique ways of approaching today’s stressful topics. And yet, the methods Chödrön suggests are approachable and nondenominational, at least in my eyes.

One of her suggestions is the practice of Tonglen. Essentially, it means “sending and taking” and is designed to awaken compassion. With each in breath, we visualize taking in the pain of others. And on the out breath, we visualize sending whatever will benefit them. This article gives you an idea of how it works.

Tonglen reminds me that I’m part of a bigger whole and not alone. Even though I’m quarantined with my husband, this virtual and spiritual connection with the world helps. You might find that something else from the book means more to you, though.

My conclusions

If you’re looking for a comforting book and are spiritually inclined, give Pema Chödrön a try. She strikes a lovely balance between strength and gentleness. This book contains a lot of instructive material, but never seemed preachy to me. I know I didn’t grasp it all, and that I’ll listen again. All I wanted was to learn a few new strategies, because things do feel like they’re falling apart. And Chödrön gave me exactly that.

Pair with anything reflective, whether fiction or nonfiction. Here are some ideas:

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, because it talks about finding creative ways to solve unsolvable problems

Two books about resilience, for obvious reasons. 

You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha and 

Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

A Note on Life in Quarantine

In any difficult time, reading doesn’t always feel like a refuge. I’ve picked up books in the last few weeks, read a chapter, and then put them back down. I’ve had trouble concentrating on the ones I actually stick with. But I need to step away from the computer, social media, and the news. Reading and writing are my go-to COVID-19 calming activities, besides some deep breathing, a little online yoga, and now tonglen. I hope you are staying safe and well. You are all in my thoughts. xo