Content Warning: Brief mentions of rape, extended discussions of mental health
I remember when the accusations against me were first made. All I wanted to do was run away. I wanted to get out of my mind and never come back. I wanted to crawl into the nearest ditch and die, and worse, I felt like that’s what I deserved.
Another part of my mind was angry: How dare my accuser not even try to talk to me first? I thought we were friends, what happened? Why did this all happen? Why am I such a horrible person? I was angry not at them, but really, myself.
I had failed a friend in such a monumental way that my mind had very few places to go other than to die in a ditch or blame others. I tried to take my mind off of it by leaving social media for a few weeks. I tried to run away by only talking about it when absolutely necessary and even then making sure those situations were short.
Still, I thought about the allegations a lot. In fact, the intensity surrounding them was equivalent to some of the worst intrusive thoughts I’d ever had. I felt like my whole life was coming apart and all I wanted to do was die or fade away.
Since then, I haven’t necessarily gotten better. I still try to avoid the subject in my head, I try not to dwell on it, but I also do self-talk. I reassure myself that I did the best I could in the situation I was in and failed. And that this failure is an important lesson moving forward so I never commit this sort egregious harm on anyone again.
And while I’ve come to the conclusion that the base of the allegation is false, I am not a serial rapist, the crux of the matter is true: My issues with consent have been long-standing and not as well-addressed by myself or others as I had thought.
And instead of trying to be compassionate towards those I harmed, I was very defensive and afraid. I was defensive because I felt like my reputation had been annihilated and that left me afraid because who would love me now?
With what people have said about me, who could ever love me? A person who has made several critical mistakes in her life. Sure, I say I want to get better but do my actions really show that? It was hard to give a ready-made answer, let alone a yes.
Thankfully I did have people who stuck around.
Some because they don’t believe I could ever rape someone (sorry, but having sex with someone when they’re intoxicated, whether I knew it or not, is rape) and some because they believed my accuser but also believed in my sincerity to do better (these are the best sorts of people and I wish I had more of them in my life).
Given all of this it’s easy to say my life had fallen apart.
And not just because of my own actions but also because of the consequences of my actions on others. I let many friends (and many now former friends) down and I’ve hurt many people (in small ways and big) trying to be “romantic” or “loving”.
My understanding of boundaries was hampered by my need to feel appreciated by others. I’m a needy person who just wants to feel important to the world around her and I used that underlying need as a justification for aimless flirtation online.
This “annihilation” of my reputation is important, according to Buddhist philosophy. And according to one author in particular, Pema Chödrön, a painful death is often necessary for a rebirth. What a difficult way to learn this lesson.
I read When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön with few expectations. I am not a Buddhist and have little prior knowledge of Buddhism besides what I learned from popular culture, Nietzsche’s critiques of Buddhism and the anarchist Dyer D Lum’s understanding of Buddhism.
Chödrön didn’t convince me to become a Buddhist through this book but she did inspire me to think more about this philosophy. After all, a philosophy that urges us to give up on hope is a philosophy I find fascinating, at least.
The reason behind this startling claim is that hope never allows us to be content with where we are in life. We’re all so busy caught up in trying to get to a better place or be a better person that we’re never happy and we increase our suffering.
Buddhism teaches us that suffering is inevitable and trying to create shields around ourselves is not only pointless but also harmful. It harms others because it leads us to be less gentle and compassionate with others (big armor can make us feel like we do anything, such as harm) but also less compassionate with ourselves.
The main theme of this book is that compassion for others starts with us. It starts with recognizing our underlying goodness (or attempts to get there) and then face the things we feel that get in the way of that inherent goodness, the scary things.
Chödrön constantly tells us in this powerful book to confront our fears and to lean into the scary places within ourselves. I can say from my own personal experiences with meditation, trying to fall asleep at night and talking to my therapist and close friends about the allegations that leaning into my feelings has been helpful.
Understanding myself better has allowed me to better understand the harm I’ve caused towards other and as a result, have more compassion for everyone involved.
That’s not to say that after reading this book I am some sort of enlightened Buddhist, not in the least.
But I do think many of the lessons in this book are very important for anyone and at any time in their lives, emotionally speaking. Yes, I bought this book because I felt my life was falling apart for me. But I also bought it because in many ways I was trying to rebuild this same life and make it better as I move forwards.
Do I think hope is worth giving up on? No. I’m not convinced all forms of hope are inherently toxic and I think there’s a sort of contentedness we can cultivate for our present while still acknowledging we can be better people despite our past.
Free people are ultimately not subjugated by our pasts.
They are influenced by them, informed by them and take inspiration from them so they can try to do better. But it would also be a mistake to say any of us are defined by our present or future either. Time is always changing and moving forward and as such referring to any of these periods as “defining” for our character is unrealistic.
My biggest criticism of the book is, while it teaches you many lessons that I cherish and needed to hear, it repeats them far too often. A little over half-way through the book and I noticed I started taking fewer notes on what Chödrön was saying.
Chödrön has excellent lessons to teach us, but I think she could have done so in 100 pages (or less) instead of the nearly 200 she gives herself.
That said, I highly recommend this book. I don’t know about shaving my head and believing in the dharma wholeheartedly anytime soon, but I can say with utter sincerity that this book helped me on my path to becoming a better person.
And as Chödrön says: The Path Is The Goal.
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