This blog post takes it’s inspiration from the title of a profoundly insightful book by Elizabeth Lesser. Essentially, the book is about the different ways life breaks us open.
The experience of being broken open is, by it’s nature, uncomfortable. Anything, that breaks, ruptures, cracks, splits has it’s integrity challenged. Whether this takes the form of an illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, becoming a new parent, a change of job, an inner transition – from one way of being to another, and/or the experience of melancholy or depression. At times like these, an old way of being is ending, and a new way is in gestation.
As human beings, we like life to run smoothly. without challenges. Yet often, these challenges are what support us to grow. In the midst of being broken open, we suffer. We suffer the grief of an old way of being ending. There may be fear, as our familiar certainties are shaken, and with it our sense of competence. What if, however, being broken open, is a process of re-forming, of emptying – the outworn ideas, understandings and structures of life. To ‘die, before we die’, as Eckhart Tolle says.
‘ Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the questions of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions.’
As mindfulness practitioners we may hold the subconscious belief, and desire, that our practice will allow us to navigate these transitions effortlessly. I call this The Great Disillusionment! A rite of passage, where we get real about the inevitable difficulties of life, and the power and limitations of mindfulness. Mindfulness practice will most certainly support us in navigating difficulties with less stress and suffering, but it will not eliminate them. Because we are mindfulness practitioners, we know that it makes most sense to allow the emotional turmoil and the physical discomfort to be present, to move through us. As best we can. We learnt how to do this on the MBSR course. When a broken time arises, we put this learning into practice. We know, that we cannot control life, and that attempting to do so will increase our suffering. So, we do what is wise. We surrender. Fighting is just too exhausting.
When we are broken open, the attitudinal foundations of trust and patience are a great resource and support. These two attitudes have deep foundations in wisdom and kindness. Kindness to ourselves. We understand that ‘this too will pass‘. The floundering, the internal storms. We recognise that there are greater processes at work than we can fathom. The poem Dakini Speaks by Jennifer Welwood confronts and challenges us:
‘My friends, let’s grow up.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.
Look: everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple–how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
The caterpillar, in it’s process of becoming a butterfly, comes to mind. In this transition from one form to another, the caterpillar literally turns to mush! The human equivalent of this, might be, feeling adrift, directionless and disorientated. Life loses it’s vividness, dulls, perhaps feels empty. We are more vulnerable and exposed. Why wouldn’t we be? We are broken open. Something is gestating in the mush. The caterpillar loses it’s former self, to be born into a new form. Does it know, in the mush, that it will be born with beautiful colours? That it will fly!
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