Broken? Or Broken Open?

<July 11/09>

Ah, the great roller coaster of life. Tough stuff, a lot of it, hmm?

I mentioned Elizabeth Lesser’s wonderful book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow in a recent post (‘Permission to Feel Our Feelings’), & have to say, I love that title (& the book itself, of course!)

Often, or at least some of the time, I guess, many of us feel broken. I feel a little that way myself at the moment, actually.

But as Joanna Macy says in World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, “We are not objects that can break”(1) & “It is good to realize that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells.”(2)

Most of us fear change terribly, yet as Macy says, “We do not need to protect ourselves from change, for our very nature is change.”(3)

I recall once being in beautiful Killarney Park on a canoe trip, & seeing a huge rock formation that had somehow split apart. Growing out of the place where a huge chunk of rock had been blown out was a vibrantly beautiful, healthy pine tree. (I always get a big kick out of seeing how life thrives in the most seemingly inhospitable places.)

I later mentioned what I’d seen to a friend who knows more about trees than I do, & she told me that the jack pine only has its incredibly tough seed cones broken open in a fire. Until the fire breaks it open, the cones are absolutely impervious to opening & growth. They can lie dormant & closed up for decades.

We are not so very unlike the jack pine, are we? It often seems to take a considerable conflagration (metaphorically speaking) to crack us wide open to the kind of change that is an inevitable component of growth.

I muse on these things a lot, because I see a lot of brokenness & resistance in the culture/world around me – in many individual people I encounter – &, of course, in my very own self.

Hard as I try to welcome change, & to “go with the flow” & “expect the unexpected,” I occasionally seem to land nastily right on my butt as a result of circumstances I could not possibly have anticipated & that threaten – at least for a while – to flatten me.

Talking to other people openly & honestly about these kinds of thing helps a lot – then at least I don’t feel so alone.

Reading awesome writers like Elizabeth Lesser & Joanna Macy & Pema Chödrön helps enormously too.

I guess like all of us, I’ll keep right on being knocked off-centre from time to time – & since, as Eckhart Tolle points out, “Suffering is the spiritual teacher,” I’ll also keep climbing back up onto my feet, knowing all the while that no, indeed, I am not broken – merely broken open…& still growing.


P.S. Another Elizabeth Lesser-related post here

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.” – Joanna Macy

“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” – Richard Rohr

“Errors are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

“Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little to find it.” Tori Amos

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.” – Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941

“Truth comes only to those who must have it, who want it badly enough. And gifts of healing come only to those willing to change.” – Doris Janzen Longacre in the Foreword of her book Living More with Less

“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” – Proust 

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Kahlil Gibran

(1) World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal, Parallax Press, 2007, page 96.

(2) Page 95.

(3) Page 96.