“The difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.” ~Elizabeth Lesser
I read Elizabeth Lesser’s book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow last spring when my life was still in the early stages of falling apart. In fact, this book was instrumental in helping me to approach the entire situation as an opportunity for eventual growth into the woman I am meant to be. It shifted my focus from just feeling broken apart to one of being broken open—a mental image that, for me, was a hopeful one.
Elizabeth Lesser is one of the co-founders of Omega Institute in New York, one of world’s largest centers for wellness, personal growth, and spiritual retreat. They routinely attract the biggest names in these fields, and their program line-up sounds like paradise. Yet she is willing to make herself vulnerable enough to share stories of her own times of being broken open by life in this book—even when some of her choices may not paint her in the most admirable light. Her courage and vulnerability in sharing are amazing and inspiring to me.
This book is a mixture of her personal memoir, the stories of others she has met along the way, insights from various spiritual and psychological traditions on how to best deal with times like these, and practical suggestions for people who are currently walking this path. She touches on the pain of being broken open by any number of different tragedies—divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, illness, or other major life changes—showing the common ground that all travelers face when walking this path regardless of the initial cause of being broken open. In the phoenix process, the instigating crisis is only the fire which consumes us, but the pain of death and the challenges of rebirth are ones that we all share regardless of the initiating fire.
Most importantly, she offers hope that no matter what difficulty or challenge we are facing, there is always good that can be found in the midst of the pain. There’s always the opportunity to use the experience as a means to grow and to become more than we thought we could be. In fact, for all the pain that this process causes, she would argue that until we have been through this kind of experience, we are only half living. It is the very process of becoming one of the twice-born, as she calls it, that a person has the potential to become who they were born to be. And that ultimately, this process is less painful than remaining in that state of being half alive.
“Although the fire burns hot, it seems more painful to me to remain frozen in an unexamined relationship (or a soul-killing job, or a difficult loss, or an impending change) than to go into the unknown through the fire, into the ashes, and out again into new life.” ~ Elizabeth Lesser
Having just walked this road of destruction and being at the place of just beginning to see glimpses of a new life springing forth, I have to say that I agree with her. This road continues to be challenging, and I suspect it will remain so for some time. There is still so very much healing that I need to experience, so much fledgling growth that needs to continue before I can truly flourish, so much change that still needs to happen. I would rather not have had to lose all that I have lost in the last year. I would rather have skipped all the pain. And yet, I can also say that I believe that it has been worth it. I believe that as I fully grown into this reborn life of mine, the benefits will outweigh the challenges at the end of the day.
This is good time to be reminded of the value of all that I have experienced and of the hope that it brings for a better future. As time goes on and things begin to settle, it would be easy not to take full advantage of all that has been stirred up and settle back into old ways of doing things. This reminds me that there is a better way—a prize worth continuing to pursue.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.