I recently gifted myself with Oprah Winfrey’s book The Wisdom of Sundays.
Everything about this book was made for me (or people who are a lot like me LOL). The linen cover feels good. The pages are thick. The images are sumptuous. Each page a finely-tuned balance between text and graphic. It’s really exquisite and that’s without even getting to the content. On each page there is an excerpt of a conversation Ms. Winfrey had with some modern luminary. They are organized by theme and are just the right length for a quick dose of inspiration or insight. I’ve been reading a little every morning. It has been delicious and enlightening.
Today I came across this quote from Elizabeth Lesser: “You can either break down and stay broken down and eventually shut down, or you can break open. It’s a decision you make. It’s a commitment.”
The idea of breaking open wasn’t new to me, but that decision bit, that was something I hadn’t given a lot of time. I got it intellectually right away, and it fits with my take on the world, our reactions, our choices, our power, but it felt big enough for me that I had to take a few minutes to think about those moments of breaking down and breaking open in my life. I could see the difference. I could slot those moments into their respective categories. And, with the gift of retrospect, I could see the choice.
I could see the choice to stay broken after my parents’ divorce.
I could see the choice to shut down when my college didn’t heap praise on my acting and music skills that had been honed in high school.
I could see the choice to stay broken after losing a baby in a near fatal miscarriage.
I could see the decision to shut down as an overwhelmed and unhappy stay at home Mom.
I could see the decision to break open as I addressed that overwhelm and unhappy after a few years in.
I could see the decision to break open when my Dad died a year and a half ago.
I could see all of those choices. I honor them. There is no judgment because I can also see how in each of those moments I didn’t feel like I was choosing. I felt like I was doing the best that I could do, and perhaps given what I knew at the time, I was. It’s okay. The lesson about the choice isn’t a tool for looking back with scorn or praise. The lesson about the choice is the tool for seeing the present while I’m in it. The lesson about the choice is the way to bring to consciousness the decisions that have been automatic in the past.
I’ve had a bit of a dark night of the soul lately. Some of it was medical, as I’ve explained over the last week, but some of it most definitely was not. It was backlash.
You see a long time ago I had a pretty active spiritual life. The idea of faith was something I openly engaged with. Sometimes this happened in religious settings, churches and the like, but oftentimes it didn’t. I explored these ideas on my own from early days and my interest and dedication to that discussion with myself ebbed and flowed as it does for so many. And then it just broke.
I can’t tell you the exact moment that happened. Looking back I think it was more of a series of things that made it too hard to believe, too hard to grapple with the notion of a benevolent omniscient force. The extent of the shut down for me was made clear one night at a party. It was not long after my nearly fatal miscarriage. I was struggling: struggling to go to grad school, struggling to want to see friends, struggling with just about everything. But we went to this party because our closest friends were hosting and attending and that’s just what we did. I drank too much, which was also what we did at that time. And then one of our friends, I know in an attempt to be compassionate, started in with the: “It’s all part of God’s plan” routine. I don’t think those were exact words, but it was one of those sentences from the list of stupid shit people say to grieving people. I might have gotten heated. I had some things to say about God. They were loud. Another friend joined in and began playing the role of mediator. I wanted nothing to do with a God that let this shit happen to me and that sentiment devolved into a brief survey of tragedy and horror in the world at top volume. Case closed. This is, at least, the way I remember that night.
That night was a LONG time ago. About 15 years I think, but it seems like even longer in so many ways.
And I snap back to the present and what feels like a bit of a break down that emerged after what I can only describe as the return of some glimmer of faith, of hope, of belief in the unseen, the impossible, and in the power of love to manifest miracles on earth. My curiosity and relief quickly turned to fear as I chose to stay broken rather than inhabit that exquisite space. Understand that I am not suggesting that not having faith, particularly my ill-defined and inconsistent faith is the same as being broken. What IS broken is me choosing to believe and feel things that make me small and unhappy. THAT’s the brokenness.
This latest turn towards faith feels a lot like a break down and a homecoming. When I feel the grace of it – the peace, the joy, the connection – it is homecoming. When I feel the fear of revealing who I am, when I focus on the human consequences I’m afraid are inevitable it’s break down city.
I can see that the moments when I am in-between as a choice. I can see my attachment to the outcome in my practice – the fear of the other kids not liking me, my lack of trust, my fears about money and success as choices and yet when I make them the feel so effortless they go unnoticed. Perhaps this is the point of prayer, which is really just a spoken declaration of where we are – to bring the broken choices into the light, to name them in order to see their form so that a different choice becomes possible. If I am correct in my understanding that choice need be no more than trying to be open, to allow, to be willing.
Curiosity, action while afraid, trust: these are the tools of commitment. These are the paths of devotion. This is how we break open when we are breaking down.
So be it.