The poet, spiritual thinker and author of Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Mark Nepo explores the ways we can put the pieces back together.
Though no one likes it, each of us will find ourselves broken at some point in our journey. When we find ourselves there, what do we do? I've been broken many times -- through illness, through the loss of a job, through the derailment of a dream and most recently, through the death of my father. For all of this, I can offer a mysterious truth that life has given me: that we are stronger, gentler, more resilient and more beautiful than we imagine, and that the resource we call life is never far away.
I know this because every time my heart has been shattered, I have felt certain that it could never be put back together. And every time, without exception, not only has my heart mended but it has become larger, stronger and more loving for the breaking. The mysterious and unfailing journey of how this happens is the ordinary art of staying awake. It involves the deep and continuous act of being present in all ways, in all directions. Being present in this way is the practice of holding nothing back.
Feeling broken can be debilitating and hard to move through. A few steps we can take to refind our wholeness include the effort to:
1. Accept the Weather
Realizing that we will be broken is not a pessimistic view, but a wholehearted acceptance of the unfolding nature of life. Being tossed and turned by circumstances is part of life's weather. You may trip on obstacles, hurting someone you love. You may find yourself alone, without the person who you thought you'd spend the rest of your life with. You may become ill.
How do we meet these challenges? For me, I try to remember, when breaking, that every crack is an opening. No matter how harsh the experience, something is always opened within us; and what is opened is always more important than what breaks us. We might experience cruelty or unfairness or indifference or the brutality of chance -- all of which are difficult and life-changing. And while cruelty and injustice are never excusable and need to be rectified, we must not get stuck in our list of legitimate grievances, or we will never be able to enter the depth that becomes available for being open.
2. Lean Into the Tender Place
Very quickly, when broken open, we are exhausted of our differences. We don't try so hard to keep up needless boundaries and are forced to realize we are all the same, and this allows us to touch and be touched more directly. Things we thought that mattered don't. I know once my heart is opened, I can find the courage to lean into the place where I am broken, to lean into that opening, letting life rush in and touch me there, even though that place is incredibly tender. I've discovered over time that the rush of life into the tender place where we are broken is the beginning of resilience.
3. Ask Yourself, "What Kind of Part Am I in What Kind of Whole?"
Beyond all our good intentions and hard work, not getting what we want and working with what we're given can lead us to realize and inhabit a larger geography of being. Despite our resistance, we are led to accept that we are a living part in a greater Living Whole. Now we can begin a deeper part of our journey by asking, "What is my relationship to the Living Whole?"
It's hard to keep this deeper understanding of life in view when in pain, when in fear, when confused and worried. But this is the nature of being broken. It limits our view, for the moment. One of the purposes of love is to help each other not stay limited in our view of life. Like a surfer who, when catching a wave, is for the moment at one with the swell of the ocean, when helping each other move beyond our limited view of life, we are, for the moment, at one with the unity of life, which lifts us back into a feeling of health.
4. Look Beyond the Broken
In my recent conversation with Oprah on "Super Soul Sunday," I found myself saying, "To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken." This notion has been a profound teacher for me in meeting difficulty. Though it's understandable to be consumed with what we're going through, it's essential to remember that all of life is not where we are. In fact, this is when we need the aliveness and vitality of everything that is not us. When closed, we need to open. When fearful, we need to trust again. When feeling lost, we need to remember that we are in the stream of life, which is never lost.
I've come to believe that we were all broken from the same nameless heart, and every living thing wakes with a piece of that original heart aching its way into being. Along the way, we are broken open like seeds that bear fruit, so we can meet each other and be touched by each other; so we can remember and inhabit the one precious life we're given. And when broken of all that gets in the way, we suddenly know each other below our strangeness. This is why when we fall, we lift each other; or when in pain, we hold each other; why when sudden with joy, we dance together. Life is the many pieces of that great heart loving itself back together.
Mark Nepo is the author of 14 books and eight audio projects. He has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for more than 40 years. His new book of poetry is called Reduced to Joy, and his recent non-fiction book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, won the 2012 Books for a Better Life Award.