Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser

I don’t know exactly why, but this book really spoke to me. If you are going through a personal crisis, you should definitely read this! The author offers a humanistic understanding of what it means to seek, grow, evolve and endure until we can each transform. She illustrates how difficult times really can help us grow by giving us the story of her first marriage and including stories of others who have gone through their own struggles in life. Through a combination of meditation, psychotherapy, and prayer Lesser has developed a guide and toolbox of practices that help us “transform terror into revelations” in a believable and down-to-earth way.

The book is divided into 6 sections: I.The Call of the Soul; II. The Phoenix Process; III. The Shaman Lover; IV. Children; V. Birth and Death; VI. River of Change.

When she writes about her personal story she shares the moment when she realized that it was time for her to find out what she really wantedCompare with Your Own Identity under Psychology – not what my husband wanted, what she thought her children needed, not what her parents expected, and not what society said was good or bad.

She points out that some of us need a cataclysmic event to find our way toward “the center of our own existence” and that many of us get out of bed in the morning and begin where we left off the day before, “attacking life as if we were waging a campaign of control and survival.”

She tells us that when we finally surrender to a painful situation, when we stop fighting the fear and heartache, we give over the reins to something greater and reminds us that we can’t solve a problem using the same mixed-up thinking that got us into the mess in the first place because that will keep us swimming around in tight little circles of indecision and fear.

She explains that the journey into the woods of change and transformation is an inner one and that betrayal, illness, divorce, the demise of a dream, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one – all these can function as initiations into deeper life.

She shares with us that the most generous and vital people are those who have been broken open by change, or loss, or adversity.  When difficulties come our way, we don’t readily seek out help and compassion because we think others might not understand, or would judge us harshly or take advantage of our weakness.

We have to realize that none of us are models of perfect behavior: We all betrayed and have been betrayed; we have been know to be egotistical, unreliable, lethargic, and stingy and we all worry about everything from money, to kids or terrorism.

In her opinion every single person on Earth hurts; it’s when we have shame about our failings that hurt turns into suffering.

She discusses fear in one of the chapter saying that going beyond fear begins when we examine our fear: our anxiety, nervousness, concern and restlessness. If we look into our fear, the first thing we find is sadness beneath the nervousness. And when we cry we reach the first tip of fearlessness. We need to accept that sorrow and grief are natural aspects of the human condition. We should not waste precious energy felling ashamed of our mistakes or embarrassed by our flaws. Our errors and failings are chinks in the heart’s armor through which our true colors can shine. If mistakes provide the best opportunity for discovery and evolution, why do we go around trying to look so sure of ourselves all the time? She suggests that the point where science and religion meet could be called the soul. The soul is the ageless longing for truth that send scientist into the lab and seekers onto the spiritual path.

In part II she describes the Phoenix process, where we can reproduce ourselves from the shattered pieces of a difficult time. When there is nothing left to lose, we find the true self. But she reminds us that it takes work to use crisis and stress as vehicles of transformation. She quotes Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who said, that it not the meaning of life that matters, but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

In a story about a woman who has multiple sclerosis and a seriously ill child she points out that it is never either-orCompare with the mental level of consciousness in The Ever Present Origin under Philosophy, but both, and more.  It’s not life or death, but life and death, health and sickness, good and bad. We also need to understand when we go through a painful time of our life, that we do not have control but we do have a choice – the Divine wants us to go down into the dark waters, but also wants us to come up to the light.

In another story we learn that by failing to accept our suffering, the pain we feel will be much more acute and harsh.  There are three major hurdles to overcome in crisis: dealing with pain; working with your attitude; and using the crisis as a wake-up and cleanup call. When we are dealing with pain you have to ask ourselves what really matters to us in life, what precisely do we need to learn, change, and transform within ourselves. From whom or what will we take our direction and motivation? Life’s deepest experience is the joy that fills our hearts when we love and give to others.

When we die, what really will matter is how much we loved – our children our mates, our families, our friends, everyone we knew, everyone we traveled with us during our brief visit to earth.  What will matter is the good we did, not the good we expected others to do.

Her comment in chapter 4, that if we would like to pursue a Phoenix Process of the highest order, we should raise children, made me smile. Parenthood is in her words a never-ending journey down a wide river of worry and love; and sometimes it is tedious and unpredictable, demanding yet ever-changing. She sees parenting in all its stages as a spiritual path with mystic twists and turns. Whatever we want to be transformed in our psyche will be revealed as we parent. She admits that too much giving to children is not a gift. Rather, it’s a taking away. It denies children the skills they will need for life outside the bubble. To trust who our child is, and not who we think he should be or what the world wants him to be – that perhaps is the single greatest gift a parent can give. She shares some of her own experience of parenting and points out that her kids needed her resistance in order to push through their own fears of independence and responsibility.

She tells us that we won’t be able to become an adult without witnessing the miracles of birth and death. Her mentor taught her that studying death can help each of us to become someone who has a great capacity for being solid, calm, and without fear. Grief is the proof of our love, a demonstration of how deeply we have allowed another to touch us.  In her opinion life is full of possibilities to her because she is not afraid of death.

We have to embrace all the changes in life, become comfortable with uncertainties, trust the eternal life force that is flowing within us and understand that in order to save the world we must serve the people in our life.

In the last chapter the author provides tools such as meditation, psychotherapy, working with teachers and healers and prayers to deal with all the pain, grief and unexpected changes.  She includes a prayer from the TheosophistSee also Theosophy under Philosophy Annie BesantI summarized her book Initiation under Spiritual Development which she uses when the destructive behavior of her fellow human beings fill her with sorrow:

O Hidden Life! Vibrant in every atom
O Hidden Light! Shining in every creature;
O Hidden Love! Embracing all in Oneness;
May each who feels himself as one with Thee,
Know he is also one with every other.






Comments are closed.

Post Navigation