broken down and defeated or broken open and transformed?

broken open_new

Have you ever had a book that seemed to fly off the shelf and say “read me” at just the perfect time in your life? Such seemed to be the case for me with “Broken Open,” by Elizabeth Lesser. Not only could I not put it down; I could not stop talking about it…

It turns out that many of the messages that Lesser writes about were just what I needed. In fact, I think I talked about it so much that I was likely singlehandedly responsible for a swell of purchases in the 317 zip code because of how many of my friends and colleagues bought it. It’s a great book to pass on to friends who you know are going through a challenging time in their life. Seriously people, run, do not walk to buy this book!

Elizabeth Lesser, who also wrote “The Seeker’s Guide,” eloquently articulates how despite outward appearances, everyone certainly endures difficult times. Her belief is that these encounters with life’s most difficult circumstances are intended to serve as an opportunity for us to begin peering deeply inside ourselves and presenting the perfect chance to do the work that might be necessary to align our life choices with our inner spirit. One can either choose to go back to sleep (which I have to admit was the path I chose for the first three decades of my life) or to wade through the work which will bring us to happier, more fulfilling lives.

For those enduring a difficult period, this book provides a new perspective on life’s difficulties. We all know that everything can change in a moment; we have little control of what happens externally…but we can become masters of our internal selves. We can use what happens on the outside to change the way we function on the inside. Lesser says, “When we have been through a trial and survived it—or better still, transformed its terrors into revelations—then we begin to approach future adversities with a different attitude. Change and loss may still knock us off the horse, but soon we are back in the saddle, stronger and wiser than ever. As life progresses and we continue to transform and refine our consciousness, we gain more insight and humility, greater strength of character, and deeper faith in the meaningfulness of life.”

I was particularly moved by a passage in her book where she speaks of the baggage we bring from our childhood or that we pick up along life’s journey. “Some people are handed weighty baggage to lug through life. Victims of abuse, people who survive terrible accidents, parents who lose a child—these people have heavier baggage than most. Understandably, many cave under the weight, or become bitter and dark. Others…swallow the past, put on a brave face and unwittingly pass their grief on to the next generations, like a mournful message in a bottle. Repressed pain never goes away. It is stored within the heart, in the body and event in the genes, like deposits of combustible fuel that may be used for a daughter’s or a son’s, or even a grandchild’s {own} process. Many people must do the inner work that their grief-stricken parents were unable to do themselves.”

For me, this was the most affirming message regarding the hard work I have been doing in my life, facing my past, understanding my emotions, embracing new feelings and being real. If not for myself, I certainly want to do it for my kids.

On most book reviews, “Broken Open” receives high rankings-typically between four and five stars on a five star scale. The majority of criticism is rooted on a belief level-from disapproval of the author’s spiritual beliefs and also about an affair she discusses in one of the chapters. Critics do not approve how she seemingly justifies her affair in the book. I personally enjoyed how she shared her broad spiritual and psychological traditions. As for the affair and how she chooses to tell this particular story, while I may not see it in precisely the same light she does, it is not for me to judge.

The overarching message regarding the choice we face in times of challenge is what resonated so strongly in my world: Will we be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed?

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