And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anaïs Nin
If you’ve forgotten what the above quote said already, then you might not be ready, or even have a need for it. If you read and reread that quote, the book I found it in, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow (written by Elizabeth Lesser), might be a book that can help you through your journey finding the meaning in your life.
Parenthood is indeed a “difficult time” that helps us grow, but certainly not the only difficulty we can learn from. Intimate relationships, illnesses, finances, etc. all have a profound and constant effect on our thoughts (conscious and unconscious). We might find ourselves trying to ease the anxieties of the future and the discomfort of ‘the now’ until we wrap ourselves up with so much protective covering that we don’t recognize ourselves after a while. Sometimes, we don’t even like ourselves after a while.
It is easy to lose our pain and discomfort in the distractions we surround ourselves with.
Shedding these useless things inside our minds and hearts is like spring cleaning your house, only more terrifying.
In her book, Lesser describes what happens when life becomes too painful to NOT do something risky in order to mentally/spiritually/physically change. She calls this change, the Phoenix Process, and recounts stories of those (including herself) who have entered into the dark night of the soul, and emerged as the person he or she felt they were always meant to become.
The people sharing their stories of brokenness (not just in this book, but in many others) find that their lives had not been focused on what was truly meaningful to them. Some of those people gradually became aware that the path they had set themselves on with intent before, they were now plodding mindlessly; their need for change or re-commitment was becoming painful. Others have this transition thrust upon them by uncontrollable forces, such as illness or death of a loved one.
Rabbi and family therapist, Yehudah Fine, who was literally broken in a car accident, shares his thoughts:
“Sadly, we live in a world where we are so afraid of suffering’s teachings that we organize our lives around anesthetizing (numbing) the messages of our anxiety and pain.”
What he is talking about is how quickly we turn away from moments of discomfort. We grab our phone if we’re not entertained; if we have a headache, we grab some pills; when we have an argument, we reach for the ice cream; if we can’t get something we want, we look for someone to blame. We forget that the last thing we wanted so badly only made us happy for a few minutes/ hours/ days. Looking forward or back, we forget to live in the “present”. In the midst of our days, we forget that discomfort is temporary. We forget that blaming others for (or ignoring the symptoms of) our individual issues doesn’t solve them. Mostly, we forget that adversity can make us stronger.
Confined to his medical bed, Fine was able to ask himself these questions:
“What really matters to me in life? What precisely do I need to learn, change, and transform within myself? From whom or what will I take my direction and motivation?”
The people sharing their stories in Broken Open all had to answer these questions for themselves before they could focus on becoming the best version of themselves. What is the Meaning of Life? Turn away from your distractions and bravely think on why you are uncomfortable- the real reason why; perhaps you will discover (or re-discover) the meaning of your life and the best version of all that you are.