When Everything You Love Implodes
Learning to grow through the broken shards of reality.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. —W. B. Yeats
Have you ever stood in wonderment, baffled, that something has failed to work out for you? Perhaps you were in a relationship. All the indicators pointed to a growing, organic connection between you that should easily have blossomed into an ardently sought amorous joy. And yet, inexplicably, it begins to teeter, crash, then burn into an ashen, sad memory. What went wrong?
Maybe you have been intensely dedicated to an art, perhaps music. There’s a story by Somerset Maugham called Alien Corn in which a young son of a noble family develops a passionate desire to be a professional pianist. Despite his family’s misgivings, they agree to send him to study in Germany for two years under the tutelage of the great pianist Lea Makart. According to their arrangement, Makart’s evaluation will be final.
One can easily imagine the intensity of the boy’s rehearsal schedule, his daily desire to improve and impress, and his burning hope that his deepest need won’t go unrequited—that the center of his being will indeed hold. At the end of the allotted time, Makart’s judgment was rendered:
If I thought you had in you the makings of an artist I shouldn't hesitate to beseech you to give up everything for art’s sake. Art is the only thing that matters. Of course, I can see that you’ve worked very hard. [But the boy had neither the hands or the ear, she continued, to become a first-rate pianist] not in a thousand years.
Ouch. What now?
The Kabbalah teaches that several configurations of higher dimensions preceded our own. In one, the “vessels” that were created to hold the energy of the world above it shattered due to the intensity of the Divine light that inundated them. The broken shards of this overwhelmed world reconfigured, twisted and jagged, into our world. In a very real sense, our reality is held together by duct tape and chewing gum. No wonder things are always going wrong.
But why? Couldn’t the Creator have designed a more stable system—one that didn’t lead to disappointment, confusion, and heartache so frequently? As the answer is yes, the conclusion must be that this is all by design. Our world was purposely built broken. The secret is that the seeds of true growth can be found only in the splintered remnants of our goals and dreams.
The Old Way Cracks Open
In her book, The Awakened Brain, Columbia University Psychologist Lisa Miller describes a counseling session with a woman named Kathleen, who has just discovered that her husband was having an affair and leaving her. “I tried so hard to protect our children from a broken world,” she said. Naturally, she could not. Now what? Dr. Miller outlines the true reality we all face (as well as the opportunities it contains):
The thing that she had strenuously sought to protect herself and her children from had come true. So how was the world built? How would she navigate it? What was life—her life—really about? These were spiritual questions…the old way cracks open. It no longer holds or it’s no longer enough.
In the end, Kathleen found her peace. “My worst fear came true. But we’re fine. Our family broke. And it didn’t destroy us.” In fact, it was the agony of being confronted with her worst fear that forced her to contend with what life ultimately means and how to mine the most essential gems from it—the only things that we can ever truly hold on to—that which transcends the unending vicissitudes of our material plane.
The Birth Pangs of Higher Existence
I have never given birth. I have, however, been able to observe the process very closely. The experience (for me) is a remarkable combination of fear, pain, and guarded joy. What I notice is how little choice we have regarding the onset and the intensity of the labor. I’ve also seen birth with and without medication. In the latter case, if we had never seen it before, we would have reason to conclude that the woman is clearly dying. Against her will, her body is generating agonizing pain that she cannot control or mitigate.
At the same time, as we all know, it is this very process that is creating a brand new thing—a fresh new life that will change her reality forever. This dichotomy is at play at all times and in all aspects of our lives. The center cannot hold. Everything will eventually break. But a beautiful new bud of possibility lives deep in the crushed shards of the “old way.” Never seek material permanence. Strive to enjoy the harmonious moments in between the birth pangs of each new level you achieve.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had but not preserved, except in memory.
—Leonard Nimoy (in his final Tweet)