Cracked Open

Report #1 from the Front Lines

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”– Leonard Cohen

For quite a while I have felt stuck. I saw myself doing the same things, in the same way. I had trouble seeing any growth happening. I felt that what I had to share with others, while meaningful, was not coming from a place of my own ongoing growth. I often offered the prayer, “please give me experiences that will catalyze new growth in me and help me draw from a deeper well in my teaching role.”

The old adage has certainly proven true for me, the one that warns us to be careful what we ask for, for we may get it in unexpected ways. My prayer was answered on August 18th, when I went to the hospital for a common heart valve replacement in which a new aortic valve is threaded through a vein to the heart. Very non-invasive, with recipients returning home the same day.

I returned home 8 days later, after emergency open heart surgery because a one-in-a-thousand event occurred, and I came close to dying. For a person like me who thrives on physical fitness and outdoor activity, this turn of events has thrust me, teacher of transitions, into my own powerful, life changing transition. I am weak, although getting stronger each day, and recovery will take a long time. My prayer was certainly answered.

From my first conscious moments in the hospital upon getting off the ventilator, I found myself thinking of the Leonard Cohen quote, of the teachings and poetry that have meant so much to me and to my work, and of Elizabeth Lesser’s profound book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. And I often offered the prayer, “now that I have been cracked open ( metaphorically and physically), please let long-sought-after inner light shine through, giving me the clarity and new vision my heart so desires.”

Major life transitions usually are a process of indeterminent duration. They can’t be rushed to fit the schedule our minds might desire. And most of the time the fruits of transition require time to become apparent. So I feel I am only beginning to understand what this crisis induced transition will mean in my life. However, I am aware of three significant learnings, and trust more will follow. Here they are:

  • I have never been able to fully acknowledge that many people love me, appreciate me, have been deeply touched by my work, and pray for my well being. The outpouring of caring through this health crisis has opened my heart to myself and the value of the work I have long been called to.
  • Having a strong sense of purpose is vital to my well being. Being able to do my work (such as creating this newsletter) in a measured way, greatly strengthens my life force and is the most healing thing I can be doing. People advise me to rest. Fulfilling my sense of purpose, without straining myself, is the most renewing thing I can be doing. I understand more than ever the research and spiritual traditions that speak to the importance of purpose for health of body, mind and spirit.
  • People remark about an equanimity I am bringing to this challenging time. Yes, there is some fear, some anger, some emotional distress. But there is much less of these than before I committed to the inner work that is so important to me and to those I am privileged to teach on the path of conscious eldering. The lesson in this is that being able to bring trust and equanimity to life transitions is the result of doing inner work well before we consider ourselves old. In the midst of crisis, it feels like all we can do to just get through each day. We need to focus on transforming ourselves over time so that when crisis comes, we are inwardly prepared to bring to it trust, strength, and strong life force unimpeded by old, disempowering inner baggage.

We experience most major transitions as crises. That’s how it feels when well established ways of viewing ourselves and of living our lives are upended. We are cracked open, our egos are broken open. This seems to be necessary for the light of our inner essence to shine through, giving us glimpses of what we are called to and who we can be in the next chapters of our lives. With trust I open myself to this light.

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