Notes From the Couch – Broken Open – The Story of the Mythical Phoenix
Several years ago I read a wonderful book by Elizabeth Lesser called Broken Open. I often recommend this book to my patients when they are faced with challenging times or extreme levels of adversity. It is a story about the difficult times in life, like divorce and illness and the loss of a loved one. Such moments of darkness and despair, however difficult, often open new doors to transformation and growth and positive change. Broken Open is a story about rebirth and renewal and the strength of the human spirit. Like the mythical phoenix rising up from the ashes, we humans are built to survive and persevere. Relationships can be reborn, and so can we. The darkest moments in life are often the ones that help us to soar to brand new heights and discover thorough reservoirs of inner strength and resilience. However we must not hide from our pain. We must break open to the phoenix course of action and feel in any case it is we need to feel, however painful. Only then can our spirit be reborn.
Broken Open begins with this quote from Anaïs Nin: “And the time came when the risk to keep tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Sometimes, it is already scarier to keep the same than it is to confront the unknown and take a jump of faith. Have you ever stood frozen at life’s crossroads, desperate to appear from the safety of your cocoon but equally afraid to fly? I know I have felt this way many times in my life. I have stood frozen in time, paralyzed by ambivalence and self doubt. I have been so angry with myself for remaining stagnant and allowing fear to control my body and mind. And however there have been other times in my life when I became the phoenix. I faced my fear and took a jump of faith. I committed to a path and accepted the consequences of my choices, however unpleasant or challenging they might have been. I stopped fighting my emotions and allowed myself to break open to the pain.
already in the worst of times, we have many choices. We can choose to fight the healing course of action and climb deeper into the darkness of grief and despair. Some people use their complete lives in those dark spaces. Better however, we can surrender, stop fighting against the currents of life and allow ourselves to break open to the pain. Only then can true healing begin. Only then do we soar towards the heavens and reach our complete possible. We do not grow from the good or easy times. We do not heal from hiding in the darkness and numbing our pain. We grow from life’s hardships and challenges and crossroad moments. We grow from being present, remaining conscious and feeling our pain. We grow from taking risks and stepping outside our comfort zone. It is our pain that tells us we are alive. It is our pain that makes us human. It is our pain that connects us to our true human essence by love and loss, birth and death, transformation and renewal.
Earlier this week I had to go under the knife. I have never been comfortable with medical procedures or hospitals, and I dreaded the surgery for months in improvement. I have never been by major surgery or spent the night in a hospital, so it felt like a big deal and I was quite apprehensive. Luckily, my health is perfectly fine and the surgery went extremely well. It was a fairly routine, low risk procedure, but it required an incision and general anesthesia. Although the surgery presented no real danger to my body or my health, the idea of invasive surgery, leaving me so unprotected and exposed, frightened me to the very chief. I was literally broken open in a physical sense, but more important, in a spiritual sense. I had to weigh the minimal risks of surgery with the larger risks of allowing fear to control my body and my mind. I recognized my only way out of this dilemma was to move by it, physically, emotionally and spiritually, by facing the fear and surrendering to the time of action.
On the first night following my surgery I needed my husband to help me undress and get into bed. The physical pain, although difficult, told me I was alive and well and beginning to heal. My husband’s hands were strong and steady. He was substantial and firm in the same places where I was so tender and fragile. I could not have done it without him. I remembered the vows we took on our wedding day, and in that moment I understood better than I ever have before, the true meaning of marriage. In my mind’s eyes I caught a glimpse of our distant future and it called to mind the ocean and the shifting tides. The tides may change but the ocean remains. We all have tender places inside of us. We all break open at one time or another. This is what makes us human. This is why we need each other. One day my husband will need my strength the same way I need him now, and I will remember the ocean and the shifting tides.
The physical discomfort of my recovery phase is fading with each passing day but the tiny scar will stay with me forever. It is a testament to my humanity, the many places I have been and the new places I ache to analyze. As humans we all carry our own battle scars. We are tender however resilient, unprotected however strong. We break open and we heal back together again. We fall down and we rise up. In one lifetime we live a billion lives. Like the phoenix rising up from the ashes, our spirit is eternal and we are built to persevere. It is never too late to heal and soar towards the sun drenched heavens. It is never too late to chase a dream. It is never too late to be reborn.