Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Don't Go Back to Sleep

--by Elizabeth Lesser (Oct 27, 2014)

To be human is to be lost in the woods. None of us arrives here with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B without stumbling into the forest of confusion or catastrophe or wrongdoing. Although they are dark and dangerous, it is in the woods that we discover our strengths. We all know people who say their cancer or divorce or bankruptcy was the greatest gift of a lifetime—that until the body, or the heart, or the bank was broken, they didn’t know who they were, what they felt, or what they wanted. Before their descent into the darkness, they took more than they gave, or they were numb, or full of fear or blame or self-pity. In their most broken moments they were brought to their knees; they were humbled; they were opened. And later, as they pulled the pieces back together, they discovered a clearer sense of purpose and a new passion for life. But we also know people who did not turn their misfortune into insight, or their grief into joy. Instead, they became more bitter, more reactive, more cynical. They shut down. They went back to sleep.

The Persian poet Rumi says, "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill, where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep."

I am fascinated by what it takes to stay awake in difficult times. I marvel at what we all do in times of transition -- how we resist, and how we surrender; how we stay stuck, and how we grow. Since my first major broken-open experience -- my divorce -- I have been an observer and a confidante of others as they engage with the forces of their own suffering. I have made note of how fiasco and failure visit each one of us, as if they were written into the job description of being human. I have seen people crumble in times of trouble, lose their spirit, and never fully recover. I have seen others protect themselves fiercely from any kind of change, until they are living a half life, safe yet stunted.

But I have also seen another way to deal with a fearful change or a painful loss. I call this other way the Phoenix Process -- named for the mythical phoenix bird who remains awake through the fires of change, rises from the ashes of death, and is reborn into his most vibrant and enlightened self.

I’ve tried both ways: I have gone back to sleep in order to resist the forces of change. And I have stayed awake and been broken open. Both ways are difficult, but one way brings with it the gift of a lifetime. If we can stay awake when our lives are changing, secrets will be revealed to us—secrets about ourselves, about the nature of life, and about the eternal source of happiness and peace that is always available, always renewable, already within us.

An excerpt from Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the US focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, social change, and creativity. She is the author of The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure and Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.

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Previous Reflections:

On Oct 26, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

Staying awake means being mindful and being present. It means seeing the gifts in being broken open. I have been broken open several times; back in teen years my father tried to kill himself 5 times. For me this was a gift of Compassion for other's suffering, making NO assumptions about what someone else experiences in their own life and letting go. When I left home for college at 18, I was determined to live a life seeking joy and sharing joy with others to uplift. After my divorce I also felt reborn. I practice staying awake by remaining present. Even in the darkness, it too shall pass. One day at a time. Being the the present also helps to alleviate some stress and others feel your presence and appreciate when you are fully there for them. HUG

On Oct 27, 2014 Deepak wrote:

 Thank you . For me to stay awake and being broken open has been an emotional roller coaster ride which is still an on gong process . After my divorce and it's aftermath , it has been an experience where I learnt my lessons and gradually shifted my focus from the outer world to the inner world inside .  Even after doing that , there have been occasions when I have slipped up in this journey , fallen down , hurt myself , got up and started walking on my journey again . i am awake and present on the path I am walking .

On Oct 28, 2014 KNM wrote:

 This reminded me of a lovely quote that says it all...

"Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were  
              Enjoying the pleasant  without holding on when it changes ( which it will)                 
              Being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way ( which it won't) "
                                                                                                                     by James Baraz 

On Oct 28, 2014 Anupam wrote:

 To stay awake is to be aware and accepting of life's challenges,of acknowledging the dark just the way it is..not resisting,not praying for solace.To be broke open is to let this darkness enlighten your soul and make you stronger and braver than what you've been..Cant share my story but want the readers to know that this is the only way to live a life of dignity,strength and courage.

On Oct 28, 2014 PS wrote:

Take your lessons and be thankful for making you see this side of yours that needs to be garnered. This is a step towards self realization, the purpose of your life or many lives before. You have just found your are not lost.

On Oct 28, 2014 AN wrote:

I suppose I'm one of those lucky guys who has never really felt "broken".  Temporary setbacks have been just that: short-lived challenges. Fortunately, I've been able to bounce back and rebound to an even better place.    

On Oct 28, 2014 Nancy Daniels wrote:

 Thank you for sharing. This was really helpful. 

On Oct 28, 2014 Reema wrote:

 This is so quietly beautiful! Thank you~

On Oct 28, 2014 david doane wrote:

 Pema Chodron said, "Fail, fail more, fail better."  She emphasized that failure is part of living, and failure presents new possibilities.  The challenge is to stay awake to the new possibilities, be open and learn.  The Buddha said fall down 7 times, get up 8.  The alternative is to stay down, wallow in failure, close up and shut down.  To paraphrase poet laureate Louise Gluck, it's when our life is shattered that we see it for the first time.  I have often found it very difficult to stay awake when I fail, especially when I am very attached to that at which I am failing.  I failed in attaining my first career goal.  I had wanted that career since a child, put in three years in college working toward it, and even though I came to feel constricted by it, I tried to make myself stay with it until my unhappiness became so great that I quit.  For several days after "failing," I anguished over my decision, walked around in a conflicted blur most of which I don't even remember because I was in such a state of confusion and turmoil.  After three days of being in that quasi-psychotic state, I awoke, resurrected in awareness that I had made the right decision.  I didn't know what I was going to do but was ready to move on.  As I think of it now, the "broken" period for me began with probably 9 months of growing discontent (my "pregnancy" period) followed by 3 days of labor pains, followed by painful birth of myself into a new life.  I think we stay awake when life is changing immensely by reminding ourselves that unknown options and possibilities are and will be emerging.  I think the practice of having survived and grown from small failures helps.  I think having adequate support, not getting caught by the system when broken, and good fortune also help a great deal.

On Oct 28, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Thank you KNM for the quotes, I collect those and resonated with what you shared. Here's to being aware of what is happening w/out wishing it were different.
Thank you Nancy Daniels. HUGS to you both.

On Oct 28, 2014 Varsha wrote:
 This beautiful write up has come to me at a time when I have been going through the lowest point in my life. Turmoil inside, confusion, anxiety and sleeplessness had surrounded me. All I could see was darkness. To seek for some answers I left my job and wanted to run away from everything n everyone. My friends family. I
went to a remote ashram in India thinking I would find my peace there. But once I was there I was even more stressed and couldn't relate to anything they were preaching. I was more lost. But that's when I realized that what I'm looking for, is right inside me. I didn't have to travel so fr away n spend so much money. I realized my biggest strength is my family whom I was running away from. I am so much more grateful now about my blessings than I ever was. I've learnt to take more responsibilities now. I'm glad i went through this phase Only to reAlise my blessings. :)

On Oct 28, 2014 blessed wrote:

 I thought my life was over after my divorce at 20.  Being open lead me to my soul mate.  After 37 wonderful years, I have to start again.  Had I not been open I would not have had such a wonderful marriage.  Sickness and disease make you wonder about the Divine Being and the reason for someone you truly love dying.  Being awake will take me to the next step, whatever it may be.  I plan to find out what it is I am supposed to be and do.

On Oct 28, 2014 Syd wrote:

 When I have experienced loses the meaninglessness and grief would compel me to come up with ways to cope with what I had lost.  When I lost my ability to work I have tried a few things to give myself a purpose, yet to have them jerked out from under me.  From this, all I could understand was daily life is hell.  Hell is place where there is no choices, deep despair and depression, alienation and feeling trapped, everything is futile and dying, torment and this inner light is going out, deep hopelessness.  I just felt alienated from myself and others and it goes from bad to worse because no one has the ability to understand.  What is simply missing is a purpose in life. 
No purpose creates this constant nagging feeling of something essential is missing.  This puts me into a place where I have had to come face to face with my denial, between what is true and untrue.  From this all I experienced this enormous “gap” between what I have taken myself to be and the truth of who I am.  I, therefore, assumed God would fill in the “gap” by my learning to accept my powerlessness and draw upon God as a deeper source.  Yet I keep having a certain meaning in my life constantly being jerked away, such as my church community.  I realize my deeper states of reactivity here, clarity by letting go, and then back to states of mild ego identification.  It is like I am caught in a web of illusions and life is meant to defeat me. 
I still do not understand why this total blockage of life and it is being drained out of me.  The biggest part I have learned about my life, though, is it is full of contradictions.  And it seems these contradictions make no difference because the present moment is always perfect.  It is like the Essence of life is saying a meaninglessness of dying is perfect, because perfection is in the moment.  For my faith to become realistic I had to let go and genuine security is found where there is no effort or striving.  The experience of daily dying has an inherent rightness to it if I can add or subtract nothing from it.  It is a since of right now is all I need and is being awakened from within.     
This faith of letting go of life, transcendence, is difficult to explain.  It feels like more qualities of darkness and depression than hope.  Yet this is my ego’s perspective, so it seems the rightness is recognizing the actual support of Presence available right now.  What is true in this moment cannot be harmed, so the holy moment becomes a letting go.  The moment becomes spontaneous, a moment of inspiration, and this moment is no longer a moment of feeling the need for a purpose.  It IS.    
PS:  David Doane I am reading Ram Dass “Still Here” and finding him meaningful, thank you.   

On Oct 28, 2014 Carol wrote:

 so beautiful, so poignant. Wishing you strength and blessings. Always cherish what you had/have

On Oct 29, 2014 A sister wrote:

 Syd,   I'm so glad the "end of your story" is one of Glory.  I look forward to the day "the gap" is no more.  You are favored.  Just wait and see!  He has plans for the cracked vessels we are.  You are NOT alone.  

On Nov 1, 2014 Vi wrote:

I am going thru the process of being broken open every day ,for the last 8 month. A terrible divorce. I have been practicing and embracing awakening for a long time .However ,at the moment I feel that circumstances bring the biggest challenge to be awake and present.I'm swapped into the painful past with every painful present experience and into the fear of the future. It is almost impossible to keep awake.I cannot see the teachings in all this extreme maliciousness and revengefulness. It feels to much. 
Yes ,I'm learning to honor myself and be very assertive but what more ? because the nightmare is to big and relentless. 
I meditate ,I do self healing ,I read inspirational thingsand surrender with people that brings that energy too but the toxicity poison me .
Any suggestions on what to do to remain awake?

On Nov 1, 2014 Anupam wrote:

 Hi breaks my heart to see n feel such pain that you are going through.But believe me this is the time to be treasured.Just keep still in your heart and let all this negativity envelop you..surrender to it completely.I know its extremely difficult to maintain equanimity at such hour but this stillness will be your saviour.Do not wish for anything,Just be with it and you'll surround yourself with that Presence that will liberate you in a manner that over time your entire life would become a sparkling diamond...Just hang in there,friend.

On Nov 1, 2014 Syd wrote:

 Vi, you may feel everything positive, beautiful, good and worth living for is gone.  You may feel cannot escape this crushing negative self-consciousness.   The depression and despair may feel deep, even cut off from life itself.  Depression creates this feeling there is no choices, utter hopelessness, and everything can become a source of torment.  There are no desires or expectations from depression and can create a sudden blockage of feelings.
 If you are feeling depressed, I suggest you look at the choices you are making, even the most simple such as opening a door or drinking a glass of water.  Look for choices to be sensitive to you and offers you respect, and choices that can offers this respect back to yourself.  Make choices that offer you enormous dignity, without self-congratulation, but just being present to yourself as an individual.  Do this daily and gradually you will feel anew freedom.   
This being conscious of your choices and making choice for yourself takes a certain discipline, but it will gradually create this Essence that will give you an unshakable confidence.  Your spirit will draw upon the Essential strength and you will feel held up, supported, and helped in staying awake.  You may want to say, "I now choose a drink of water", or whatever is your choice, just make sure you say "now" as it helps the subconscious find its inner Essence.  
I believe in you and your presence is significant!                  

On Nov 1, 2014 pretentious wrote:

Would you rather live in a comfortablea hell or an unknown heaven ?

On Nov 1, 2014 david doane wrote:

 Vi -- Sorry that you are going through a very difficult time.  I appreciate you asking for suggestions.  My suggestion is for you to continue meditating, self-healing, reading inspirational writing, and surrendering with people that bring energy, and that you not engage in maliciousness and revengefulness, difficult as that may be.  They are toxic.  The nightmare is big and relentless but is overcomable.  Peace. 

On Nov 1, 2014 Accept love from a friend wrote:

Act on it.  
Live in it.  
Pray for it.

On Nov 1, 2014 amy wrote:

 After reading David,  my thoughts went immediately to Martin Luther King.  He is an AMAZING man.  Hope.  Peace.  Pray.  Know (this world is not my home . . . and that God is IN control).  Wake (be alert that you may do your "Martin Luther King best" with THIS day/moment.) Dr. King did not stop till his very end.  What an inspiration under VERY difficult and unjust circumstances.  Martin Luther King pray for us. 

On Nov 2, 2014 I choose life wrote:

 I would rather live in an unknown Heaven (given the choice).  

On Nov 2, 2014 Trust wrote:

 Syd, this is brilliant!  
Vi . . . you are so worthy.  Believe you are because He says so!  (Because I hear it so often chanted at sporting events, it comes to mind now . . ."I believe that we will win ((believers))((the depressed))((the weak))((the lost))((the confused))"  . . . we just have to hope and believe  . . . WE CAN . . . thru Him . . . with Him . . . In Him.  (He promised.)  Good night!

On Nov 5, 2014 me wrote:

 I'm now thinking about you Syd.  Sharing my own experience, I have found "secrets", lies, sin make me want to sleep.  
Because I am hypersensitive, every shadow/darkness of my youth was perceived (I perceived) in a heightened way. The sin of  my father's anger (inappropriate/unpredictable) within the home . . . was not to be "aired". Undeserved blame games/finger pointing/consequences . . . keep a little one "sleeping".  Rigid rules, overbearing control and societal monopolies . . . stifle.  
The way our light is "snuffed out" is by OUR ALLOWING others to put THEIR bucket over us . . .   
To reclaim our significance, meaning, purpose . . . we need to allow God to air us and unbind our lips.  
In truth, honesty and light, we want to wake up.  We want to tell our story not to point fingers but to learn from each other . . . to learn from our sin.
Syd, there is a really good reason you woke up this morn!       
Gotta go!

On Nov 6, 2014 beatify wrote:

In a similar situation, I have crept back to my smallness, re-sensing my soul, re-tasting the simplicity of the air I breathe, believing in the presence of all others' breaths - the birds, animals, flowers and plants - and know a miracle is still occurring, even in my deepest hurts....around me are miracles. I'll walk in a park and watch the water, the geese calmly swimming, and breath deeply that peace will always show up when I need it most. Stepping out into my choices for finances, auto repairs, and day-to-day moments that no longer hold correspondence with those I loved so dearly, I listen to my heart beat saying 'breathe', 'breathe', 'breathe'....and I love Syd's words. Thank you, Syd.
My eager shows up when I want to see a color in the autumn sunset...when it shows up, I'm at eager shows up when I need to clear out papers and bills....and somehow alignment with such an amazing gentleness shows up so I can do those tasks with less hurt and fear...just a day...just a choice-one choice....then another walk to be in peace...daydream wherever it leads (even to the hurt) and watch whatever shows up as if it's a silent film...and it passes and I'm still here to say 'okay....anything is okay'....and choose to breathe and stay in neutral until another activity is required. This is a short stay here in the's all so beautiful...and those who left and will leave I pray go their way/walk, and stay in peace. I've more to be near, more to sing with, croon with, more to feast with my eyes...and smell with my nose...and love with my if the canvas has changed, my soul will fill that canvas with my love and the love of all around me. It's all so sad, and simultaneously it's

On Nov 6, 2014 Always Present wrote:

 You made my day!  Thank you for not going back to sleep!

On Nov 15, 2014 Smita wrote:

Hi Vi. It sounds like there's a lot going on in your life right now and it's overwhelming for you. I have found that when I am going through such experiences of intense pain, the pain intensifies when I resist it. Even the slightest bit of resistance to it creates more of it. When I "lean in" to pain, however, I find that there is greater ease, acceptance, love. Heaviness lifts and I feel more whole, more aligned in body, mind, spirit. I know it seems counter-intuitive to "lean in" to pain, to befriend it with kindness. Many times we would rather turn away from it, and for very good reasons. Although resistance may have good intentions to protect us from pain, it also keeps us from having a deeper connection with ourselves.

It takes courage to take the type of journey you are taking. I think the good news is that (I'm guessing) you have enough sensitivity to feel the effects of resistance in such a deep way. Perhaps what your body and soul are asking from you is to try leaning in, with eyes of curiosity for what you're experiencing. This requires staying *very close* to yourself. It may not be easy to do alone, so it may be helpful to seek support from someone who can guide you through it, if you choose this path. In my experience, it is deeply empowering.

I was listening to one of Adyashanti's talks recently, and he said that many of us can look back on the worst things that have happened to us, and recognize that they actually turned out to be the best things that happened to us (because we often experience great transformation in those times). And yet, why is it that when we're going through one of those "worst things" do we say "noooooo!"  :)

On Nov 15, 2014 Amy wrote:

 Because we are people.  (No one wants to hurt)