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Don't Go Back to Sleep

--by Elizabeth Lesser (Oct 27, 2014)
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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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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  See full.

 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.   

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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.



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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 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 bl  See full.

 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.

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On Oct 28, 2014 Reema wrote:

 This is so quietly beautiful! Thank you~



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 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 way..you are not lost.



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 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 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



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