How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow
In the more than thirty years since she co-founded Omega Institute - now the world's largest center for spiritual retreat and personal growth, Elizabeth Lesser has been an intimate witness to the ways in which people weather change and transition. In a beautifully crafted blend of moving stories, humorous insights, practical guidance, and personal memoir, she offers tools to help us make the choice we all face in times of challenge: Will we be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed? Lesser shares tales of ordinary people who have risen from the ashes of illness, divorce, loss of a job or a loved one - stronger, wiser, and more in touch with their purpose and passion. And she draws on the world's great spiritual and psychological traditions to support us as we too learn to break open and blossom into who we were meant to be.
And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud
was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Some years ago, I took a trip to the city of Jerusalem, where centuries are layered in stones, and streets are carved into the layers, twisting and turning in haphazard patterns that divide and connect neighborhoods, markets, mosques, temples, and churches. One morning in that broken city, I sat alone on a well-worn wall at the base of the Mount of Olives. The day was moving forward with the kind of determination that comes from people with places to go and things to do. Religious pilgrims pushed past each other into the gates of the holy city. Men and women made their way to work and market; children ran past them to school. But I had nowhere to go.
The group I was traveling with in Jerusalem had risen early for the day’s planned itinerary. I’d stayed behind. I could no longer keep up the charade that I was part of their adventure: I wasn’t here to visit sacred sites, or to walk the Stations of the Cross, wail at the Western Wall, or chant the Ninety-nine Names of Allah. No, I was here to further delay making a decision about my life at home. I had come to Jerusalem only because my friend, who was leading the trip, was worried enough about me to pay my fare—which worried me enough to fly halfway around the world to a city as mixed up as myself. Now I was here, but really I was still back there, at home in New York, scared and confused about my crumbling marriage.
Wandering deeper into the walled Old City, I came to an ancient alleyway lined with shops selling religious artifacts for the Western pilgrim. Normally I would veer away from these kinds of stores. Inspirational sayings stitched in needlepoint or Virgin Mary coffee mugs seemed no different to me than those velvet Elvis paintings you see at flea markets. But I needed help. I needed inspiration—even from a coffee cup, or an embroidered pillow, or from Elvis himself.
One narrow, dusky shop appealed to me, and I went in. On the floor was a patchwork of Persian rugs. On the walls hung small paintings, some of saints and prophets, others of mountains and flowers. Was this a gallery? A rug store? A gift shop? I couldn’t tell. In the back of the long room, drinking tea at a low table, sat two Arab men dressed in white caftans. One was a stooped and aged gentleman, and the other—his son perhaps—was a mysterious-looking character with gleaming eyes and long, black hair like the mane of a well-groomed horse. After a while the son put down his tea and came forward to greet me. Fixing his gaze on me, as if trying to read the secrets of my heart (or the contents of my purse), he said in perfect English, “Come, you will like this picture.” Taking my hand, he led me around piles of rugs to the back of the store, near where his father was sitting.
Continue reading an excerpt from Broken Open
Praise for Broken Open
"A most extraordinary book...Lesser is a brilliantly gifted writer."
—Caroline Myss, author of Sacred Contracts and Anatomy of the Spirit
"Elizabeth Lesser bravely and beautifully explores one of the most compelling questions of life: How do we emerge from suffering and challenge with real, encompassing wisdom and love? Broken Open is personal, pragmatic, and enlightening."
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
"Rich in food for philosophical mastication, and sparkling in their stylistic clarity, the true-life stories in Broken Open are both entertaining and enlightening."
—Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker, and Villa Incognito
"Never again will a painful experience break me down. Instead, I'll use Elizabeth's book to help me bread open into greater strength, acceptance, and awakening."
—Jane Fonda, actress, activist, and author of My Life So Far
"Insightful reflections...Reminiscent of Rachel Naomi Remen's books (e.g. Kitchen Table Wisdom), the book is gentle in tone without falling into sentimentality an clear without being dogmatic or simplistic."