Note: This is a transcript from the book Broken Open – How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser.
I normally write my heart/brain out in these posts, but this is too good not to share directly from the pages if this fabulous read.
“Learn the alchemy true human beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you have been given, the door will open” – RUMI
How do we begin that journey from “once-born innocence” to “twice-born wisdom”? Where do we find the courage to make a big change? How do we use the orces of a difficult time to help us grow? There are many ways, but the first way, the gateway, is to know that we are not alone in these endeavors. One of the greatest enigmas of human behavior is the way we isolate ourselves from each other. In our misguided perception of separation, we assume that others are not sharing a similar experience of life. We imagine that we are unique in our eccentricities or failures or longings. And so we try to appear as happy and consistent as we think others are, and we feel shame when we stumble and fall. When difficulties come our way, we don’t readily seek out help and compassion because we think others might not understand, or would judge us harshly or take advantage of our weakness. And so we hide out, and we miss out.
We read novels and go to movies and follow the lives of celebrities in order to imbibe a kind of full-out living we believe is out of our reach, or too risky, or just an illusion. Here is the oddest thing about living life as a spectator sport. While the tales in books and movies and People magazine may be created with smoke and mirrors, our own lives don’t have to be. We have the real opportunity to live fully, with passion and meaning and profound satisfaction. Within us – burning brighter than any movie star – is our own star, our North Star, our soul. It is our birthright to uncover the soul – to remove the layers of fear or shame or apathy or cynicism [or addiction!] that conceal it. A good place to start, and a place to come back to over and over again, is what Rumi calls the Open Secret.
Rumi says that each of us is trying to hide a secret – not a big, bad secret, but a more subtle and pervasive one. It’s the kind of secret that people in the streets of Istanbul kept from each other in the thirteenth century when Rumi was writing his poetry. It’s what I imagine Einstein tried to hide from his neighbors in Princeton, and they from him. And it’s the same kind of secret you and I try to keep from each other every day. You meet an old acquaintance and she asks “How are you?” You say “Fine!” She asks, “How are the kids?” You say “Oh, they are great!” “The job?” “Just fine. I have been there five years now”. Her replies are similar to yours.
It’s a perfectly innocent exchange of the ordinary banter; each of us has a similar kind every day. But it is probably not an accurate representation of our actual lives. We don’t want to say that one of the kids is failing at school, or that our work often feels meaningless, or that the entire move to the new town may have been a colossal mistake. It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by our most human traits. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the time to go into the gory details with everyone we meet; we don’t know each other well enough; we don’t want to appear sad, or confused, or weak, or self-absorbed. Better to keep under wraps our neurotic and nutty sides (not to mention our darker urges and more shameful desires). Why wallow publicly in the underbelly of our day-to-day stuff? Why wave the dirty laundry about, when all she asked was “How are you?”
Rumi says that when we hide the secret underbelly from each other, both people go away wondering, How come she has it all together? How come her marriage/job/town/family works so well? What is wrong with me? We feel vaguely diminished from this ordinary interaction, and from hundreds of similar interactions we have from month to month and year. When we don’t share the secret ache in our hearts – the normal bewilderment of being human – it turns into something else. Our pain and fear and longing in the absence of company, becomes alienation and envy and competition.
The irony of hiding the dark side of our humanness is that our secret is not really a secret at all [especially for us struggling with an addiction!]. How can it be when we’re all safeguarding the very same story? That is why Rumi calls it an Open Secret. It’s almost a joke – a laughable admission that each one of us has a shadow self, a bumbling, bad-tempered twin. Big surprise! Just like you, I can be a jerk sometimes. I do unkind, cowardly things, harbor unmerciful thoughts, and mope around when I should be doing something constructive. Just like you, I wonder if life has meaning and worry and fret over things I can’t control; and I often feel overcome with a longing for something I can’t even name. For all of my strengths and gifts, I am also a vulnerable and insecure person, in need of connection and reassurance. This is the secret I try to keep from you, and you from me, and in doing this, we do each other a grave disservice.
Rumi tells us that the moment we accept what troubles we’ve been given [in our case, our addiction(s)], the door will open. Sounds easy, sounds attractive, but it is difficult, and most of us pound on the door to freedom and happiness with every manipulative ploy save the one that actually works. If you are interested in opening the door to the heavens, start with the door of your own secret self. See what happens when you offer to another a glimpse of who you really are. Start slowly. Without getting dramatic, share the simple dignity of yourself in each moment – your triumphs and your failures, your satisfaction and your sorrow. Face your embarrassment at being human, and you will uncover a deep well of passion and compassion. It’s a great power, your Open Secret. When your heart is undefended, you make it safe for whomever you meet to put down his or her burdens of hiding, and then you both can walk through the open door.