If You're Lucky Your Heart Will Break

Broken-ness, affliction, arrives as failure. There is a failure of something in ourselves or in our world to be what we are so sure it's supposed to be.

Sixteen years ago, I lost my job as an assistant professor of philosophy. It was wrong -- so obviously wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. I was so upset. Stricken. My skin felt like it would really rather be somewhere besides wrapped around my body. I believed the University had not followed proper procedure, so I filed a grievance, and then they violated the grievance procedure. I couldn’t make things be what it was so clear to me they should be.

Failure and “should” are concepts that go hand in hand, and that separate us from reality.

I was in a relationship with a woman – after the dissolution of my first marriage and before I met LoraKim. It reached the point where it wasn’t working out – at least, it wasn’t working out for her. She “should” have loved me. I was younger then – trimmer, fitter – smart, funny -- take my word for it, I was adorable. But she didn’t love me, not anymore. I couldn’t make her, and I was, again, so distraught.

You could have told me it was my choice to feel that way, and in some sense you’d have been right. But I didn’t have the skills to feel any differently. I didn’t know then how to choose otherwise, to get over my conception of what should be and get back to the ground of what is, the ground on which it is safe to stand, sit, and abide. The distress was trying to get my attention, trying lead me back to that ground, down from the clouds of delusion of “should.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: this is not about being complacent. When our third principle says, “acceptance of one another,” that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against injustice. I just want to say there’s a way to do that without being upset, without “demand energy,” without rancor, without thinking anyone is evil, without discomfort or distrust. There is a way to stand for justice while also being at peace with ourselves and at peace with those whose actions seem to us to have been instrumental in creating the state of affairs we are working to change. There’s a way to be a peaceful warrior.

It might be possible to become a peaceful warrior without having to break. I don’t know. Maybe. For me, though, and for everyone I have ever known personally, somewhere in growing up our lives became as a vase, shellacked with “should” until opaque. And the light within us does not shine out until something breaks us. Some very important “should” fails, and we crack. We break open. My friend, colleague, UU minister, and Zen master James Ford has a new book out. I haven't read it yet. I love the title: If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break. For in that breaking is the chance to find yourself and your light. That’s the blessed affliction.

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This is part 4 of 5 of "Blessed Affliction."
Next: Part 5: "Taking Yourself Personally"
Previous: Part 3: "Pushed Down to Safe Ground"
Beginning: Part 1: "Who Are You?"

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