For today’s Daily Stress Releaf, I want to talk about a profound thought I recently heard. The other day I watched David Brooks give a great Ted Talk. First, I have to say, I’m aware of his work with a social media platform where he might have had a conflict of interest (more here). But in his presentation, he talked about how intensely empty he felt after he’d gotten divorced. He said he’d fallen for the lies that our culture tells us: career success is fulfilling, that he could make himself happier with external results, that you are what you accomplish. We often believe that people who achieve more than others are actually better than others. So he found himself stuck in this valley of disconnection. He realized then, as he said, “When you have one of those bad moments in life, you can either be broken or you can be broken open.”
Our Souls Are Like a Hard Nut From a Tree
I love this metaphor. Of course, the first thing I related this to was a nut from a tree. In particular, a walnut, one of the hardest nuts to crack. I thought about how hard the shell is, how wonderful the seed inside. The shell protects the seed from the elements until it’s time to drop and break open. Afterward, the seed has all it needs to start creating a whole other tree. A new tree! And with a new tree comes a new life. Of course, with a new life comes rebirth and hope.
But if the nut is smashed to pieces, the seed might be rendered unviable. That seems the saddest of all outcomes. All that great growth and potential lost. In Brooks’s talk, he used the idea of being broken versus broken open to highlight how people descend into depression and anger. “We all know people who are broken,” he said. “They’ve endured some pain or grief. They get smaller. They get angrier, resentful, they lash out as the saying is ‘Pain that is not transformed gets transmitted.'”
How Can We Go From Broken to Broken Open?
He also talked about how some people take their misfortune, their pain, and transform it. If you can ‘suffer your way to wisdom,’ you can transform. He says to get in touch with your heart. Let your ego crumble. Then get in touch with your spiritual self, your soul. But the key is not to think you can do it alone. It’s integral to connect with other people. You need the others who can reach down and help you out of the valley of disconnection.
I recognize of course that this is so difficult in early 2021. We’re still hampered by the pandemic. Believe me, I understand. I’ve lost loved ones during this time and will soon lose another one. Some days are profoundly sad for me. I feel too broken to break open. It’s difficult to keep one’s chin up. But I hope you will hang in there. See the suffering through. Spring and vaccinations and a more social life are right around the corner. We have a lot to be hopeful about. I try to keep this in mind.
A Country That Can Heal
Brooks’s last thought was that we are having a national mental health crisis. So many of us, as the statistics show, are in pain. Our divided politics reflects that. So as an entire society, we need to recover. To help with that, he founded a project called Weave, which aims to connect people in communities. They want to shift people’s mindsets from one of individual achievement to one that finds reward in deep relationships and community success. You might want to check them out.
Until then, I hope you will not let yourself be broken, but choose to break open and grow a better day tomorrow.
Photo by Wouter Supardi Salari