Broken and Beautiful

We are all broken.

Life is full of beautiful, wonderful experiences. It is also inevitably peppered by challenge and difficulty; that seasoning being heavier for some than others. Our struggles may have marred our childhoods, adolescences, adulthoods, or all of the above. Arguably, some of the most severely impacted are those who had abusive childhoods or experienced profound illness or the death of someone close to them. The most jarring trials frequently involve pain and damage caused by those we love – parents, spouses, etc. We surface with baggage: insecurity, self-doubt, disappointment, anxiety, mistrust, heartache, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, and so on. In short, we emerge broken.

One of the themes I’ve consistently written about is the concept of finding opportunity in our struggles. I believe that while none of us wants to struggle or experience pain, we always have a choice in the way we deal with those challenges. We get to choose our reactions and our actions. We may use our adverse circumstances to induce lessons learned, or we can hide them deep inside us and allow the pain to poison us. I want to take this notion a step further.

We all have brokenness – our life’s struggles cannot and should not be compared; we are all different and are all impacted differently by what we experience. Still, we can look at the similarities and bonds that connect us rather than judging one another. When used for good, for positive change, for building relationships, for creating opportunity, our brokenness is not all for naught. Our brokenness can in fact become beautiful.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi involves repairing cracked, broken pottery using molten gold. The Japanese believe that the damaged pottery, with its mended fractures and breaks, is even more beautiful and valuable than before. This is a very meaningful metaphor for each of our lives, and the scars and cracks in our beings which result from our ordeals. In giving ourselves the permission to work through and heal from those trials, we may in fact emerge stronger and more complete than before.

kinstugi

In order to utilize the pain of our circumstance to create beauty, we must find repair; healing, forgiveness, growth. We must also accept in ourselves and each other the reality and asset of our brokenness. In our lives, we can benefit from these two choices to catalyze amazing transformation.

As imperfect human beings, we are so often afraid to face and share our brokenness, even though none of us is complete and faultless. We set unattainable expectations of ourselves and each other. I have long felt that when we seek and choose positive and effective relationships, we find the strength to heal and the desire to grow, but this starts with openness and communication, which takes time and comfort. These uplifting and bolstering relationships can be of any type, but ultimately we should ideally choose to share our lives with people with whom we can be ourselves, and who bestow upon us acceptance and support. And, in the context of a romantic partnership, an ideal mate accepts us without judgment and loves us in our brokenness; helps us to see our value, encourages us to aspire to change and greatness. This is very different than a mate who demands change, who points at our weaknesses and brokenness and calls us inadequate. Rather, it is a choice we make for ourselves; to want to be better and have better for ourselves, and that desire is based on love and acceptance. We are pushed to be extraordinary.

Perhaps we were never meant to be flawless and uninjured – we can use our experience and pain and turn it into wisdom and opportunity. In embracing our flaws and imperfection, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can uncover profound beauty and value within ourselves, and discover opportunity to achieve the successes and attitudes we strive for. In our restoration, we are stronger and more precious than before.

Perhaps we were never meant to be complete and self-sufficient – in sharing our pain and experience with others and accepting our need for them, we exchange this wisdom, offer acceptance and inspire evolution and advancement in our own and others’ lives. And, not only do we grow and nurture others, we benefit these relationships with deep intimacy, too.

We are beautiful in our brokenness.

Freedom to Choose

I learned long ago that I cannot control many circumstances in my life, and therefore that I should choose to be happy regardless of the conditions that surround me. The essential lesson was around controlling other people and their choices. This was a difficult lesson to learn.

From the age of about 18 until my 32nd year, I have dedicated myself to people I have chosen to be romantically involved with. Fourteen years have been filled with 3 long relationships, a smattering of shorter but still significant, torrid romances and peppered with a few ephemeral yet passionate experiences in between.

My three longest standing relationships involved people with pretty heavy emotional baggage, and I was convinced I could help them attain happiness and peace in their lives. In the end, I wasn’t able to help them change, and ended up hurt and, in my own insecurity, believing that somehow their unhappiness was related to me. I had a very self-centered perspective of my relationships and the choices of others.

I am forever grateful for those relationships – I have no regret. These relationships I entered trying to act as a counsellor ultimately served to teach me great lessons about myself and the changes I needed to make instead.

Although I am generally an optimist, I am also a chronic thinker. I analyze situations five different ways, slicing and dicing to try to comprehend others’ behaviour or anticipate the outcomes of my own choices. Of course, this type of scrutiny and expectation usually results in disappointment. Combine all of this with the human need to be loved, and we find fourteen-plus years of great blessings and also challenge. To me, the recurring incidence of similar situations or outcomes in one’s life is an evident indicator of a lesson that needs to be learned. The lesson I’m now finding ahead of me is not related to being joyful despite others’ choices, but rather finding joy in each moment without needing to seek my crystal ball.

I have long believed that circumstances or relationships occur for a reason. A few times throughout my life, people have entered and brought with them a great whirlwind of wisdom. A small number of those people have remained in my life long-term, popping in and out at what always appears the right time for one or both of us. Despite sometimes years in between reunions, and with the intensity and abundant trust of a lifelong bond, the relationship will bloom for a short time and one or both of us will walk away renewed and constructively changed.

Recently, I made a new friend who, in the span of only a week, has had a profound impact on me. This person has begun the patient journey of continuing to teach me a lesson I have been learning most of my adult life to date. It relates to that struggle between heart and mind.

I am the only barrier to my happiness. I may put up walls between myself and the great possibility of joy. I might let the fear of tomorrow get between me and today’s elation. Ultimately, if I am self-aware and willing to accept that the only person I can control is myself, then I can choose freedom. Freedom from being obstructed by emotional responses to the choices of others…..freedom from circumstantial joy…and most importantly, freedom from my own fears. This is all easier said than done, but a chosen journey nonetheless, perhaps lifelong.

“Man is free the instant he wishes to be” ~Voltaire

Challenging Love

There was a time when life was pure and simple. Each day was a new discovery, and one sought with innocence and without fear of failure, rejection or heartbreak. Those childhood years, while recollected easily by most of us, are left behind with little remembrance of what it truly felt like to be so free.

As adults, it is perhaps impossible for us to ever be that innocent and liberated again, and probably there are biological imperatives surrounding this. With every disappointment in our lives, we learn to build walls and to convince ourselves to be careful, to be suspicious, to avoid vulnerability. Indeed it is important to be careful sometimes and certainly, vulnerability isn’t synonymous with self-preservation; an activity we flock to so naturally.

I’ve called myself an open book many times in my life. I’ve also frequently been told I shouldn’t be one. I make myself vulnerable in all sorts of relationships, and you can be damn sure I’ve had my heart injured more than once. Let me say that in no way is this an attempt to draw comparisons or assume I’m better or superior to anyone, but I’m personally happy I live my life that way. To me, healthy, successful relationships are founded in part on transparency and open communication, and then built on understanding, empathy and trust (among other things). To leave myself open to hurt is to also leave myself open to being understood. To open the pages of my heart to be read by others is to allow them to know and comprehend my story; where I’ve come from, where I am at present, and where I’m headed – at least as much as is within my ambit. Expressing my raw emotions and impressions to others allows me to feel authentic in a moment or inside of the expanse of an entire relationship, knowing confidently I’ve not held back any part of myself. I’ve given the relationship as much chance at thriving as possible, by genuinely pouring out my heart. I’ve poured out kindness and love on another person both by focusing on all the wonderful things I see in them, but also by pointing out areas where the relationship could be healthier. I open myself up to my intrinsic desire to change the things about myself that I can; wanting to improve myself and make the relationship better, recognizing I can only choose to change myself.

I’m not willing to risk a life of regret and misery, resenting those who have hurt or disappointed me. I’d rather thank them for the lessons they helped me learn. I’m emphatically unwilling to settle for a mediocre or merely content life rather than one that is overflowing with joy, satisfaction and even opportunities for astonishing growth fueled by pain. I’m loath to even consider the possibility of sharing my life in the context of a romantic relationship with someone who doesn’t push my life over the edge and into an experience of love, elation, discovery and evolution that I cannot experience by myself. Sure, love comes easily to me and I find myself feeling love towards strangers sometimes. But mind-blowingly passionate, expansive and selfless love is something rare and worth searching out and waiting for. I no longer believe in ‘one true love’ but I do believe that two people who are right for each other will mutually desire and deliver each other unsurpassed ecstasy and make one another continuously strive for more – more love, more joy, more wisdom, more transformation, more achievement, more exploration, MORE.

Of course, I remember many happy childhood moments with my family and the many blessings I was bestowed. However, I don’t recall what was going on inside me during my earliest formative years. I would imagine, though, that when I’m able to quiet my mind, accept my circumstances, and flow forward with a smile, that peace I feel is probably similar to the innate peace that lived in me as an innocent child. The immense love I’m able to feel in my heart is probably a reflection of the love that filled me to the brim as a youngster, unafraid of how vulnerable it could cause me to be. I imagine that the desire I have to make others happy is something preserved still from that time, when love was paramount and still unblemished.

My goal is to seek such unbridled passion, such courageous love, and to continue to regard life’s struggles as gifts, no matter how hard they might make me push myself. From another perspective, I’ll endeavor to see others as innocent, grown up children, like me, who have just been hurt by life and thus to remember that when they hurt me, it is probably not with that intention. Finally, I challenge myself to draw from within me the innocent, fearless love of a child, combine it deliberately with the wisdom of an open-minded, optimistic adult and accept the realities of life’s disappointments with a smile.