Opening Wider & Diving Deeper into the Immeasurable Beauty & Pain of Life

Jun 25, 2015 | Musings From A Prayerful Heart


It’s not a spiritual requirement to be fascinated by what inhibits our greatest aliveness; and somehow compelled to uncover and reveal surprising pathways to deeper freedom.

And yet it did resonate for me when recently I heard brilliant author Brene Brown say: “Our capacity for whole-heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted.”

Yes, thank you. When we discover firsthand the direct relationship between meeting our broken-heartedness and awakening to our essential whole-heartedness, then meeting our broken-heartedness becomes a lot more intriguing!

I know the work I do at this level is what allows my heart to stretch wide enough to meet the ongoing challenges of daily life– as a woman and a single mother and sensitive human being, alive on this planet in these tenuous times; as well as what allows me to meet the deeply tender challenges of so many dear people who come see me for support.

And when I dive into the core of my true, human broken-heartedness, I know I join the masses. I know in that moment I am so close to you, in your broken-heartedness. I know that in some real way I’m blessed to bear your grief, terror, shame, longing together with you; the pain of the entire human species; the pain of our challenged world.

It’s interesting what we do with the parts of ourselves, our bodies and personalities, our families, our homes, our lives, and even our world– that we don’t love, don’t want, and that we might even feel shame or fear or fury or overwhelming grief to acknowledge?

Many of us keep those feelings hidden– from others, surely, but sometimes even from ourselves. It feels too painful or scary to really look at the patterns of dysfunction or addiction or betrayal that still arise in our lives, in spite of our good intentions and efforts to only embody our best selves. It feels too hopeless to really look at what is happening in our world, on our planet, the dire consequences of collective ignorance, greed and short-sighted narcissism.

Still others of us prefer outright denial and disassociation when it comes to being with the darker aspects of ourselves and our world:  What fear? What grief? What shame?  What rage? What addiction? What unworthiness? What suffering? I’m fine, you’re fine. The problem is over there; it’s theirs. Stop bringing me down. 

One night several months ago I sat in prayer and met some very deep pain within. It might sound crazy, but this is actually how I frequently choose to spend my precious, kid-free time: diving into the un-met shadow wounds– compelled to see anything and everything that gets in the way of my living as real love in this wild world.

I know by now there is nothing of this human world I am not meant to meet; no separation finally between what’s arising “out there” and “in here.” If it arises in my consciousness, it is mine to take responsibility for; to meet and somehow bring home to the wholeness that holds it all. For better or for worse, there is no escape from all of myself.

And so this time, as I sat in prayer and invited whatever was yearning for deeper freedom within me to reveal itself, what presented itself most intensely was the deep pain of shame inside me; the shameful shadow of myself and of our collective consciousness: the un-evolved, broken, messy failure to fully embody love’s wisdom, and the suffering this continually causes in my personal life and in the world. Deeper than any specific story of “being ashamed”, there was simply a core experience of horror, both personal and universal, with a nauseating flavor of shame wrapped around it.

One of the cherished teachings from my spiritual teacher, Gangaji, I live most intimately with, is the invitation to “Open Wider” to whatever is arising, specifically that which we are inclined to resist. This teaching is one I apply especially in excruciating moments such as these when I’m asked to meet a deep pain within, and instead what I really want to do is close down, push away, numb, resist and deny.

I’ve learned over time that when I can bravely resist the urge to resist whatever is arising, and instead accept this counter-intuitive invitation to open wider to whatever pain is surfacing within me, most often a fresh and surprising revelation of freedom is granted.

And so, like a good spiritual student, in this case I opened wider, again and again, to the pain of shame and failure. It was barely tolerable to keep opening to it, and it seemed I just kept spiraling, around and around, inside a seemingly endless circle of pain. And so finally I realized that in this case, even more than opening wider to it, what was truly required was another invitation I’ve received from my teacher: to courageously “Dive Deeper” into this pain of personal/universal shame, failure and horror.

Diving in, deepening through the periphery of shame, what I very quickly discovered was quite simply my broken human heart; broken by disappointment, failure and defeat; utterly broken on behalf of the immense pain in our world.

Inside this broken heart I experienced raw vulnerability: in the face of my countless personal limitations, imperfections and shortcomings. And even deeper than this, I found myself face to face with the deepest vulnerability inherent in life: the truth of mortality and ever-present promise of death.

Yes, death: this unavoidable reality that you and I and she and he and even our planet, someday, sooner or later, will die. And we don’t know when or how or whether or not we will feel ready or complete when death comes for us and the ones we love. And we are vulnerable in this; so vulnerable in our innate attachment to our own bodies and lives, to our beloveds, and to our sweet, troubled world.

And when I dove even deeper, into the core of this vulnerability and terror, I discovered a real sense of hopelessness. How hopeless it feels at this level: the continuous presence of seemingly insurmountable global challenges, the exhaustion of human incarnation, so many struggles of survival, work and relationship. How the very nature of our lives is a continuous invitation to meet loss, to grieve, to let go, and to somehow show up to live as best we can, while struggling with immense vulnerability and continuous failure! There was a mighty sense of hopelessness when I really let this in.

And when I found the willingness to dive into the very center of this hopelessness? I discovered exquisitely raw, open, newborn beauty; a fresh prayer, a freshly inspired bow.

At the core of the shame, at the heart of immense pain, deeper than vulnerability and hopelessness, I find a heartfelt prayer for us all; a profoundly humbled bow of freshly realized love for life itself. 

Who would have known?

What heartbreaking relief when we can finally stop denying the pain we live with, our friends and neighbors live with, our ancestors went to their graves with; this pain we can’t help but notice appearing now in our very own children’s bodies, minds and hearts, in spite of our best efforts to spare and protect them from suffering.

Oh to really open to the immensity of pain on our planet: tsunamis and earthquakes, floods and fires and global warming; the dangerous extinction of innumerous species; the brutal rapes of countless indigenous cultures; the mortifying consequences of genocide and war; the shameful ignorance surrounding Fukushima and Monsanto; the horrors of hunger and thirst and devastating epidemics that so many human beings face right in this very moment; the numberless, nameless millions of bereaved parents forced to survive the deaths of their precious children.

Dare we open to the piercing pain of greed, of corrupt governmental and legal systems, the tangled mess of politics and power, blind consumerism and image-obsessed pettiness?

Dare we open to the anesthetized pain of the sound-asleep and drugged masses: hooked up, blindly addicted to big Pharm and TV, unconsciously starving for authenticity, for spirit, for self-love, for true intimacy with life, the direct knowing of sacredness; while drinking another 6 pack, doing another line of cocaine, popping another pill, buying more stuff, watching another “reality” tv show, numbing away the sorrow, the desolate meaninglessness, seeking endless distraction from the hollow suffering of inner emptiness?

Dare we open to the pain of ongoing perpetuation, through repeated cycling and recycling of trauma and ignorance to the next generations; the horrifying passing of the torch of abuse, of addiction, of shame, of self-hatred?

I love Glennon Doyle Melton’s provocative words: “Unless you bear witness to the truth, unless you face it head on and choose to open your heart to the pain, you won’t bear witness to the miracle either. If you run away from the crucifixion, you just might miss the resurrection.”

What fresh, heartbreaking relief to simply be willing to open to the pain of this world and our painful part in it. And in this willingness, to actually be crucified by the shame and horror; to be crucified by the tender, broken heart beneath, by our immense vulnerability and hopelessness.

Once crucified, my heart resurrects itself anew in a fresh realization of the simplest miracle: this fleeting chance to truly live, and hurt, and heal; this miraculous chance to love, in spite of it all; to open even wider to the pain and dive even deeper into loving and loving and loving some more.

As I meet the vulnerable pain of heartbreak, and taste anew the miracle of this gift called life, my heart stretches wider inside the essential, unbreakable wholeness of Being; leaning into the truth of actual invulnerability— as the great Mystery itself, forever giving rise to endless cycles of birth and death, love and loss, beauty and pain– infinitely whole in and of itself.

For all the madness and sorrows we carry; for all the unpredictable, uncontrollable horrors of this world, underneath our tendencies to numb, avoid and deny it all, we discover the truth of our undeniable wholeness, the immensity of our genuine care, and our real, miraculous capacity to love, resiliently, through the broken heart of it all.

Isn’t it true though? We keep on loving right through our broken open hearts. 

And in this miracle of sincere care and love I can find the courage and generosity to reach my hand out to you, and receive your outstretched hand; to hold strong when I feel your fingers touch mine. And then together maybe we can bear it all– both the breathtaking beauty and the heartbreaking pain– just a little bit more, for just a little while longer? What do you say? Will you bear it all with me?

Maybe we can allow our sacred bearing of it to be part of the blessing we showed up for; part of the mysterious honor of being human? This tender truth of the matter: that in being human we get to bear this immense suffering, and we get to bear this immense love.

And even though we don’t exactly feel safe in this bearing of it all, and we don’t exactly feel comfortable all the time, we certainly feel alive, don’t we? And this, this simple, precious aliveness– today, right here, right now, with all it includes– perhaps this is the greatest gift?

I meet you at the heartbroken core of pain, my friend. And I meet you in undeniably glorious beauty: this greatest gift of our shared, sacred, fleeting aliveness. I meet you here and I love you.

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