From Breakdown to Breakthrough

"Living is the process of continuous rebirth. The tragedy in the life of most of us is that we die before we are fully born."

- Erich Fromm

Life is challenging. We have good days and bad days… moments of suffering and periods of contentment. We also confront times of Breakdown, when our lives are no longer working. In such times, there is a flatness to our lives. Rather than engaging full-heartedly with life, we are just going through the motions. It is possible to live for weeks, months, even years, in a state of unacknowledged Breakdown.

Breakdown as a Catalyst for Breakthrough

A common response to Breakdown is to deny it or ignore it, but this, invariably, creates more separation, more anxiety, more loneliness, more exhaustion… in a word, more Breakdown!

It is separation and alienation from our very selves that is often at the root of Breakdown. Insofar as this is true, many of us may be in Breakdown right now. You can gauge if this might be the case for you by reflecting on the following questions: Do you love yourself just as you are… unconditionally? How do you know?  If you are unable to respond with a clear YES! to this question, it is likely that you are living in the territory of Breakdown because you are divided from yourself.

That’s OK. You are not alone. In fact, it is Breakdown that acts as a catalyst for Breakthrough—for AWAKENING! Indeed, if it is awakening that we seek, the way forward is to turn toward—not away from—ourselves. This means loving ourselves unconditionally, warts and all. The alternative—to turn away and abandon ourselves—intensifies Breakdown, foreclosing the possibility of Breakthrough.

Cultivating Intimacy with Ourselves

Breakthrough becomes possible as we learn to treat ourselves with respect and love. It would make sense that we would want to do this. After all, we are each inseparable from ourselves. Since the time of your birth, there has never been a moment when you weren’t connected to yourself!

When it comes to cultivating intimacy with ourselves, author and wisdom teacher, Greg Levoy, suggests adopting the practice of hushing. He likens hushing to the experience of leaving a busy street and walking into the quiet of a cathedral. In so doing, we create a space for intimacy—wherein soulful, insights and intuitions might arise.

As a touchstone for cultivating hushing, consider engaging with the following breathing practice from Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:

Breathing in I calm my body,
breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment (in breath),
I know this is a wonderful moment (out breath).

Whispering these words, while breathing in and out, is a form of contemplation that invites calmness and presence. Hanh sums it up this way: “It is a joy to sit, stable and at ease, and return to our breathing, our smiling, our true nature. Our appointment with life is in the present moment.”

Accessing Your Inner Teacher in Times of Breakdown

Scientist and spiritual teacher Roger Walsh, contends that we each hold, within ourselves, a store of wisdom. He likens it to having a discerning teacher—a sage of sorts—dwelling within us. If you are open to exploring this possibility, settle into a quiet indoor space or a peaceful spot in nature. When you are ready to begin, close your eyes and focus on your breath for several inhalations and exhalations…

Then, imagine yourself in a beautiful place, perhaps a favorite beach, or a serene mountain or garden. See yourself there and enjoy the feelings this special place evokes in you.

In just a moment you are going to invite, into this place, an extraordinarily wise person. It may be a great spiritual teacher or it may be an unknown wise man or woman. Whoever it is, this person will embody qualities such as great wisdom, love and complete acceptance of you, just as you are.

When you are ready, invite this wise person into your place of beauty and introduce yourself. Take time to savor the experience of being in the presence of a person of deep wisdom and boundless love. What does it feel like to be with someone who understands and loves you completely? What fears and defenses melt into nothingness in the presence of someone who accepts you just the way you are?

See this as an opportunity to learn and get advice about anything that concerns you. So, take a moment now to think of the questions you would most like to ask this wise teacher… Then, ask your first question and wait quietly for the answer.

There is no need to try to make anything happen. Simply relax and allow the wisdom rising from within you to respond. When you are ready, ask your next question… wait patiently for a response… and continue with any further questions you might have. Take your time…

When you have no further questions, ask the wise person if s/he has anything to tell you. Again, just relax and wait...

Next, ask if there are any questions that the wise person has for you and open to what arises.

Conclude by imagining yourself slowly merging with the wise person so that your bodies, hearts, and minds melt into one. Actually you already are one, because the sage and the qualities, such as love and wisdom, are creations and parts of your own mind.

So consider: What is it like to be wise? What does it feel like to be fearless and to have no need to defend yourself in any way? What is it like to feel boundless love and care for all people including yourself? And what does it feel like to accept and love yourself completely, just as you are?

After you have savored this experience, gently open your eyes and take time to reflect on the fact that these feelings of wisdom, fearlessness, love and acceptance are not new or foreign to you. They are aspects of yourself that you projected onto the wise person. True, these qualities are not fully developed or always accessible to you yet, but they are available and await you attention to grow and flourish.

Note: This meditation is grounded in the premise that we each have, within ourselves, the wisdom to transmute our Breakdowns into Breakthroughs; and that we access this wisdom by cultivating a kind and loving relationship with our own sweet selves.

When you are ready, take some time to reflect on your encounter with your inner teacher.

Changing Your Beliefs in Times of Breakdown

Even in what seems like the most hopeless of situations, Breakthroughs are possible. This is illustrated in a true story about Robert Desnos, a poet who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. As it happened, one day, Desnos, along with an assortment of other prisoners, were ordered into the back of a truck that was destined for the gas chamber. When they arrived, the guards ordered them off the truck. Then as the prisoners began to shuffle toward the gas chamber, Desnos jumped out of line and grabbed the hand of the woman in front of him; and, in a state of animation, he began to read the her palm. The forecast was good: a long life, many grandchildren and abundant joy. Overhearing this, another prisoner offered his palm to Desnos; and here, too, Desnos foresaw a long life filled with happiness. Soon others were thrusting their palms at Desnos, and in each case, he foresaw long and prosperous lives.

Witnessing the excitement among the prisoners, the guards became tentative in their movements. Minutes earlier, they had been on a clear mission to exterminate the prisoners; but now, before their eyes, Desnos was creating a Breakthrough moment by shifting the prisoner’s reality from certain death for all, to long and happy lives for everybody. Desnos’ story was so disorienting that, instead of proceeding to the gas chamber, the guards took the prisoners back to their barracks.

In retrospect, it appears Desnos’ action was rooted in his love of life. It was this love that motivated him to create the belief in a life-saving Breakthrough.

If you happen to be in a state of Breakdown at this time, you could take inspiration from Desnos by addressing your beliefs. How? By completing the following two sentences:

i- My life is in Breakdown right now because I am caught in the limiting belief that _____________________.  

ii-I can free myself from my Breakdown by replacing my limiting belief with the empowering belief that ___________________________.

Upshot: Just as our beliefs—especially those about ourselves—are often the cause of our Breakdowns, they can also be the catalysts for our Breakthroughs.

"Have you ever had the experience of feeling like you were sleepwalking thorough your life, day-after-day, stuck in a subdued, flat, lifeless state?"

- Nick Strubel, Steppingstone # 12 Guide

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