Elizabeth Lesser’s brilliant book, Broken Open, a meditation on the subject of blessings in disguise in all aspects of life, begins like this:
How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.
Later, she recounts dozens of heartfelt stories of the ‘twice-born’ – people who faced crisis as a catalyst, stayed awake for the process, and began anew. Lesser quotes a poem by Bunan, a Japanese Zen Master, who, in this message at once evoking the graceful syntax of Rumi and the elegant brevity of skateboarder vernacular, entreats us all:
Die while you are alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then do whatever you want:
It’s all good.
For the clients whose blessings in disguise fill these pages, and indeed for this writer, dying while alive has brought beautiful rebirth.
Does it seem dramatic to refer to career change, even a career catastrophe, as a death? Think about it a little longer. What’s the first question you typically ask of someone after their name? “Ah, nice to meet you. And what do you do?” And what is the reason we ask those questions? I would hope it is in part because we have an awareness that what we do can be a very deep and intimate sharing, a reflection of who we really are, of what and how we love. As an extension of that in our society, our jobs very often shape our primary sense of identity. Whether or not you find this congruent with your values or might prefer another etymology of self, it is news to no one that in western culture we tend to think of who we are as what we do. And so to lose that doing can feel like losing our being as well.