Life in “Break-Down Mode”

Kwan Yin

A “status” from a Facebook Friend caught my attention this afternoon:

All break-downs lead to breakthroughs. No matter how rocky the terrain or how stormy the seas, it is an opportunity to become a master of your own perceptions, which helps one handle others’ perceptions that make you feel unstable or uprooted.

My commentary:

Break-downs lead to break-throughs IF we are willing to become a different kind of person: one who is no longer defined by what we think we have lost, be it a relationship, a job, or a place. A break-down can be a break-through — IF we allow the movement that has begun to continue unfolding itself in us/as us — and we don’t reflexively try to retrieve the familiar sense of “myself” that has, after all, just put us on notice that it’s giving us up.

Most of us respond to a break-down with fear and/or rage. These are basically responses of the ego to change and to the lack of control with which we are confronted when life happens in spite of our plans. Anger or rage, especially, are egoic avoidances of the feeling of helplessness that arises attendant to our loss of control; they are a form of false strength. Depending on our obstinacy (and not necessarily on the event itself), “life happening” can be an inconvenience or it can be a crisis.

In “crisis” or “break-down” (and beneath the anger, if present) the feeling is often one of panic, and of being on the edge of a bottomless nothingness, or even free-fall in the nothingness. Or it may be a feeling of a vast, flat, gray deadness and desolation.

Our ego reacts to those sensations with “O. My. God. I’m. Going. To. Die. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here — NOW!” And we’ll do anything to get out of it. If our lover has left us, we’ll jump right into another relationship. If we’ve been laid-off, maybe we buy something to stave-off the feeling of emptiness in a fit of “retail therapy,” mumbling a little story about “affirming prosperity.” We will rerun our familiar coping strategies with increased effort and struggle, sometimes even while being aware of their futility. From the perspective of the ego, a life full of strategies that don’t work is preferable to having no strategies at all — and we have just been confronted with the fact that “the best-laid plans of mice and men” are pretty-much the same. Reality has made her move and it’s check-mate.

But… that feeling of nothingness or flatness is actually the revelation to our perception of just how deeply futile our egoic identifications and their strategies really are. What a blessing! It feels horrid, but it’s actually a nugget of wakefulness breaking-through the trance of the personal ego. What’s dying is not ourselves but just a view of ourselves — albeit one that we fervently believe, never having beheld the boundless grandeur of the real self within.

Utility pole in Hyderabad, India

Typical utility pole in Hyderabad, India (photo by Hafizullah)

When life is running in break-down mode, all the affirmations on the fridge and the well-meaning support from friends do not really solve anything, though they may appear to for a time. From the perspective of the soul, the self you are trying to affirm and support IS the problem — and it is really the ONLY problem…

There’s a monkey trap used in Africa… a gourd is hollowed-out and tied to a tree. Something sweet is put inside, and the opening into the gourd is just large enough for a monkey’s open hand to go in but too large for a clenched monkey-fist to come out. The monkey reaches into the gourd and grabs the sweet, then can’t get his hand out of the trap because he won’t let go of the sweet, even when the hunter comes to collect him. The hunter whacks the monkey on the funnybone and his hand is paralyzed for an instant, releasing the sweet and releasing his hand from the trap — and into the hunter’s sack he goes.

When in break-down, let go — before the hunter comes for you.

If we can just hang out in the nothingness, in spite of the panic, the panic will subside and we will find ourselves in a state of boundless, luminous spaciousness. No panic. Nothing to “do” except just abide, with everything needed in the moment just given and present, at every breath. A glimpse of Pure Being! We have to remain fluid and learn to tolerate, and even enjoy, the ambiguity of this state of undetermined possibility. The more we can hang with this, the more unnecessary egoic baggage will just drop from us, taking with it all of its efforting and the absurd, life-limiting things we had to do to support its falseness.

Our real friends, and most particularly, our spiritual teacher, won’t collude with us to escape the anger and panic attendant to breakdown, but will help us “hold” the whole mess, in a container of compassion and allowing, so that the movement that has started can continue, and more and more we can live a real life instead of one determined by our fears, wounds, history, roles and social expectations. This, in fact, is one of the functions of an awakened teacher, and having one is most helpful at these times. S/he will may not help us solve the outside problem we face, but s/he will help us solve the fundamental problem of who we take ourselves to be.

We need not worry about “what to do next.“ The part of us that wants to know may get control of the microphone, but it is not the one driving the tour bus, and in a very real sense, it can’t know. There is an inherent wisdom in the unfolding of each breath, and each breath is a fresh revelation of our spirit that is wholly unlike the mechanical predictability of the egoic state, comfortable though it may be from inside its flat, stale sameness.

take someone who doesn’t keep score,
who’s not looking to be richer
or afraid of losing,
who has not the slightest interest
even in his own personality… he’s free.

—Rumi, version by Barks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*