It’s a profound insight—that our wounds are where the light gets in.
Rumi said this a long time ago, and Leonard Cohen sang about it more recently, although he said cracks instead of wounds. It makes sense because where we are wounded is where we need help, and it’s when we look for assistance. When we’re happy, we don’t think we need more light.
Notice how many similar words grievers use to describe how they feel—wounded, broken, cracked, fractured, fragmented, shattered.
When we have suffered a loss, we may feel defeated and shaken. We may feel ashamed that we have been hurt, and turn away from the situation rather than face it. Yet, this moment has something important to teach us about ourselves and the world that we did not perceive before, an illusion we believed, perhaps, or our inattention to someone who wanted our help but we were too busy to notice what they were really saying.
If we can look at an encounter that happened to us without assigning blame, then we can learn from it.
Gwen Martin, in her moving essay “The Fragility of Bowls,” published in a recent issue of Hippocampus, says that what many of us miss is the corollary to Rumi’s phrase—wounds are also where the light can leak out.
Cracks are going to appear in our lives because life is stressful, and sometimes we fracture under the pressure. There will also be accidents, mistakes, we will hurt other people, even when we’re trying to do everything right, and they will hurt us. We will accumulate wrinkles and scars through the years because life is a contact sport, and we should be proud of them. If we are willing to acknowledge when we are wounded, hurting, or just feel lost, then instead of looking beyond this moment of pain and disorientation, we can look deeper into it, listen, and hear what it is revealing.
A face without wrinkles has no stories to tell.
It’s a given that we don’t understand everything about anything, especially our own motivations. The key is to set our egos aside and be open to the wisdom of every moment.
What we do when fractures appear is important because these are moments when we evolve in life, when we either took chances and stepped forward, or we declined the offers because fear unsettled us too much. Rather than view them as affirmations or failures, we can honor all of them as signposts in our lives, and realize that our lives changed direction because of them. Who we are now is the result of each of them.
When our hearts are shattered, how we repair them is also important. Gwen says that if we repair our cracks too firmly (think cement for protection, because we never want to be hurt like this again), then our hearts become rigid and stop working. If we repair our cracks in anger, the seams can be rough to the touch. The Japanese art of kintsugi repairs the cracks in valuable bowls carefully with precious metals like gold and silver to honor their life experiences.
Each of us is a valuable vessel that hold seeds of grace.
Recognizing the two-way nature of cracks, Gwen asks, as she is taking care of her mother who is dying of congestive heart failure, “What does it take to achieve the kind of fragility that allows light to ebb and flow in balance?” This is, perhaps, the central question in life because everything else is built upon how we answer this.
When we are grieving, when we are wounded by death and know that we need help, this is where we need to let the compassion of others enter. As their love flows into us, we feel our tight clench of anger, sorrow, and fear relax and flow out. This restores us to Balance #1, where we can breathe and make it through today feeling a measure of hope for tomorrow. In time, we will want to let our love, our compassion, flow out to others who are hurting. This is Balance #2, and it’s what returns us to community and restores the flowing of love.
Gwen says ‘the opposite of love is not hate but choosing not to love.’ There are no do-overs for things we wish we had done, or people we wish we had loved, decades ago. Yet, realizing that we would do things differently if we could go back, knowing what we do now, encourages us to be open to the opportunities and people that intrigue us today, explore them at least a little to see how we feel, and not automatically say “no” because it’s something we’ve never done.
Our comfort zone expands as we take more risks.
What we want is for our hearts to grow large enough to hold both sorrow and love, and to live each day as an adventure.