Spirituality sounds like a big word, especially when you are twenty-three, and haven’t had any real crisis in your world so far. That was when I had first come across this book. The name on the cover read – Broken Open. And then there was a line below it, which read – "How Difficult Times Can Help US Grow." I was yet to know what that may mean. And yet, I had turned over its pages.
Setting the message out and loud right at the beginning, Broken Open then takes you on a path stringed through a number of stories, memories, realizations and thoughts. It takes you from the metaphorical mystic forests where Jesus spent his Dark Night of the Soul to the journey of Vietnamese monks who left their countries due to wars and came to America to seek and to spread the gift of world peace. It takes you through stories of human mistakes and fallibilities, and through stories of humane greatnesses. In the process, it tells the story of you, and of me. And of the author herself as she recollects her childhood and her early memories, her first love and marriage, her void and her lust, her story of cheating and of being cheated, of falling and thereby rising, over and over and over again. It also tells you the stories of the world, right from ground zero in the aftermath of nine eleven. It tells you stories of births and deaths, and of falling and rising in love. It tells you stories of victories and bitter losses, and of lost paths and loose grounds. And through it you discover a way of looking – at her, at the world, and at yourself. The stories and sayings strangely start to resonate with you from half the world apart of a distance, as you realize that we at the core still remain the same people, and similar are our hopes and insecurities, wishes and inabilities to make the right decisions. Or, what is even a right decision? Are they not just experiences, this way or that? The book digs up and explores the human vulnerabilities in form of personal stories, and rise together with them to give it all a new meaning of grandeur. And she does that out of the simple fact that our life and our world, indeed, is a masterpiece which can only be marveled at with due wonder and gratitude. And the best service we can do to ourselves is to let ourselves open to the breeze and to the blow, and to experience all of it, all out.
The book is divided into six parts, or better termed as “stages”. “The Call of the Soul” talks about the perspectives that great souls had held towards the mystery of human life, through the words of Dante and through the words of Einstein. It establishes our lost curiosity towards the phenomenon of being alive. The next section hits straight into the bulls’ eye, around what the whole book is really going to be about - “The Phoenix Process”. It talks about the miracle of rising from the ashes, and how we can use our grief and misfortune to turn the table over towards light. We hear of the wisdom that you receive when you let the light enter through the cracks in you, just as Rumi says. Part 3 is of “The Shaman Lover”. It talks about unadulterated, unabashed romantic love. It tells a personal tale, of how instead of staying easy and closed in moral boundaries the author had found herself walking the path of secret passion, and how she found her way back home through it to herself. It talks about how unearthing the dormant sexuality served as a possible doorway to discover the feminine strengths in her. Everything changed in her life, and yet she thanked the process as through it she found herself like never before. Part 4 then comes to “The Children”. How parenting is in itself a spiritual journey full of rise and falls, studded with moments of compulsive self reflection, and how through it comes the most exotic learning of human lives. Part 5 now, suddenly and yet almost in a smooth flow, comes to talk of “Birth and Death”. From the romanticized ideas of poets to the real life realization of death bed stories to the postulate of Interbeing from the school of Buddhism, it opens up a whole new way of how we can possibly train ourselves to look at life through the lenses of beginnings and ends that are both, in their own capacities, stories of plain miracles. The final part of the book culminates into “The River of Change” in which Lesser wraps up the pebbles of wisdom that she had shared throughout the earlier parts, in a way of silent prayer and celebration. We come to terms with ourselves and our own lives, almost, In a way, as she takes us through the quiet roads of acceptance - of life, deaths and changes. AT the end of the book, she offers us a “toolbox” of meditative practices and routines that can help us stay closer to our own souls as we take our individual journeys along the path of life.
Coming to the craft, “Broken Open” is written in a rather lucid style, and the narration style makes it possible for the reader to step jump up or down the line. And yet, I would not call it a very easy read, as it is likely to make you stop and ponder several times on its way. The way it hits you quietly and yet hard in your own way of looking at life is something that will stay with you long after you have turned to its last page. More, you may want to come back to it as well, as I did several times over.
There are books. And then, there are bibles. For me, this one has become a Bible. Now as I look back, I can only say that this book had happened to me before I knew I needed it. It had stayed with me for over a decade, coming out from the last rack back row of my book case right next to my bedside and going back to its place, in turns and over and over, based on how much I needed it when it was time to be reminded of the right way of looking at things; to take it easy, and to take it deeply. I have had numerous nights of falling asleep with the book on me, just holding it just so that I know through my sleep that I have a friend in it along my journey.
“Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser has remained a faithful constant in my life, and you too may want to give it a chance someday too.
An alumnus of Indian Statistical Institute, Sinjini Sengupta is an Actuary by profession and a Writer, Painter and Public Speaker by passion. She writes in several literary genres ranging from social columns to poetry, novels to screenplays, and has won several national and international awards. As a poet, she won the national level English Poetry contest – Rhyme India – hosted by Times of India in 2016 and several of her poems got published in Feminist anthologies like She The Shakthi, etc. In fictions, her story won at the South Asia FON contest to be published into an anthology. One of her stories made into a short-film got selected at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, 22nd Kolkata International Film Festival among many others and won best film award in Caleidoscope (Boston), Best Director in Kolkata International among many others. As a scriptwriter, she won the Best Screenplay award in International Film Festival PickurFilms among 550 films from across the globe. As a Columnist, Sinjini writes mainly on emotional well-being, gender issues, social reforms and parenting in a plethora of publications including Huffington Post, Speaking Tree – Times of India, Youth Ki Awaaz, Anandabazaar Patrika, Readomania, Our Front Cover, Baby Destination, World of Moms, Feministaa and several popular magazines. She was recently awarded the prestigious Orange Flowers Awards 2016 (RU) for her social columns. She won the coveted “Iconic Woman Award” at the Women Economic Forum in May 2017. Sinjini was a finalist at the Quarter-Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking in 2017. Sinjini is now working on her debut novel, Elixir. Sinjini’s blog can be found at: https://sinjinisengupta.blogspot.in/