A friend recently told me that “rock bottom” is a very good place to be.
Her words comforted me, though I can’t say I really understood them. My wife and I had been having a very difficult time with one of our children, a teenager who has been exploring his own path. We had begun worrying about possible self-destructive behaviors and felt clueless as to what to do. Losing sleep, feeling helpless.
“Rock bottom,” said my friend “is the place where everything gets clarified.” All of a sudden, you know who you are and who you’re not. You know what you can do and what you can’t. You know what is in your power to change and what isn’t. It is the place where you become the authentic you. No more veneer, no more pretending, no more bullshit.
I think this brief conversation was one of the turning points in my life. A light suddenly went on for me and I saw my life with an alarming, new clarity. All of a sudden, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I wasn’t afraid to admit to myself that I had failed in parts of my life. I wasn’t afraid that my neighbors or friends might become aware of these shortcomings. I wasn’t afraid about disappointing myself. I was just going to be – me.
Rock bottom was indeed a very good place. “This is where I am,” I told myself – “accept it, and deal with it.”
Rumi, the Sufi poet and Persian mystic, writes: “Don’t do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head up and down. Prayer is an egg. Hatch out the total helplessness inside.” “Prayer is an egg.” It is a way of emerging from helplessness. It begins with admitting helplessness.
Helplessness for me had always signified childhood. Adulthood characterized the transition from helplessness to autonomy. I should be able to do it all for myself, by myself, helpless no longer.
What does it mean to “hatch out the total helplessness inside”?
It came to me when a friend recently asked me: “How can you teach emuna (belief in God)?” Can it even be taught? Again, Rumi came to mind. Rock bottom came to mind. As long as I remain powerful and autonomous, emuna will always be just lip-service.
Because my true existential state is – helplessness. I have a wonderful body – but I couldn’t have made it my self. Nor can I guarantee its optimal functioning when the tiniest virus enters my system. I have very little power over my brain or my heart or my intestines. Not even one little mitochondria. I can’t keep the sun in its proper orbit, and I can’t sustain gravity. And when I go to sleep and dream vivid images of people that I have never met I wonder how much I even know myself. Even writing these words right now, I am not really in control – as I do not even know what will be the next thought that comes into my mind.
I love making good decisions and taking control of my life, but do I really have control?
The morning prayers include a phrase from Tehilim (the book of Psalms). A phrase I must have said thousands of times suddenly woke me up: “????? ???? ???????”“I cried out to You and You healed me.” I stood there and wondered how I could read this short earth-shattering phrase, and then just continue with the rest of my prayers.
“?????? ????.” – What is my cry? Why am I crying out? Is there nothing in my world, in the world, which compels me to cry out?
The verse does not say – “I cried out and I was answered.” There may not be answers. “I cried out to God and I was healed.” There may not be answers. But by crying out to God, I began to feel myself begin to heal. In my pain and helplessness I found a truer self. I acknowledged my powerless plight, and this began a process of healing.
Since this conversation – I have found myself crying out, ceaselessly. I turned off the ‘mute’ button on my soul. Now there is so much to talk to God about, so much to cry out about. I really don’t expect to hear an answer. It’s not about solving the problem. It’s about ‘hatching’ – about not being fake with myself anymore.
The veneer of having the answers, of being in control, of having everything work out just right – simply evaporated. And I have felt a huge relief. I am doing the best I can but I really just “am who I am”. That’s it. God and everyone else will just have to deal with it.
I feel as if I am hatching into myself. I have never felt more broken. And I have never felt more whole. Helpless but now hopeful that my egg-like prayers will be more painfully honest and more radically healing.
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