October 13 – Wisdom of the Torn Heart – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

A flag goes boneless as it assumes the shape of the wind that snaps it and so I love.

The lesson of the flag challenges our trust in the fabric of our lives. It asks us not to resist the wind of spirit that comes along. For the vital energies of life come upon us in sudden gusts of experience, and we can only unfold our true selves if we let go of our resistance and realize that our purpose, after all our suffering, is as simple and beautiful as that of a flag.

The great poet Rilke says, “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.” Once again, we are invited to live in the open. We are encouraged and challenged to unfold past our fear, so that the appearance of life larger and older than us might flap us into full living.

For sure, this is not easy, as all our bad experience and protective upbringing has us ready to resist anything sudden or powerful. Yet, even when we trip and fall, we learn soon enough that it is the arm that stiffens and resists that breaks. Often, our resistance only makes things worse. As the Chinese sage Lao-tzu said 2,500 years ago, “The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail…. Whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.”

So, to stay among the living, we are often asked to summon a courage not to resist. This is different than turning the other cheek or submitting to dominant forces in our lives. Rather, this is meeting the world in all its painful variety with feet spread and arms open, neither accepting everything nor rejecting everything, but leaning into what is nourishing and letting the rest move on through.

In this way, the heart becomes a torn flag that knows no country, and over time it is the little tears of living in the open that we must give thanks to. For it is the slight rips we suffer that let through the blasts too painful to carry.

Perhaps this is wisdom, the earned humility of our suffering that doesn’t try to hold onto everything.

Perhaps this is the wisdom of the torn heart that lets us keep going.

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