While I claim the identity of a bodhisattva, someone who takes on suffering in life as a choice to help others find freedom, but there are days when even I have breakdowns.
Like many people, sometimes I just can’t even.
I can’t be perfectly patient.
I can’t be in ten places at once.
I can’t be fully prepared.
I can’t be supremely compassionate and calm.
I can’t be all things to all people every moment of my life.
And even though my soul chose the bodhisattva identity, there are times where I’d like to opt out. I’d like to feel less responsible for people waking up to make things better in the world. I’d like to feel less struggle with a simultaneous responsibility to do something with it for the benefit of others. I’d like to have been born into the world with more resources and a better head-start in life. I’d like to feel more brave and bold like I used to be, before my own trauma when my eyes were really opened to the tremendous state of human suffering and how we are all struggling to find some air and room for ourselves.
I’d like to just be a human being and not a superhuman bodhisattva. And whether you choose that identity for yourself, Buddhist or not, maybe you can relate to that feeling of breakdown. When you put your face in your hands and shake your head. When you take a knee. When you want to give the burden on your shoulders to another person for a minute, even if it’s one you’ve chosen for yourself.
The beauty of breakdowns is that they lead to breakthroughs, if we can find a wider perspective.
So I do that. I give myself permission to take a moment and find that perspective. When we make space for ourselves, we allow the breakdown to be what is it for the moment. When we allow the breakdown, we generate the process of the breakthrough.
So for the moment, I just decide that I’m tired or overwhelmed or just don’t have it in me that day. I decide to give myself permission for taking on a big task and doing it to the best of my ability on any given day. I choose to say, “this is what I’ve got to give” instead of trying to pour from an empty cup. The moment of self-compassion and reality check leads to more clarity to move forward. That’s the breakthrough to the next moment of being more fully human, imperfectly.
I just hung up from coaching some new health coach students and we all talked about surrender. And surrender feels like freedom, they said. It’s not about pushing but it’s about allowing.
So we can apply the word surrender to this process. Surrendering to the stuff on our shoulders and giving ourselves a chance to rest. Seeing what we’ve taken on and whether it’s serving us. Selectively choosing what we keep for the next part of our path.
Bodhisattvas are often activists. And activism can kill or cure the very purpose or people we’re trying to serve. If we’ve reached the place where it’s the former more than the latter, choosing to have a breakdown helps us break through to our real, actual intentions to make the world a better place.
As this time of year rolls around and the pressure mounts to be in a million places and buy a million things, we can lose sight of the meaning of the holiday season.
A momentary breakdown may lead you back to why it’s meaningful for you.