Breaking: Apart or Open?

Have you ever looked at the first card in the tarot deck, The Fool? In many decks, The Fool is setting forth on a journey. He has packed lightly, a small bundle slung over his shoulder. He looks ahead, not down at the path which, to onlookers, appears to be a precarious one. A dog nips at his heels (or in some drawings, his bum) but he appears unconcerned. In fact, he sets forth with a face full of joy and hope, blithely unaware of the dangers that await wherever he is headed. The Fool appears foolish, indeed.

What an apt image for us as we set out into our lives – especially as we set off into the uncharted lands of relationship. We rarely see what is before us, even when there are markers in place (I once dated someone who told me on our first date that his favorite song was “Love the One You’re With”. Perhaps I should have read that marker.) But often, there are no easy-to-read road signs. I don’t know about you, but I am cautious by nature, and it is rare for me to put my feet to a path I can’t see the end of. So, I have ventured out into the territory of love relationships timidly, afraid of the unknown future ahead and of the possibility of experiencing emotional pain.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: broken hearts. Despite my caution, my heart has indeed been broken a time or two. No one, I think, really experiences life without heartbreak. In the throes of real emotional pain, I have wondered, “What am I supposed to do with this? With this broken thing that was my heart, with these feelings that have nowhere to go now that they have no one to be invested in?”

In one such moment recently, I read the following paragraph, and it gave me some much-needed perspective:

“But there are at least two ways to understand what it means to have our hearts broken. One is to imagine the heart broken into shards and scattered about — a feeling most of us know, and a fate we would like to avoid. The other is to imagine the heart broken open into new capacity — a process that is not without pain but one that many of us would welcome.” (Parker Palmer, from A Hidden Wholeness)

When I read this, it immediately reminded me that I have, in fact, experienced my heart being “broken open into new capacity”. One such experience was a trip I took to Ireland a few years ago. I had never travelled overseas, and had dreamed of visiting Ireland – then got the opportunity to travel with a group from the university. I fell in love with Ireland, and with the person I became on that trip — a person who lived as fully as possible in every minute, who didn’t leave a drop or a crumb behind. It was amazing. When we boarded the plane to return to the States, I put my jacket over my head and cried for two hours.  But the experience of leaving that perfect moment broke my heart open. A love of travel and an image of myself as fully alive were the new capacities born of that experience.

When our hearts break due to relationships not working, not going where we want them to, ending, it is difficult to accept. To then, on top of learning to live with the brokenness, expect or hope for something new and good to be born of it almost defies us. It feels beyond our reach, and yet…perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps we’re meant to learn that looking like a fool isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps we’re meant to discover that hearts are resilient muscles — and like all muscles, they get stronger the more you use them. And perhaps the capacity that will be born is the ability to love without reservation, because you begin to understand that the journey itself (rather than its end) is what makes it worthwhile to do so.

And so you, The Fool, journey on. You feel your feelings, especially the ones that hurt. You look for the good, for the things you may have learned or discovered in yourself. You flex your heart muscle and find that it still works. And eventually, as a Missy Higgins song puts it, “you’ll wake to find, you’re a little unbroken.”

Measuring vs Pouring

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

–T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

“It is the law that is measured out. It is the law that always asks the questions, “How far do I have to go? How much is enough?” But love never asks these questions because love is never measured out. Love is always poured out.”

Bill Mills, Naked and Unashamed


It is a little strange to begin an entry with two quotes, especially two which come from such completely different sources. The first, from one of my favorite poems (especially to read aloud), strikes me as being all about living life by holding back, by choosing to believe that pouring oneself out into the world unreservedly would be presumptuous. Poor Prufrock feels the insecurities of being ordinary in a world which values the extraordinary – and who among us has not felt that? And feeling that, he holds back. We hold back.

The second quote, above, comes from a source I haven’t read. Instead, this quotation was included in a blog post by Randy Greenwald, and it has stayed with me for days. Love is always poured out. Which is to say, if it isn’t being poured out, if it is being held back, measured, and dribbled out, it isn’t love.

Usually, I would want to blather on and on about what all this means. Today, I simply want to say that in learning to love my life, I have been learning to pour myself out – to allow love to flow unimpeded by insecurities and fear. I haven’t learned to do this perfectly yet. But I have learned that putting myself out there in a careful trickle only results in regret. So I am going to let love (of life, of others, of my flawed self) cascade, flood, gush forth and inundate my world. I hope you’ll join me — and let it pour, baby, let it pour!

Thursday, March 24, 2011



Thursday, March 24, 2011, originally uploaded by jhnsn728.

While there are two additional pounds on the scale, I am happy with today’s weigh-in. The past three weekends of travel made it difficult (if not impossible) to control my food choices, though I did so when able. You will note that my poor feet are recovering from many blisters – even comfortable footwear will do this when you walk for 12 hours in one day!

St. Patrick’s Day

It seems I am destined to travel on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of actually being someplace where it would be fun to experience the day. For example, the year I went to Ireland, we travelled on St. Patrick’s Day, and arrived early morning on the 18th. Bummer!

Anyway, I wanted to post a short hello by way of letting everyone know that there will be no weigh-in or deep reflection today – I am on vacation!

Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day in whatever manner pleases you – I will be with people I love…and whatever else the day holds, I hope to lift a glass of Guiness in celebration of the fulness of life!

Conference – Day 3: Innovate

I am a day late posting about Day 3 (Tuesday) of the NASPA Conference. The truth is, Tuesday was so full of content that when I left the final session at 4:30 p.m. I just couldn’t process it. In fact, I had been in back to back sessions all day, with no break or sustenance  (even the water bubblers at the convention center were empty), so the first order of  business was a large bottle of water, followed by a brisk walk through the Walnut & Chestnut shopping district. Then, a burger and fries at the Hard Rock, and coma – on the bed in my room by 7:00 p.m.

The sessions I attended Tuesday ranged from the politics of advocacy, to legal issues, to creative listening, to using technology both in direct work with students and in connecting with other professionals in student affairs. While I found something of interest (and ideas to return to my campus with) in every session, the most mind-blowing sessions were the technology ones. Hands down.

The fact that the tech sessions were actually called “Un-sessions” leant them an air of informality that I really appreciated. Also, unlike most professional settings, you were not sneered at for having your smart phone in your hands and using it! I think the assumption was that you were tweeting session content, and the Microsoft-sponsored technology room was equipped with projectors and screens so that a running twitter feed could be displayed while the “un-session” leaders both shared their prepared thoughts and ideas, and responded to the real-time tweets.

Twitter was ubiquitous at the conference, and I found it almost humorous to watch. One young star and proponent of technology in our work with students received an almost rock-star response – every gem he shared with the group was tweeted and retweeted so many times it was comical to follow his session via tweets (I finally learned exactly how to use hash tags!). Beyond the “kids with new toys” quality of these sessions, there was real information – on resources for professional development (blogs, on-line communities, live twitter chats, etc.); on creating transformative moments for students using new technologies; on how to begin a dialogue via twitter or Facebook then use it to develop IRL/face-to-face relationships with, between and among students and staff on our campuses.

I know that I was not the only person soaking things in like a sponge. I may be coming late to the technology party, but I’m catching up fast. One person tweeted that she was sick of all the technology sessions and wanted to know what had happened to the usual conference fare. Well, here’s my thought about those day-to-day issues, such as budgets and supervision and conduct and _________ (fill in the blank): they will always be with us. And they will always make up the agenda for regional conferences or state professional gatherings. But for those professionals, like me, whose resources only allow irregular opportunities to attend national conferences, the NASPA Conference 2011 was exactly what it should have been. Challenging. Forward looking. Energizing. And exhausting! My one regret? My flight left too early and I was unable to see the final keynote speaker, Robert Kennedy, Jr. That would have been the cherry on top of a very rich experience.