Transformation Found In A Broken Foot by Stuart Watson
I know, it sounds ridiculous. However, my spiritual growth was at a standstill. My job had me running 11 hours a day supervising employees in 14 different buildings. I spent three more hours a day in traffic, after which I would spend a couple more hours working on my “fixer-upper” home. Although my simultaneous mastery of, frustration with, and detachment from the external world were mounting, my lifestyle was being rewarded with personal production. I was “getting things done.”
I’ve heard that spiritual transformation frequently occurs when factors in life become so unendurable that something has to give, something has to break. When you continuously refuse to receive the subtle messages mailed by the Psyche, the Psyche eventually gets the Body involved. My ‘loan shark’ psyche decided a broken foot might get my attention.
As the shock wore off, I began to realize how little I could do. Driving was out, due to the manual transmission. Carrying or holding anything was only possible with a backpack. Crutching any distance was accomplished with the exclusive personal escort services of pain and fatigue. Suddenly, my productivity was downshifted, yet my responsibilities continued to race as if nothing had happened. While I expected great anxiety, I was not prepared for the accompanying unexplainable depression.
Friends and relatives, in their perpetually, ineffectively supportive way, reminded me of the multitude of more severe circumstances that I could be in. But that wasn’t the point. When I finally cried and pried open the depression box, I came face to face with feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Without the ability to be productive, efficient, and generally “in charge,” my self-confidence had plummeted. I had to rely on others for even the basic tasks of carrying my food and drink to the dining table.
The depression I experienced was underlined by a realization that my ego was so tentatively based on “getting things done.” When this was taken away, what was left? It certainly wasn’t the strong personal relationships that I had developed during the preceding stressful phase of my life—because I hadn’t done that work. I was sorely reminded of the adage, “The quality of your life is based upon the quality of the relationships you have with the people and nature in your environment.”
It has been three months since the breakage, and I have far from developed an ego interdependent of my perceived productivity. But I do recognize when this drive to produce rears its head. While striving for personal accomplishments is a worthy cause, it can easily become addictive and confused with self worth. A self worth determined by a mastery of external circumstances is not authentic, nor is it sustainable. In fact, my daily happiness has for too long been dependent on something “out there,” something just around the next corner, something perpetually out of reach. I have told myself hundreds of times, “When I just achieve this, then, then I’ll be happy.” Of course, when I get there, it’s always something else. It took a broken foot to fully acknowledge this pattern.
Other positive consequences of my broken foot are a new ability and greater ease in asking people for help, a genuine gratitude for help received, and a deep compassion and respect for the emotional strength of the physically handicapped. It has also motivated me to find a job that respects my skills and abilities without abusing them.
Pain is very real, so I don’t counsel seeking this kind of transformational opportunity with eager intent. There are more evolved ways to embark on a journey of spiritual transformation than breaking a major limb. No doubt, you can address minor areas of personal spiritual deficit more skillfully than by breaking a minor piece of yourself, say a finger. Point is, there are a lot of ways to the top of the mountain, and I took one of the harder routes this time. But, in paying close attention to actions and their results, I observe that seemingly unfortunate events provide surprising opportunities for personal growth.
Stuart Watson is a Project Specialist for the EnviroCorps teams at the NW Service Academy, and President of the Board for the Institute for Sustainable Culture. He writes and develops workshops around spiritual aspects of service, so, if you have good stories or insights, send them along.