A story I have been reading this week has my senses tingling. It is about Akhilandeshvari, the Hindu goddess of being broken. In fact, her name, Akhilanda, translated from Sanskrit, means "never not broken".
Akhilandeshvari, according to legend, was a life force who rode a crocodile because the crocodile doesn't kill its prey with its sharp teeth, rather, the crocodile--like life during turbulent times--"grabs its prey, spins them, disorients them, before drowning them." Akhilandeshvari's power lay within the shattered pieces of her life for she believed it was only there could renewal ever take place.
The Sutra Journal explains Akhilandeshvari's powers this way: "Within that brokenness there is freedom. Everything is not so neatly ordered, controlled and contained nor does it have to be. She is not stuck in one form nor does She want us to be. She demands that we consciously face our fears and losses, without dismissing them, running away or sugarcoating them. She invites us to cultivate the patience of the crocodile. She invites us to see the limitless potential of being and becoming that brokenness holds." What an incredible mythological superhero.
The word 'broken' has a negative connotation. In today's language, broken means bad, failed, weak, faulty, damaged, imperfect. Yet broken can also mean opportunity. Opportunity to dig deeper, to find ways to mend, to search for innovative ways forward. In fact, in Japanese culture they have a term for embracing the cracks, the brokenness: kintsugi. It is "the art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold." It is a way of looking at our flaws and imperfections as valuable signposts for a moment when strength emerged.
Imagine that, embracing the parts of ourselves we see as weak, embracing the parts of ourselves that have shattered to pieces. In Mesopotamia some 4000 years ago, some of the most beautiful art was created by deliberate piecing together of small pieces to make a bigger picture. The recognition through mosaic that beauty comes together in a different way. Or stained glass in religious buildings. While it was a way to create images on windows that would be illuminated when the sun would shine through, because it wasn't one piece, rather many pieces of glass glued together, the light that is refracted is, as has often been described, spiritual.
In science too, breakthroughs only come when things go awry, when parts of our selves, our bodies stop functioning as the optimal machines that they are. Plus, something only becomes scientific fact when it is refutable. It's called falsifiability: "...everything in science comes with a level of uncertainty, so nothing is ever scientifically "true" beyond a shadow of a doubt." Like life, nothing is certain.
So often, when we are in the depths of our grief, our sense of failures, our heartbreaks, we are somehow made to believe there is something wrong with us. When did that happen? When did we start to automatically look at ourselves as wrong when in ancient history there were figures whose power, whose glory, whose entire reason for being, was because of their many cracks and broken pieces? Why do we question ourselves as having been born faulty when any Hollywood drama, any story worth watching or reading is about those characters that rise from the depths of their ashes stronger, wiser, more beautiful than ever? Why is our default setting on self-blame when it should be on self-love and self-support?
One of my favourite books that I often refer back to is one that I read many years ago. It appeared to me at an airport bookstore during a transitional and complicated phase in my life. The book is called Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. I have mentioned this book before in a previous post and I use it again because I was reminded of the power of it through Akhilandeshvari's story. In the book, Lesser writes, "How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”
In her article for The Elephant Journal Julie JC Peters writes, "In our brokenness, we are unlimited." How wonderful is that to read? In our brokenness, we are unlimited. We are unfinished. Which means we are supposed to grow, to break again, to make mistakes, to fall, to learn, to heal, to take risks, to try, to keep going. In being broken, in having cracks, the beauty of life with all its miracles is given a chance to get in.