“Do you believe that a heart that has been broken before is capable of a greater love than one that hasn’t been?”
Provocative questions are my favourite Meisner exercise, and preferred prelude to open up to the tough stuff. Favourite because they somehow cut through the filters of bullsh*t and get straight to the core—provocative questions crack us open.
They trace the edges of the fragments we try so hard to keep together, because society has conditioned us to behave this way, to make slaves of ourselves for that polished picture. Yet, real life is messy, chaotic, and quite the contrary.
After a four years hiatus, I finally returned to Meisner. I left because of a theatre engagement/scheduling conflicts, and I didn’t go back sooner because I wasn’t ready to be engulfed, yet again, by all the things I feel and felt deeply. Instead, I took up meditation, joined a Buddhist group, saw a psychologist, saw a healer, read all the self-help books on the shelves, took a “lighter” acting technique, a.k.a. improv at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade, started writing again, and produced three music albums.
Four years of (continued) living and loving in New York broke me, on more than a few occasions. Fragments of the broken pieces went into all of the above artistic expressions which doubled as therapy. Four years of a few highs, a lot of crashes, and a solid rock bottom… Ironically, my heart is now fuller, bigger, and somehow stronger than it’s ever been.
After the first heartbreak, it’s easy and common to think that it’s impossible to love again, to love like that again, but after a few rounds of serious damage, I can answer the above provocative question with absolute certainty and positivity—life has shown me so. Sometimes, and I don’t say this in a romantic way, ruin can be the best gift.
Broken, damage, and ruin are ugly words and labels that seep into our lives through different people in different circumstances. They are informative, not definitive. To let them define us, is to let others write our life story.
“Broken” is a status descriptor. By virtue of its being, it is transitory in nature. Some things have fallen apart, and we have been affected. But this is not the end. It’s a sign that we need healing, that we must go on, that we must proceed with life, in a different way, on a different path. “Broken” forces us to halt, and tells us, “Try something else.” What we don’t hear often about this, and what time and repetition have taught me, is that the more times we break, the more anti-fragile we become. Sensitivity comes with training and conditioning.
“Damage” hits a nerve-point with me. My ex had slapped this label on me, and him, and us altogether, like it was a definitive cause and conclusion that negated anything with the possibility of becoming beautiful. “You’re damaged, I’m damaged, we’re both damaged…” that would be the opening line, the refrain, and the closing line of what was fated to be a doomed relationship.
I hated hearing that word. Hated it because he used it to define me, and he used it as an excuse for all the dysfunction that had spiraled out of control. “Damage,” when used definitively, is a word thrown out to relinquish any sense of responsibility, power, and is the ultimate “cannot.”
But deep inside of me, even then, grew a violent protest against this term, because what had happened to me may have damaged me, but does not define me. In life, “damage” happens. It’s especially unavoidable for those who seek adventure and live on the edge of things. That’s all it is. It’s just something that happens—like storms, like rush-hour traffic, like expired food; natural, mundane, it does not merit any more power than what it already has taken from us.
“Ruin” is the noun form of what broke us. It can be people, things, circumstances, or any toxic mix of these. Ruin is a bad cocktail. But in vino, veritas. Ruin forces us to confront life and break free from what no longer serves us. In a tarot deck, “ruin” would be the equivalent of the card of Death. What it signifies is the ending of things, which in Buddhist dualistic philosophy, marks also the beginning of things.
Like the Death card, “ruin” is not terminal, but a turning point that gives us an increased sense of self-awareness—we experience the “death” of the present and what had been, so that the future can unfold. This is the perspective that I hold and believe to be true, and from this perspective, “ruin” is the cradle of rebirth—of a heart stronger and more capable of loving than what it had been before.
I’m not the only one who holds this view. Any Elizabeth Gilbert or Eat, Pray, Love fans would agree. The last line is the essence, but the full paragraph bears repeating:
“A friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It’s called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came they trashed it along with everything else. The great Augustus, Rome’s first true great emperor. How could he have imagined that Rome, the whole world as far as he was concerned, would be in ruins. It’s one of the quietest, loneliest places in Rome. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. It feels like a precious wound, a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked around at this place, at the chaos it has endured—the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, it’s just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
This is a long-form answer to the question that opened this piece. We have been broken because we were not afraid to give fully of ourselves; we have been broken because we had been brave enough to love; we have been broken, and like all births, bloody and messy, this is the best slate to move forward with.
We have been broken, so that we could make room for a greater capacity to love.
While what society teaches us about brokenness is its weakness…we are stronger, because we have been broken. My heart sings the songs of Leonard Cohen, and I will let this ring for a while:
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in…“
So the next time you feel a bit of you breaking, it’s just light trying to get in, and your heart becoming a little bit fuller.
Author: Xiren Wang
Image: Miss Xiren/Instagram
Editor: Travis May