“I have come to believe that we are destined to be opened by the living of our days, and whether we like it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, we will, in time, every one of us, wear the deeper part of who we are as a new skin.”
- Mark Nepo
It’s surprising, isn’t it, how often we can feel worn out and weakened by life?
These days, it seems like that’s the default emotion of Americans: consistently worn-out and weakened.
Those who are unemployed are worn-out and weakened by the job search, and the Herculean effort it takes to get by on so little these days.
Those who are employed are worn-out and weakened by the demands of full-time employment, working overtime, and on weekends, sacrificing time with family and friends, just to keep the job, or advance in their career, or just to make the mortgage payment every month.
Those who are self-employed, or work several part-time gigs, are also worn-out and weakened: they thought their new freedom would be a paradise, and instead they end up gaining freedom only to trade it with more responsibility and pressure. (After all, when you’re a contractor, or self-employed, there’s no boss or higher-level executive to blame if things don’t progress positively. The buck stops with you.)
After working on my book for so long, I also can’t help but be weakened and worn-out by all the editing, and revising, and nip and tucking, and the re-reading, and the re-reading, and the re-reading of the story.
My eyes get sore from looking at the screen so much. My fingers become like tiny ghosts. My ass gets numb. My legs feel like fettuccine.
There seems to be nothing worse than feeling worn-out and weakened by the exhaustive load of writing, and the push and pull of daily living.
We’re Tired, But Not THAT Kind of Tired
Let’s admit it: we’re all tired.
And let’s admit the kind of “tired ” we’re talking about is not the kind of tired that a simple nap, or a good night’s sleep, will take care of.
The tired we speak of is not necessarily, at its core, a physical exhaustion (although our body may reflect it). So, taking a long night’s sleep, for example, may help our situation, but not in the long run.
No, our “tired” is really a spiritual exhaustion, an emotional exhaustion, a psychological exhaustion.
Because the problem is deeper than the physical.
We have been pushing. The world’s been pulling. The work keeps calling, and we’re in the middle of it all, trying to keep our head above water.
We keep going, but we have to admit, we have no idea what it all means and what it’s all for.
“What is the point of all this exhaustion?” we often ask ourselves.
And the truth is: we really don’t know.
Our Aversion to Feeling Worn-Out and Weakened
You know, we’re very obsessed with strength. Everybody wants to feel powerful and strong. Also, whenever we feel weak and worn out, there’s this feeling that we’ve done something wrong, or that something is just wrong with us.
Many of us, even today, have such an aversion to becoming worn-out and weakened that we try to avoid it at all costs.
Our aversion to weakness is no more evident than when we become sick.
We hate being sick because sickness forces us to feel worn-out and weakened. A sickness pounds us relentlessly, until we become as light and as thin as a sliver of grease.
We’re so vulnerable when we’re sick, like babies. We require the care of others. We also require some faith and hope that the sickness will pass.
You see, in perfect health we cannot be tested. We cannot be broken open. (At least, not as easily.)
But sickness, disease, stress, anxiety, disorders, and traumas—they all push us to confront the parts of us that we would otherwise ignore completely. These conditions force us into complete awareness, when we would otherwise be unaware.
When we are worn out and weakened, we are forced into being—and, yet, many of us would rather avoid “being” at all costs.
The Unexpected Benefits of Being Worn-Out and Weakened
Mark Nepo, poet, philosopher, and cancer survivor, speaks a lot about the process of being worn down by life in his book, The Book of Awakening.
Nepo’s theory is that the reason we are so worn down by life is because we’re all meant to wear our deeper selves.
Nepo says that the only way this “deeper self” can even appear is if life grinds us down to a pulp.
I know, it sounds brutal.
But let’s think about this for a moment:
- Worn out and weakened, we are less likely to lie: because lying takes up so much of our energy. So, in a weakened state, we are forced to be more of ourselves.
- Being worn down also destroys the illusion of independence, because, in our weakened state, we have to reach out for help, forcing us back into the reality of interdependence and community.
- Being worn down forces us into matters of the spirit (a realm we might have otherwise avoided due to lack of scientific “proofs”). We sense that now we must have faith that our great weariness will pass, and that something bigger than us is guiding us.
- Being worn down makes us more sensitive, more vulnerable, and our hearts are forced open: emotions flow through us more freely because we have no more energy to block them anymore. This is healthy.
- Being worn down also creates softness and flexibility. This allows for us to make more dramatic changes in our lives—changes we would otherwise have resisted in our “strong” state.
- Being worn down also means that our writing becomes braver, less encumbered, truer, more stained with our DNA. The work that comes out of our weakened and worn out state may shock and surprise us when we return to it in a more “strong” state. But we may find that the work has far more merit than anything we created in our heavily guarded “strong” state.
The Soul Comes Forward
At last, being worn down and weakened means that the veil of illusion is lifted. Our soul comes forward and becomes master and commander of our life. And, if we are awake enough, we may sense the rightness of it all.
After all, our soul is really who we are.
But how can we discover this truth until we are worn-out and weakened—ground down into a pulp—by life?
I am starting to agree with Mark Nepo that the daily grind is only pounding us hard in order to release our inner, savory juices. Thus, it is our job to honor and incorporate our “inner, savory juices” now, or risk having them pounded out of us later.