“I’m on the verge of a total breakdown. Sciatica. Taxes. Cars. Fleas, possibly. It’s an absurd existence.” ~ JonathanAmes
The Buddha tasked some young monks to build a bridge over the river near the temple. The monks planned and sketched and labored all through the hot, dry season until the bridge was complete. And it was good. Full of pride, they invited the Buddha to be the first to cross. Buddha walked slowly to the middle of the bridge and started jumping up and down. The monks laughed, for they had never seen the wise one leaping and hopping about. The sound of the monk’s laughter brought the townspeople down to the riverbank.
“Join me in jumping!” cried Buddha enthusiastically. So the townspeople joined the sage, jumping and hollering on the bridge. As more people clamored onto the bridge, the monks’ delight turned to alarm. The bridge had not been constructed to hold so many people! The joists creaked and the beams splintered until, in a cacophonous eruption, the bridge – and all the people on it – were thrown into the water.
The Buddha swam to dry land, laughing as he wrung out his robe and walked back to the temple. The young monks were perplexed and angry. The Buddha had completely disregarded their hard work.
For days, they seethed, growing angrier and angrier. Finally, they went to air their grievances. Buddha listened quietly, a small smile on his face. When the monks had finished their angry diatribe, Buddha spoke.
“You always build your bridges, and then expect to walk straight across to the next thing. But God has other plans. He wants to jump up and down on your bridges. Sometimes the bridge will stand and sometimes it will topple into the river. You were never building a bridge. You were building character.”
We are all building something. A successful business. Strong, capable children. A healthy body. A clearer mind. A legacy. But we always expect it to go easily, forget that the breakdown is the breakthrough to anything stable and real.
Breakdowns and breakthroughs are best friends, the yin and yang of spiritual growth.
There is real beauty in the breakdown. A breakdown – mental or physical – just shows us the cracks in the foundation, an opportunity to rebuild, stronger and wiser. The collapse is a necessary part of reconstructing a new reality of being, thinking, and doing. As all spiritual paths teach, there is no failure. We either win or we grow wiser. Wiser takes longer, but either way, it’s a win.
But breakdowns are just so inconvenient aren’t they? These cosmic “time outs” can be small – like a traffic jam or a cell phone that won’t turn on – or life altering – like a divorce, an unwanted pregnancy, or a death in the family. I think about last month, when my car broke down and I spent a sweltering hour waiting on the side of the road for a tow truck instead of having a mimosa with friends at brunch. It didn’t feel like a spiritual gift; it felt like an ill-timed and inopportune mess. It’s far easier to point fingers and play victim, gnash our teeth and scream at the Buddha for breaking our bridge. Why do these things always happen to me? Can’t you just see the Buddha sighing deeply and trying mightily hard not to roll his eyes? I did this for you, you idiot, not to you.
Of course in retrospect, it was just another opportunity to practice keeping my cool. The car broke down, but I didn’t. In the not-too distant past, I would have been ranting and raving, completely melting down over the missed brunch and the money it would take to get the car fixed. Not to say I’m some enlightened snowflake that glides through a life of glitter and light; there are plenty of present-day examples of me falling to pieces over ultimately trivial things (catch me when I’m really tired or hungry and see how enlightened you think I am). But I’m learning and practicing.
When your next breakdown appears, take the time to lay out the shattered pieces of your life. That way, you’ll know which ones to pick back up to become more empowered, inspired, and informed. That’s how you build character. And a strong bridge.