Are We All Broken?

(This is the first of at least three ‘miniature’ posts. I’m spending most of my time these days digesting what I’ve been learning, about myself and about others, from a raft of new people I’ve met in the past month, and from the experience, for the first time in 30 years, of living alone. This isn’t giving me enough time for my usual lengthy blog articles, but I wanted to at least get these three ideas out, for your thoughts.)

broken egg shell

Over the past month I have heard at least a dozen candid ‘life stories’ from people, mostly in answer to the questions, “Who are you, now?”, “Why are you here?”, and “What are you going to do next?” There is a strong recurring pattern in these stories, and I don’t think it’s just because almost all these people are living on the West Coast of North America. The pattern is, to put it indelicately, brokenness. As I hear people open up and talk to me (and others, often in groups) about what they are feeling, I get a growing sense that we are all broken, wounded, suffering, seeking sanctuary, bewildered, wondering how we lost something important that was part of us.

I think the reason I never heard this clearly before is that I wasn’t listening. If you show, by your inattention, that you don’t care about other people (and I confess to having been notorious at that, to the point of acknowledging a certain misanthropy within me), they will never trust you enough to tell you what they feel. We have all been conditioned, by parents’ reprisals, by the school system, by peer pressure and by the work world, to hide what we feel, to suppress it, to take on a more stable and mature persona than the one we really are. We assess people as a result by their demeanour and their appearance, by what they do rather than who they are underneath all the gunk they have taken on to act out the identities expected of them, the only identities tolerated in this harsh, homogeneous and judgemental society.

When I suggest we are ‘broken’ I’m not saying there is something wrong with us, that we need to be ‘fixed’. I mean that we have been broken, tamed, like wild horses. We are, after all, the first domesticated species, having taken our own medicine and become ‘civilized’ before we ran roughshod over the entire planet with our civilization religion, our civilization dis-ease, this culture of fear and acquisition and disconnection.

I think despite this cultural conditioning we are all, still, as a result of a million years of living in trees and in forests and as a part of all-life-on-Earth, wild at heart. This civilization stuff is just a veneer, a cloak we wear that is ill-fitting and uncomfortable, too heavy for us, smeared with all the gunk we have taken on, a mask of what is expected and what we are not.

We are broken, damaged, suffering, but we do not need to be fixed. What we need is to rediscover who we are, authentically, and to re-become that real person, the person underneath all the acting and artifice and false personas. We need to become as wild as we always were, feral, uncivilized, reconnected.

How do we do that? It has taken a lifetime of practice to appear to become (and to the point we have taken these false identities seriously, to really become) someone we’re not. What ‘healing’ practices will it take for each of us to become who we really are? In this world where money is valued too highly and time not highly enough, can we even make enough time for such practices? What will others think and say and do if we start to become our true wild selves again? Will they fight us or follow us? Is this the first step, perhaps the only needed step, to walking away from a civilization that no longer serves us and which is destroying our planet?

That’s a lot of questions, and for now that’s all I have. Tell me what you think. I’m listening. Go wild.

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24 Responses to Are We All Broken?

  1. Jeff Patton says:

    This is a timely post for me- I just watched Garbage Warrior and was struck by Michael Reynolds description of feeling free when he realized he was self sustaining & beholden to no one. It got me thinking about what it means that I don’t feel that freedom. It really made me feel enslaved by civilization & culture– I’m not free, I’m not wild; I’ve been broken.

  2. Hi Dave

    a refreshingly short post. Cheers to you!
    (I believe that truth doesn’t always need many words, so they may come in handy).

    So you are in the “desert” now and discover devil and others?
    I believe, like you, that we ALL, at one point in time or another, will go through a similar “lonely” period.
    Hopefully more and more of us will keep the grain seeded at that time holy in ourselves and let it “blossom”.
    Having had such an experience in the marvelous years 1999/2000, I am still in the process of discovering my emotional facets and build my sensitive capacities.

    Fortunately, there are a multitude of ways to teach, some more straight, some more curvy, some even dangerous.
    Yet I haven’t found a “miracle way” yet hence I have chosen the “middle way”. Nothing to do with buddhism, more with getting a balance between “just do it” (tx Nike) & “just be it” (is this a brand slogan, too?).
    A delicate point in-between those 2 axes, uniting ourselves to the inside and thus to the outside (so the outside does influence us, I am coming to believe that the inside is nonetheless the true source for change thus evolution).

    how do I do that? Contemplating, meditating, exercising, feeling, at the very end: learning to be conscious, honest, present.
    My base to be attentive inside out, silent & being heard, strong without violence, adaptable without disrespect.

    I am very happy to see you starting asking questions.

    my very best wishes to you
    hoping to meet you one day in your “sweet spot”

  3. Mayura says:

    Whenever I begin to get caught up in the “just do it” and “just be it” I forcibly expand my perspective out in concentric circles – my self -> family -> friends -> the community -> outwards until there is -> all that exists in the cosmos. At that point my self has become completely insignificant and I can just do and be in the moment. We humans are a self serving, rapacious species and we are destroying the place that created us with our arrogant belief in our supremacy/preciousness and in our destructive “creativity”. Its ALL without meaning or purpose anyway.

  4. Stewart says:

    Glad you have found a place that is so beautiful to hang your hat. We all need time to reflect on our life and in this busyness there is a disconnect that is always pushing us to achieve,gain, take adantage, be competitive etc, that takes us away from the lost and yes broken soul in each one of us.
    It’s funny that you mention ‘wild at heart’ because I read the book by John Eldridge and he is bang on with his philosophy and take on life. I urge you to take a look at this book.

  5. Bob Watson says:

    It is by losing ourselves in inquiry, creation & craft that we become something.

    Civilization is a continual gift of spirit: inventions, discoveries, insight, art.

    We are citizens, as Socrates would have said, & we have it available as our own.

    Or else you can try to hump and holler and be honey-happy wild at heart.

  6. Nathan Maus says:

    Life evolves, changes, grows. Life advances and moves forward. We are also life. We are in a process of becoming. We are what we are because we needed that to become what we need to become. The pains that we are feeling and the damage we cause is just the misunderstandings we have as we grow into who we really are. We are not broken, we are in a process of becoming. If you feel that you are broken and damaged, then your brain will make sure that it comes true. It would be more desirable to place yourself in a state of growth, that way your brain will support your growth rather than stagnating yourself at damaged and powerless.
    In the past we were fully unconscious. We are in a process of learning to become fully conscious. Every year, we become more and more aware of the consequences of our actions, and the hazards of placing our power in the hands of others. The more conscious and the more we trust our heart and our intuition, the more we will make wise decisions and the happier and more harmoniously we will live. Our brain unconsciously absorbs the patterns of our society and repeats them. In some areas of our life we consciously or intuitively choose other wiser options.
    We are not destroying our planet. The planet is here for us. The power that created the planet, could create it again in the blink of an eye, The suffering we experience is exactly what we need because it brings us closer to who we really are. If lived in a perfect painless world, we would never grow into our full potential. For the areas of our life of lesser consciousness the pain serves as the motivation we need to redirect our paths away from the wrong directions.
    To become yourself you need to know yourself. You know yourself by becoming sensitive to your pleasures and your pains. Where in your life is your unconsciousness causing you pain? Become conscious of that and choose pleasure instead, or at the very least choose to start the path of figuring out how to find out what causes pleasure. By increasing your awareness, you will increase your intuition and become closer to who you truly are. When you become closer to who you truly are you will become closer to the source and closer to all life.

  7. Evelyn says:

    These days I’m pondering how having less stuff opens up more time for real things, like being with people, and making art, and taking care (of and with) people.

    Also how commitments can get brittle and stiff with age, not because they don’t serve a real purpose, but because we can’t see things as they are after a while due to familiarity.

    Do you do things you love every day?

  8. Janene says:

    Hey Dave —

    What a timely article… I’m going through some changes once again and this really struck home. Surprise surprise, I ended up writing about it!

    Recognizing where we are broken and how/why is they first step to healing and feeling harmonious within or own selves….. and its a good place to strive for, whether we ever get all the way there or not.

    Janene

  9. Jon Husband says:

    “There is a crack in everything .. that’s how the light gets in” (thanks to Leonard Cohen)

  10. Samantha says:

    I believe that you are right. We are broken. We lack the bravery to make change and become wild at heart. Our depressions, cancers, strokes and other illnesses are products of internal combustion. Good insight-thanks for writing.

  11. Chaitanya says:

    Civilization is not a mistake. It is a necessary step in the process of evolution — the development of rationality and reductionist intellect. Life apparently was not satisfied with just being “wild at heart”. Live wanted to move on. Life needed knowledge, understanding of the external world, an adventure of different kind rather than hopping between trees, more control over forces of nature rather than being at its mercy. Now, we can sit in the comfort of 21st century life and say “oh, things used to be so better back then. It was so holistic and connected”. But, Life **at-that-time** had different ideas. It moved on.

    Life Now has that knowledge and lots of control, and perhaps too much of knowledge relative to wisdom. And now it’s saying “oops”. Have i overshot ? Have i developed uni-directionally ? How do i change ? How do i move on again ? That’s where we are. We are in a transition.

  12. vera says:

    Hopping between trees. That is funny, Chaitanya. :-)

    Nah… civ’s a prison. A dead end. Life was satisfied in most places in being wild. The prison-heads went and killed the peoples who still had that life. Does that fact alone not give the prison game away?

  13. Chaitanya says:

    Isn’t evolution always a trial-and-error sort of iterative process ? We are in one such iteration. The only difference this time is that the iteration itself is aware before-hand that the current iteration is not fully adjusted to the realities around. So the current iteration has the chance to self-correct. Whether it does or not, remains to be seen. (And you Dave seemed to have reached the conclusion that it cannot correct itself, going by your prediction for civilization). I hope not, but Iam afraid, you may well be right.

  14. Ivor Tymchak says:

    I believe you are onto something Chaitanya. We are in a transitional phase from ‘real world’ to ‘Cerebral World’ and civilization is a manifestation of that World. Even the concept of ‘being broken’, is just another idea to feed our enormous appetite for ideas. In a sense, because we are a new species, we are foraging on ideas without the benefit of an experienced parent to guide us. Thus, some ideas prove to be poisonous whilst others make us feel good. If we’re lucky, we will learn to avoid the really dangerous ideas. The odds are not good though, there are simply too many ideas…

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  16. Michael says:

    Hey Dave,

    I think this post was just the perfect length! With the time I have – I loved being able to take in your idea and then go away and let it gestate within. If it’s too long – there’s too much to take in.

    Awesome writing.

  17. Jon Husband says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think it isn’t “brokenness” that’s the issue here, but that it is “re-membering” .. as in bringing one’s “members” back together after going through such a long process of socialization by a series of institutional processes before we’ve acquired any real experience(s) of what it means to be human (or maybe enough context to evaluate what and who we are).

    We’re placed into school, which starts the form-ation and the dis-membering, which lasts until we go to work and begin acquiring the things and ther trappings we are told and conditioned to want and seek .. then, when we begin to realize what we’ve done, or had done to us (by aggregating enough experience and context to evaluate).

    I don’t think it’s “brokenness” .. I think it’s “whole-ness” asserting itself.

  18. Nathan Maus says:

    Jon,

    I found your comment (17) really interesting. I thing a lot of our work here is to figure out who we really are. I’m really curious to know how much of the “not us” or “brokenness” we would “naturally” acquire just due to living in society especially as compared to how much is placed on us by the institutions that are already created for us to use (school, governments, corporations created to match government created laws, marketing, etc.)

    We’re definitely in a space, where we are being pushed by so many forces in the direction they want us to go that it becomes hard to see where we were originally. To such an extent that most of us that are aware would prefer not to deal with it if possible. How do we create institutions that not only allow ourselves and others to be ourselves unencumbered, but also do be the selves that we want to become? That in my mind is our core challenge in the time to come.

  19. Mike S. says:

    Dave, Thank you for the thoughtful ideas. In many instances, even when living in civilized constructs, we behave too violently. I wonder what cruelty human-animals would inflict, on man and nature, if we encouraged everyone to become less civilized. I hate violence (factory farms, dog fighting, war…), and I fear that discouraging civilized behavior would give unkind human-animals motive and opportunities to act like the violent animals we are. Although I do not trust society, I fear the alternative.
    I appreciate your writing, and am thankful you continue to share your unique thoughts in spite of having moved.

  20. Paul says:

    I’m in a group that is sponsoring a short film series, “Films of Vision and Hope”. Tonight’s film, “The Yes Men”, is about a couple of guys who perpetrate hoaxes to shake up people’s thinking about corporations, government, etc. Some hilarious stuff, and so creative! The audience–mostly “progressive”, environmentalist, a majority of older persons–responded enthusiastically.

    Dave, I thought of your post–are we broken? Yes, I think we are, but many seem to be seeking reconnection, seeking authentic ways of being. Tonight’s audience appreciated the rather outrageous actions in the film–stepping outside of allowed roles, maybe being a bit uncivilized, a little wild. We’re not completely tamed.

    And I think you’re on target: “What we need is to rediscover who we are, authentically, and to re-become that real person, the person underneath all the acting and artifice and false personas.” In addition to desires to fix the world, and desires to create community, there must also be some sort of individual transformation. The desire for that last is perhaps less common, but I suspect it’s a vital part of the mix.

  21. Paul says:

    Others are thinking that we are broken, also. Charles Eisenstein, in his 2/22/2010 blog post “Sacred Economics” (http://www.realitysandwich.com/sacred_economics), wrote (in the last paragraph): “Are we so broken, that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?” I think he’s right, that we generally are broken (tamed), with our minds covering what our hearts are trying to reveal about the truth of life. I’m still trying to get used to his concept of the “sacred world”, but the rest seems to resonate with what you’re saying, Dave.

    Here is that entire paragraph:

    “I dedicate all of my work to the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible. I say our ‘hearts’, because our minds tell us it is not possible. Our minds doubt that things will ever be much different than experience has taught us. You may, as you read the forgoing encomium to a sacred economy, have felt a wave of cynicism, contempt, or despair. You might have felt an urge to dismiss my words as hopelessly idealistic. Indeed, I myself was tempted to tone down my description, to make it more plausible, more responsible, more in line with our low expectations for what life and the world can be. But such an attenuation would not have been the truth. I will, using the tools of the mind, speak what is in my heart. In my heart I know that an economy and society this beautiful is possible for us to create, and indeed, that anything less than that is unworthy of us. Are we so broken, that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?”

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  23. Herve says:

    Hi,

    One could probably argue with reason that the feeling of incompleteness or brokenness is the fabrication that an imperfect mind, product of evolution, makes by contemplating the idea of perfection.

    However I like to think the reality is different. There are indices that the mind/brain has huge untapped potential, probably defying logic and current scientific knowledge. See for instance http://goo.gl/UMeO or http://goo.gl/Ys36

    From there one can lead the following reasoning: if the mind/brain has untapped potential mostly unknown to mankind, it cannot be purely the result of Darwinian evolution (unnecessary feature get eliminated as unproductive). But either human race came to the world with it or it has been acquired during its history.

    The first predicate probably seems the most challenging to support because it bears the assumption that man arrived to this world with higher biological functions already in place, thereby cutting mankind away from the continuous chain of other living creatures on the planet, and strongly posing the question of its origin. However the second branch of the alternative is just as boggling, because I cannot see any natural cause to such potential.

    The idea that man arrived to this world as a fallen creature cut away from its higher powers seems a bit far-fetched, but it would explain the feeling many feel of being incomplete, broken or hollow, and would explain those seemingly paranormal phenomena as described in the two links above.

    What is your opinion on this?

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