Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow

Elizabeth Lesser, Author
Elizabeth Lesser, Author Villard Books $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-50806-6
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-84413-561-5
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-1-58836-159-2
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4070-6098-9
Paperback - 311 pages
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4159-6510-8
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Cofounder of the upstate New York Omega Institute and author of The Seeker's Guide, Lesser uses her own life story, and those of others, to explore what she calls the""Phoenix Process,"" or positive life change that can emerge from very difficult life events. In short, episodic chapters, Lesser cites stories of those who have gone through a divorce (as she has), lost a child or suffered a terminal illness. She brings in thinkers such as Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron, the late philosopher Joseph Campbell and her longtime friend and colleague Ram Dass to illustrate how meditation and belief in a spirit that works through people can help break through fear and hopelessness. Lesser's own Phoenix Process began when, having previously been""betrayed"" by her husband, she embarked on an adulterous affair (with a""shaman lover"") that lasted a year and, in her terms, broke her open and allowed her to change. Lesser doesn't describe her life events in enough detail for them to stand on their own as memoir; rather, she puts them in the service of an explicitly Nietzschean argument: that one needs to embrace one's own""evil"" in order to grow. Lesser's resolve comes through in her clear, even, declarative prose, and her use of jargon is sparing and directed. But with conventional morality off the table and frequently overgeneralized musings sprinkled in (""Women still nurture and sustain me, but it is men who call me to grow, to examine my presumptions, to widen the boundaries of my heart""), the book can feel less the delineation of a process than a careful set of self-justifications. That sense is mitigated, however, by the anecdotes of other Phoenix veterans, via Omega and other parts of Lesser's life.
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