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Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow Paperback – June 14, 2005

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Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow + The Seeker's Guide (previously published as The New American Spirituality) + The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A most extraordinary book...Lesser is a brilliantly gifted writer."
—Caroline Myss, author of Sacred Contracts and Anatomy of the Spirit

"Elizabeth Lesser bravely and beautifully explores one of the most compelling questions of life: How do we emerge from suffering and challenge with real, encompassing wisdom and love? Broken Open is personal, pragmatic, and enlightening."
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience

"Rich in food for philosophical mastication, and sparkling in their stylistic clarity, the true-life stories in Broken Open are both entertaining and enlightening."
—Tom Robbins, author of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Still Life with Woodpecker, and Villa Incognito

"Insightful reflections...Reminiscent of Rachel Naomi Remen's books (e.g. Kitchen Table Wisdom), the book is gentle in tone without falling into sentimentality an clear without being dogmatic or simplistic."
—Library Journal

"Never again will a painful experience break me down. Instead, I'll use Elizabeth's book to help me bread open into greater strength, acceptance, and awakening."
—Jane Fonda, actress, activist, and author of My Life So Far


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; Reprint edition (June 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759918
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth Lesser is the cofounder and senior adviser of Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, New York), recognized internationally for its workshops and professional training in holistic health, psychology, and cross-cultural arts and religion. Since 1977, when Omega was founded, she has helped direct the institute's organization, research and develop its programs, and train its staff. She has also been privileged to study and teach with leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of human development and spiritual growth. Prior to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and childbirth educator. She attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

179 of 182 people found the following review helpful By Jean Claude Reviera on May 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Don't let the Publisher's Weekly review stop you from buying this wonderful book. The idea is not that we MUST embrace our evils in order to grow, but that we can use our times of depression,anxiety, or pain to transform us into more open people. I spotted it in Barnes and Noble the other day, bought it, and haven't been able to put it down since. Lesser calls this process of transformation "The Phoenix Process." She beautifully illustrates how difficult times really can help us grow by giving us the story of her first marriage and how the pain she endured during it made her better afterward. She also includes stories of others who have gone through their own struggles in life. Broken Open is well written, and interesting from the first page to the last. The stories in it are truly amazing and inspirational. I reccomend this book to everyone!
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120 of 121 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia D. Rice on December 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When I had to place my partner of eighteen years in assisted- living this summer,I felt such sorrow, guilt and despair that I barely functioned in my professional job. I would cry for hours, letting the phone ring when I couldn't compose myself enough to speak. At only 56, my partner had a massive stroke, followed by two more. By January of this year, she was showing all the signs of dementia. When I knew she could not live with me any more, I was heart-broken and tortured by guilt. A friend invitated me to visit her, and I noticed the title of a book laying on my friend's bedside table,"Broken Open". That really described me.
I began to read it, and I spent much of my visit finishing it!
Suddenly I knew I would eventually move through all this awfulness and out the other side.
Lesser's image of the Phoenix rising from the ashes resonated with me, for ashes was an apt metaphor for my life then.
So I began to follow the path Lesser lays out for the reader. She combines the use of emotional and spiritual growth tools that can lead toward healing and growth.
I was not able to feel the Phoenix in me when I opened these pages the first time. But after many readings of this gentle and sometimes humorous book, I'm on my way to owning such strength. I read many of the other books Lesser recommends to the reader. I also prayed, meditated, and kept going to therapy. But this book started the whole miraculous passage toward recovery.
Elizabeth Lesser, with her poetic and supportive writing, held my hand, week after week. Her words created a virtual hologram that held me when I cried, and patted me softly as I raged.
Lesser's loving mission for this book must have been to help the reader see how she is feeling normal fear and pain that comes with crisis.
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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Jess Hayes on January 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
So many people love this book, and in many ways I did too. I've struggled to allow New Age therapies in - but Elizabeth Lesser has found a voice and writing style that is instantly relatable. From divorce to death, she has a wealth of wisdom to share about the trials in life's ever-changing landscape. Her words are poetic, compassionate, and poignant. The stories she shares from her life and those that she observed from the Omega Institute inspire those of us who think we are alone in our problems. As they say, "sharing is caring," so it's helpful to read her share the irony that "the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we [are] meant to be."

Of the six sections (I.The Call of the Soul; II. The Phoenix Process; III. The Shaman Lover; IV. Children; V. Birth and Death; VI. River of Change) the greatest for me was The Phoenix Process. Through a combination of meditation, psychotheraphy, and prayer Lesser has developed a guide and toolbox of practices that help us "transform terror into revelations" in a believable and down-to-earth way. I've used psychotherapy before to heal heartbreak and depression, but I never trusted the power of prayer or dedicated the time necessary to meditation. I feel ready to do that now!

Along this same thought vein, I feel that readers of this book would also really enjoy the new release Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story, and a lesser-known book called Impossible Love: Or Why the Heart Must Go Wrong.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By A Hero on May 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
With Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser has written a book that is more than capable of changing ones outlook on life. She explores the ways we can use the hardships we face in life to become better people. Through her own "breaking open" story and the true stories of others, she masterfully weaves a web of spiritual and emotional wisdom, showing how times of pain and strife can awaken us to new ways of living more meaningful lives. I'll never look at an emotional problem the same way again. The imagery that Elizabeth Lesser creates in this majestic work of literature is some of the best I have ever experienced. Not only is Broken Open emotionally educational, it is also interesting and entertaining. From the first chapter, you will be drawn into this book, only to emerge later on with a completely different outlook on the pain and strife of your daily life. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in having a more meaningful life, and anyone who likes to read amazing stories.
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