You’re changing. It’s not news, it’s inevitable; it’s inexorable. Nature demands change, your body shows it and you – You Yourself – your mind and soul also press forwards into life. You have proof of life, you have the stories of how things were and stories too of how things might be. If only the change would come sooner, bigger, more easily!
Change isn’t smooth, though, is it? It’s a bit like tectonic plates, that press against each other, gathering phenomenal pressure; then they leap over each other or judder along the fault line. Your pressure is also a long time building and like tectonic shifts, for a long time it looks like, well, nothing. The change when it comes is profound, still a surprise, though it fulfils a deep logic in your life.
I resist change. I give in to demands from family, from work, from all the voices of all my fears, demands to hold things in place.
Then a breakthrough happens. I feel the movement like a muscle spasm in my brain. It might show up as a sudden opportunity that I’m ready to grab or I’m struck by noticing things are different. Noticing a new pattern of life that makes being me easier.
Our love of breakthroughs drives our entertainment, our sports, our making of our myths. Breakthroughs have all the drama of a good story. The breakthrough moment is a climax, a great place to end the story.
That’s all rubbish of course. We are not a simple story with a single plot line. The source of a breakthrough is hard to find, a gem lost in the general shit of change. And the final breakthrough, well, that’s a beginning too.
‘I can’t go on. I’m going on.’
The process that leads to breakthroughs has a cost. In movie storylines, the cost frames a tragedy or a triumph and the audience moves on. In life, the cost can destroy you before the breakthrough. No credits roll. You break down before you break through. You may not make it. In the last few years some of my colleagues around town, men and women in the middle of their changes, never saw their breakthrough. Some went so far down they looked broken, but returned.
You can break through without breaking down. You may not find the gem in the dirt of your slow change. Death of loved ones, business failure, divorce, or a catastrophic exit from your role, are changes that feel like endings without hope, all dirt and no gems. At the bottom, where hope has evaporated, is where you can’t go on. That’s where we can break, break down to the bones of our soul. That’s where the irony of living hits, because that moment also is where you have the choice to turn, to start the break through, live as if hope existed. Bones reconstruct.
Three ways up and through
How do you avoid breaking down, at that point (yes, at 3.33am, wide awake, sweating), broken with no ‘through’ you can see?
It feels like touch & go, whether you’ll get through the next day in one piece. Some breakthroughs break one precious facet of our life — a relationship, a home, an ideal. Yet some are quiet, like noticing the tide has turned although no single wave marks it.
I don’t pretend to have the whole answer. I’d be interested in your experience and whether a couple of thoughts work for you.
In the dark of a deep transition, we talk to ourselves in a strange way, as if every utterance were a step across a minefield. There in the middle of confusion and stagnation, it matters how we talk to ourselves. It’s not like we all have a ‘How to Do a Breakthrough Really Well’ book to hand. The nature of the thing is that we don’t know what the result will be — we’re flying on Faith and Courage and how we express it to ourselves gives our process colour and shape.
In the middle of the process, it makes a difference whether you describe it as ‘a struggle,’ ‘a journey,’ or ‘magic’. Hope expresses itself — so does hopelessness. Breakthroughs happen, sometimes long after hope has drowned in doubt, yet you are still there, doing the work.
In the dark — that place some of my clients have called the ‘black void’ — of a deep change, it takes trust to allow anyone in. Whoever you let enter that place with you, shapes your path. Deep change is so personal and, well, risky, that few strangers can withstand the heat and dark of your turbulence. Loved ones are too close, and fear the impact on their own lives. Distant acquaintances aren’t involved enough to see your struggle clearly.
Achieving a break through is intensely personal, but easier with the right help.
How quickly must it all happen? Big changes have big consequences, soak up your resources, & take huge emotional and mental effort. Yet we want the benefits now. It feels dangerous to slow down but your instincts will be too strong; your whole system will slow you down until you accept the call to go deep enough. This can seem coincidental; an accident out jogging, a rare illness in a foreign city, a visit to the Emergency Department and suddenly you have the time to reflect. (All of these things have happened to friends of mine, who found they then had time to do the work).
Our intuition is the best timekeeper. We don’t know the day and date of our breakthrough, but we know there is a beginning, middle and end. I call my process ‘cooking’, when I turn my life and my career. It can take a few days or it can take a few years. Later, in hindsight, it will seem that it was natural, just a memory you can glance at.
I first drafted this piece more than six months ago, in the middle of my ‘dark’, more as a private than a public thought. It turned out that between then and now, I still had more to deal with, more lessons to learn, more breakages to suffer. Yet trudging through a mire of doubt, I knew I just had to keep on ‘cooking’. It has turned out OK. I’ve had a breakthrough that I notice, even if others don’t. It has made me more sensitive in crafting this deep work, a sensitivity that has proven useful. I can stand at the edge of that void with others, and leap in, to find the hope and joy I know are there.
That gift was worth the loss of something precious.
I’ve lately been able to read TS Eliot with more understanding:
‘Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.’
Please comment below or email me. Let me know what it took to achieve your breakthrough. Let me know if you first had to break down in some way before it happened. Who’s your favourite author or source for wisdom on achieving breakthrough?