My book, Broken Open, is a collection of stories about lessons learned in my own life and in the lives of those I have met during my years of work at Omega Institute, the learning and retreat center I co-founded 35 years ago. The book's thesis is that difficult times offer us a choice—to be broken down, or to be broken open. Any challenge—from the most painful loss, to the most ordinary annoyance—can become an opportunity to rise from the ashes, wiser and stronger. I call that opportunity a "phoenix process."
If you want to pursue a phoenix process of the highest order, I would recommend raising children. Parenthood is a clumsy yet majestic dance in the flames. When you parent, you fall in love with someone who is always changing into someone else, and whom you know will leave you. Yet most parents will say that they have never given themselves to anyone as fully as they have to their children.
Parenthood is a never-ending journey down a wide river of worry and love. You get in that boat with your kids and you never get out. They get out—they build their own boats and row into their own destinies—but you stay in the original boat, always their parent, forever caring and forever kvelling (a useful Yiddish word that describes how parents express pride in their children.)
Sometimes the act of parenting is an awe inspiring adventure. Your heart expands to accommodate a vastness of feelings so tender and unselfish that you step boldly into the nobility of your true character. And sometimes parenthood is a mundane and frustrating hamster-wheel of a job—an exhausting labor of continual surrender. It's a training; but just when you get the hang of sleeping upright in a rocking chair and changing dirty diapers, the kid sleeps through the night and poops in the potty, and the job description changes. It's like George Carlin's complaint, "Just when I found out the meaning of life, they changed it."