Rumi says that when we hide the secret underbelly from each other, then both people go away wondering, "How come she has it all together? How come her marriage/job/town/family works so well? What's wrong with me?" We feel vaguely diminished from this ordinary interaction, and from hundreds of similar interactions we have from month to month and year to year. When we don't share the secret ache in our hearts—the normal bewilderment of being human—it turns into something else. Our pain, and fear, and longing, in the absence of company, become alienation, and envy, and competition.
The irony of hiding the dark side of our humanness is that our secret is not really a secret at all. How can it be when we're all safeguarding the very same story? That's why Rumi calls it an Open Secret. It's almost a joke—a laughable admission that each one of us has a shadow self—a bumbling, bad-tempered twin. Big surprise! Just like you, I can be a jerk sometimes. I do unkind, cowardly things, harbor unmerciful thoughts, and mope around when I should be doing something constructive. Just like you, I wonder if life has meaning; I worry and fret over things I can't control; and I often feel overcome with a longing for something that I cannot even name. For all of my strengths and gifts, I am also a vulnerable and insecure person, in need of connection and reassurance. This is the secret I try to keep from you, and you from me, and in doing so, we do each other a grave disservice.
Rumi tells us that moment we accept what troubles we've been given, "the door will open." Sounds easy, sounds attractive, but it is difficult, and most of us pound on the door to freedom and happiness with every manipulative ploy save the one that actually works. If you're interested in the door to the heavens opening, start with the door to your own secret self. See what happens when you offer to another a glimpse of who you really are. Start slowly. Without getting dramatic, share the simple dignity of yourself in each moment—your triumphs and your failures, your satisfaction and your sorrow. Face your embarrassment at being human, and you'll uncover a deep well of passion and compassion. It's a great power, your Open Secret. When your heart is undefended you make it safe for whomever you meet to put down his burden of hiding, and then you both can walk through the open door.
As the co-founder of Omega Institute, America's largest adult education center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity, Elizabeth Lesser has studied and worked with leading figures in the fields of healing and spiritual development for decades. A former midwife and mother of three grown sons, she is also the author of Broken Open and A Seeker's Guide.