By Robert Butler
The Mosaic and the Wound
Cold, hard, and jagged—the shattered piece of tile I withdrew from the burlap sack hurt to grip tightly.
It was to represent a wound, an emotional scar I’d received on my journey from child to adult.
The other forty men sitting in the circle did the same. The wound could have been anything, it was different—and the same—as all the others in the circle.
One by one, we each stood and claimed what wound this broken piece of tile represented to us. Over 30 men would be coming up a mountain in three weeks time to attend an extremely intense men’s training shrouded in mystery, to meet men they did not know, and to do battle with who knows what. But we, the staff, had to be ready for them. And owning all of this wound, and the resultant pain and ultimate beauty that came from it, would be essential if we were to be able to contain, and help these men coming up to heal their wounds.
Everyone has stories.
Some are relatively benign, and others too painful for words. Unfortunately, these days, people frequently use their stories to shift responsibility for their experiences and choices away from themselves, perpetuating an endless cycle of blame, disempowerment and victim-hood. Those very same stories can also be utilized to further us along our individual paths of purpose, and to find and create meaning in our lives.
Here’s a story: In 2009 I was involved in a freak motorcycle accident that left me immobilized for the entire summer. When I returned from the hospital eight days later, I was forced to re-think everything I did with regard to how I was going to conduct my business, how my employees would keep their jobs and get paid and, living alone at the time, how I was going to manage myself.
I needed help with everything, from showering, eating, getting dressed, to sitting at my desk, and even holding a pen. The accident was not my fault, but a one-in-a-million freakish occurrence that could have happened to anyone, but didn’t.
It happened to me.
One night when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I decided to watch a movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A true story based on the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine, about his experience of the debilitating stroke he suffered in 1995, after which he lapsed into a coma.
When he awoke nearly three weeks later, he was a prisoner in his own body, unable to move or speak. He could think, and he could blink his left eye, his right one having been sewn shut. That’s all. He could no longer reciprocate with his family, express himself, nor communicate his needs, what to speak of meet them. Here was a man who lived in the lap of luxury, was wealthy beyond imagination, surrounded by glamour, beauty and opulence, yet in one fell swoop he lost everything, during the prime of his life.
Yet, through good fortune he received help in learning to communicate through the process of partner assisted scanning. Essentially, the transcriber would repeatedly recite the entire French alphabet, one letter at a time, until she got to the next letter in the word he was trying to form. He would blink once for “yes”, and twice for “no”.
In his virtually incapacitated condition, he still managed to make an enormous contribution to the world. With help, he wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly!
The French edition of the book was published in 1997 and received excellent reviews. It sold 25,000 copies on the day of publication, reaching 150,000 within a week. It went on to become a number one bestseller across Europe with sales in the millions!
It had to have been an excruciating process.
It could take up to two minutes to write a single word! Sadly, he died of pneumonia only two days after it was published, so he never got to see the impact it had on the world, and on this one particular night, on me. “How dare I feel sorry for myself!” I thought. “What I had experienced was a mere inconvenience compared to what this man went through. I am truly fortunate to even be here, and I must do better!”
The night before the men’s training was to begin, we re-assembled our circle of 40 staff. Each man rose once more, and pulling the jagged scrap of tile from his pocket, once again claimed the wound it represented for him. But also what gifts he had received in his life because of the scar he bore for all those years.
We claimed our “gold” from the wound, and took our piece up to a makeshift altar in the center of the circle, and laid it amongst the others. In the end we had an exquisitely beautiful mosaic, comprised entirely of broken pieces of tile that represented 40 broken men, all who were willing to look deep within themselves and find their wounds and their golden gifts that resulted from them, which would be employed in the service of the unknown ones coming up the next day.
We are all broken. And we are all whole. Whether the mosaic we create will be beautiful or ghastly is one hundred percent up to us. How will you use your stories?
Even as a child, Robert Butler was fascinated with the nature of consciousness. A practitioner of Bhakti Yoga and committed vegetarian since the age of 17, he embarked on a lifelong journey to help himself and others uncover the mysteries of life. After living in an ashram in his late teens through his mid 20s, he traveled extensively, and delved deeply into personal growth and healing work. For the past twenty-five years, he has run a San Diego based nonprofit that supports three Bhakti Yoga ashrams and sustainable farm communities: Audarya Ashram in Philo, California, Sarahgrahi near Asheville, North Carolina, and Madhuvan in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He is an author, spiritual counselor and senior staffer with the ManKind Project, as well as a mentor with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network. He lives in Encinitas, California.
Editor: Dana Gornall