Everyday Brokenness: The Source of Beginner’s Brilliance

By Ken Wells - 06/23/2020


“I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly colored than the day”- Vincent Van Gogh

The word brilliance in our world is most often reserved for those with high IQ and those who are able to combine physical talent with great intellectual capacity. Successful results in human accomplishment such as in athletic endeavor, financial success and other great feats earn the description of brilliance. Perhaps, rightfully so. Yet, I find much intrigue in the awareness of brilliance in areas of existence that are mostly overlooked. Take the Saguaro cactus that thrives in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. Most plants with leaves open in the daylight to take in carbon dioxide from the air necessary to make food. Yet, the Saguaro opens in the night so that it gets the carbon dioxide they need to make their food without having their water supply zapped. I find that to be an example of the brilliance that exists in the world around us that goes unnoticed.

Human experience is this way. Dog whisperers, cowboys, hermits and homeless people all carry with them a certain brilliance or moxy about life that is often underestimated. When I sit and listen to a homeless wanderer describe how they are able to survive and keep warm in the winter or survive a desert’s hot night in the summer, there is a certain brilliance than rings true.

Recovery has its own depth of brilliance. The very descriptions of “powerless” and “out of control” require it. How does an addict with a harrowing story of destructive behavior turn their life around simply by attending a small group meeting of addicts who read a Big Book about 12 steps to recovery without brilliance being present?

Brilliance consists of such absurdity. You would never think brilliance would be found in a beginner or brokenness or banal existence! Yet, in recovery there are not only traces of brilliance in these places but uncovering personal brilliance in these spaces is absolutely necessary for survival in recovery.

For example, consider what is required of a beginner in recovery. When a beginner shows up to a 12 step meeting, he/she doesn’t show up with an overbearing, contemptuous and conceited spirit. Rather, it is required that he/she show up with humility and a hunger to do whatever it takes to stop the pain of destructive living. A beginner’s spirit must be one that is coachable with an emphasis on being willing to do whatever it takes. There is brilliance in this approach. It fosters a spirit that helps the beginner creatively access the resources needed from within to live a sober life.

Brilliance is also present in the condition of brokenness which is opposite the spirit of arrogance and stubborn willfulness with emphasis on a negative attitude toward surrender. Coming to a place of surrender gives birth to recovery brilliance. Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching underscores that “the hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail”. Brilliance is born in recovery by summoning the courage not to resist, but, rather to meet the world in all its painful variety with feet and arms spread open, neither accepting nor rejecting all of life experience. The understanding of a broken heart creates an open brokenness in suffering that is able to go with the flow of life versus fighting at every juncture and seeing life as an opponent to be defeated. The brilliance of recovery recognizes that when I stiffen and harden with resistance, I tend to break. I am unable to make the necessary adjustments needed to live a sober life. There is brilliance in this awareness that only those who are broken find operational.

Brilliance is uncovered in the banal, bland, boring and common space of everyday living. Suffering, struggle, inconvenience, and relationship distress is the daily soil that personal brilliance germinates. This is the common stuff that all humanity shares regardless of sex, race, and religion, wealthy or poor. Every day brokenness is the common stuff that connects all humanity to the possibility of cultivating personal and therefore collective brilliance.

In the presence of insanity, the brilliance of Van Gogh got it right “that night is more richly colored than the day”. In recovery we only find our brilliance by embracing everyday brokenness. When we do this, the color or our night becomes rich and starry.

Recent Articles

Subscribe and thrive.

Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.

© Psychological Counseling Services