I was talking with a friend visiting & helping us from Denver in the living room of our staff house after a rousing game of dominos and she noted to me how much the word “break” is used in our work, on our land. 

Breaking a hide.

Breaking a horse.

Break in the leather.


A broken sauce (hopefully not said too often).

And also a reference to ourselves in our work up here earlier in the evening: the ways its breaking us and breaking us open. 

This usually isn’t viewed as a positive word.  It often implies that something has come to disrepair or a dysfunctional state.  My moments walking into the kitchen to hear of “broken” things usually means some problem solving and some money.  The dictionary definitions of “break” read quite extensively.  Webster’s Dictionary also includes in the definition “to change direction” and “to undergo a change or enter a new state”.  How amazing really.  I think breaking has perhaps taken on some negative connotation because we value stability and things we can predict.  Something staying in its current state is often optimal.  But what an opportunity the moments are that anything and ourselves even are offered a new form or new direction.  How amazing when we actually accept the invitation to take the new form.  How amazing.  And risky.  And full of enlivening force. 

These breaking processes are hard.  My muscles are sore after working a hide.  The horse resists, runs, and kicks.  The leather gives us blisters.  Our dreamtime and rest ends.  And that sauce, well, probably isn’t going to work out for dinner; but might force us to ask a new question about its application or nature.  And changing form means giving up some other identity or habit that, regardless of its usefulness to us now, is familiar and to which we’re attached.  I think when offered another viable option, we’ll choose the not breaking every time.   

But also in almost every one of those examples of breaking, the breaking is necessary to functionality and even to life.  We have a material now that provides warmth for the cold time.  We’ve gained a working animal companion.  We have boots that allow us to do our work safely.  And a new day for new work and new imagination and new love for each other.  And we as people?  Our breaking?  It hopefully brings growth, wisdom, humility and the ability to bring things into this world we couldn’t have brought the day before.

I’m finding some gratitude for the many forces that are requiring the breaking of us right into the new forms and new states and changes that I could have never predicted in our personal practices here as workers and the evolving shape of this project is bringing forth states that are life-giving and that provide for us the resources and capacity that we require.  And it is building resilience in us as well.  Because when breaking becomes something that we practice instead of resisting, then my ability to enter new states and follow new directions becomes stronger.  And that, I think, is becoming increasingly required of us all by the land and for the care of our communities. 

My last thought on the theme of brokenness swirling around us lately: We’ve been singing during music times here in the staff house the last few weeks Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  There’s a line that caught me yesterday.  “There’s a blaze of light in every word.  It doesn’t matter which you’ve heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.”  And I wondered if the holy and broken share something in that they both change us.  And maybe the breaking is the holy.  I’m going to think about that on this rainy day.  And I’m going to keep singing it still, like an anthem to brokenness.

seth o'donovan