2 min read


To be shattered is to be unmade by sudden revelation.

A flash of light. The bark bursts from the trunk. The shattered tree stands naked, blackened by the bolt. Bewildered, we look on in awe, astonished by the sudden violence.

To be shattered is to be unmade by sudden revelation. It might be a doctor's diagnosis, or the confession of a spouse. It might be the loss of a job, a friendship betrayed, or the judgment of a peer. It might be a careless word spoken by a parent, son or sibling. It takes us apart. It breaks our sense of ourselves. It leaves us in pieces.

What is there to do when we are so undone? We want to gather our clothes and cover our shame, but our limbs will not obey us. We feel we ought to have something to say, but cannot find our words.

The shame is hard to bear. It wants to become rage, or terror, and often does. But if we look with kindness and with gentle eyes, we might find something touching in our tender nakedness.

As we stay rooted, the world moves on. With enough time, even a shattered tree begins to change. The orange heartwood softens. The broken bark turns to mulch. Amid the crumbling wood, green shoots appear.

Perceived danger or acute stress can trigger fight, flight or freeze responses from the autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight responses share the same physiological process. It is designed to prepare us for action: we breathe faster, our heart beats more quickly, our skin becomes flushed or pale, our muscles tense, our pupils dilate, and our mouth dries out.

The freeze response invokes a different physiological process. Our muscles tense and we remain alert, but our heart rate slows, and we become immobile. Some suggest we freeze so the brain has time to figure out how to respond to a threat. One study has found that, when frozen, we are more perceptive of our surroundings. Others posit that the freeze response is related to the dissociation we can feel during a traumatic experience.

Each week I explore a life metaphor that has touched me in my coaching. Subscribe to get my scribblings every Sunday morning. You can also follow me on Medium, or on LinkedIn. Feel free to forward this to a friend, colleague, or loved one, or anyone you think might benefit from reading it.