Unless you are an accomplished masochist (or have a fatal attraction to drama), you will want to avoid most situations dramatic and uncomfortable enough to qualify as a crisis. However, life is more often than not indifferent to our list of “wants”. And so it is that crises fall upon us and we fall upon them, like it or not.
I am personally turned off in a big way by people expounding a fairly popular view that the ghastly things that happened to them surely did so “for a reason”. I feel, or maybe I just “sense” that life is, in many ways, chaotic as well as unfair. It is also often unjust. But what is solid for me, what is truthful and reliable, is that every crisis offers a priceless opportunity to go deeper INTO life, rather than further away from it if we choose to. A crisis is an opportunity to become a bigger person than we were, or maybe the same person with a bigger, more truthful and more compassionate view.
Please: I am not suggesting we should put the welcome mat down for crises;on the contrary. We should do all that we can to minimize the suffering that crises bring, while at the same time letting ourselves discover that we can (and often must) become wiser and more discerning. Indeed, as we look around us and see that troubles come to every door and not just our own, we can also become less self-centered, certainly less self-pitying, and increasingly resolute that we have the capacity to help others as well as ourselves.
The paradox is clear. The crises we most want to escape – what any sensible person would want to flee from – are also a chance to gain invaluable humility, to recognise that whatever we are suffering it is part of the human experience and condition, and that we are not exempt. That is a blow to the ego and our sense of specialness but it also forces us, if we are lucky, to seek differently and deeper.
If we are shaken up enough by a crisis – a blow, a grief, an insult, an abandonment, a death, a significant disappointment, an illness – our usual strategies will not work. This means we are forced to find new strengths, greater resources, resources that arise from spirit and our first-hand knowledge of what life offers as well as takes away. I am thinking here of the big spiritual strengths like courage as well as tolerance, like forgiveness as well as generosity, like self-responsibility as well as compassion. And if we cannot? If we prefer to wail and moan and blame other people, or God or life? Then, I would suggest, the crisis is truly wasted.
A crisis insults our innocence: that temporary delusion that frightful things won’t or should not happen to us. The loss of this innocence is essential to any claim to spiritual maturity. Because in truth not only will frightful things happen to us but we may also be the cause of frightful (and unnecessary) things.
And that is the most significant learning of all. Not all suffering is inevitable. Much of the suffering we react and respond to is caused by us: by our ignorance of what makes us happy. Take violence, for example. Or “everyday” contempt, disrespect and aggression. It would be impossible to measure how much suffering this causes. It is impossible to describe the power that comes when we humbly resolve to ourselves and others that, “Harm will stop with me. I will and must keep others safe.” This is the fundamental of peace-making – within, as well as without.
We can choose to understand, from our newly rattled perspective, that not every crisis is, in fact, a crisis. We can choose to make far less fuss about what is just a blow to our ego, or a disappointment. We can save ourselves and grow our resources for what really matters. We can shed the limiting skin of selfishness. We can take responsibility for our attitudes, our strategies as well as our actions. We can grow up. We can ask: “What would help most here.” We can pray not only for ourselves but for all those similarly suffering. We can soften our demands on the world and other people. We can think – even in our fragile state – far more about what we are ready to give.
Does it seem counter-intuitive that I am suggesting “giving” when we might feel empty? Again, I am not suggesting this for the acute stages of grief…but surprisingly soon and often we begin to “fill” when we are including others in our vision, rather than thinking only of ourselves. The reality of our interbeing, our interdependence, means that we never endure a crisis alone. The effect it has on us will also affect others.
If today is, for any reason, a day of crisis or heartache, then take a few precious minutes to still your mind, go inward, and send love and light to all who need it. As you generate those thoughts, and as they flow through you, they will also be healing FOR you. “Love and light to all who need it.” Breathing in. Breathing out. Joining with others not through pain, but healing.
Those of you familiar with two of my books will be unsurprised by what I have written here. The two books that I believe are particularly strong and clear in a crisis (when clarity and strength are so needed) are Creative Journal Writing and Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love. In very different, complementary ways, those books invite you to a depth of knowing, insight and also courage that – without a crisis – you would never need to discover. How do I know this? Because I have lived them; not simply written them.
Holding onto the truth that you do continue to have choices, and continuing valuing and honouring life even it is temporarily unrecognisable, you grow inwardly: you become your whole, true, beautiful self. Yes, there is sometimes a massive price to pay. Don’t waste it.
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