Sunday, March 28, 2010

Crisis: The Wellspring of Renewal

Most of us know what it’s like to find ourselves behaving in ways contrary to our nature from time to time; to forget ourselves in choices that lose sight of consequence. That 3am bout of insomnia – coupled with the realization we have settled for a life we never intended – can happen to the best of us. We all fall off the path; or more accurately, we all, at some point, make the mistake of following someone else's path, or asking someone else’s questions, or living in accordance with someone else’s agenda.

This is where “the watershed moment” can be a real blessing – the way that life has of stepping in and tripping us up – to open our eyes to some powerful truth. The death or loss of something or someone we love is guaranteed to have this effect. A dear friend called me the other day to tell me that someone very close to him had died. Riddled with heartache, he lamented over unseized opportunities and (as he saw it) unspeakable failures. He bemoaned all the times he wished he’d been there for her or spoken what was in his heart. His torment was palpable.

Listening to that unbridled anguish, I felt as if I might crack wide open. Yet there was something quite poignant about it. He projected an air of self possession I had never heard before. He was being honest with himself at an entirely new level, and the whole world looked different. I felt this opening to life, and to healing. So I told him that. I told him this was his chance. He had access. He could take advantage of this shift in perspective. And he could live his life in a way that honors her memory. Only he knew what that meant.

I could hear in his voice, he was determined to make meaning from this pain. And I thought to myself, this is the nuts and bolts of life. Taking a moment such as a tragedy or a crisis and allowing it to open you to the change your soul longs for. Powerful catalysts come in all forms. Some of us glide through half of our lives without one, until one day, we finally come up against the inevitable truth: we’re getting older. Is this what we want to be doing the rest of our lives?

Also known as the entry into midlife crisis. My take? Give thanks for this rude awakening, because it’s offering you choices you never knew you had. Cling to your youth, and you’ll miss it.

“Crisis” in the Concise Oxford dictionary, by the way, is defined as a “a decisive moment; a time of danger or great difficulty; a turning point.” Websters adds, “to bring to a culminating point”.

A convergence? A fork in the road? Whatever it be, it often brings with it all sorts of goodies – turmoil, anxiety, grief. All of it, arguably, a nudging toward life. Educator and counselor Stephen Jenkinson describes grief as a skill. A skill. “Grief is a sign of life stirring toward itself,” he adds. I am going to be interviewing him soon, and I plan on asking him precisely what he means by that.

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