Making Your Way Through Tough Times
In times of crisis we are challenged to loosen our grip a bit on the desire for security and to open up to the idea that it’s okay not to be so in control of everything. Every change, whether chosen or imposed on us provides a wonderful chance to tap into the strength and wisdom that does exist within us even if we don’t recognise it at first. It's easy to talk about these things. We should never underestimate how hard some challenges can be. We will stumble. We might even fall. However there is great opportunity in tough times. Let me share a story of my own.
Just over three years ago my husband and I, newly moved to Sydney from Perth, were invited to a barbecue at a friend’s house. The women were keen to pick my brains about ideas for running their businesses so the men went out to the back garden. About twenty minutes later one of the women who had disappeared out the back came to me and said I had better go out there. There was a sense of impending doom in the woman’s words and I felt a hole form somewhere in my gut.
Already reading the signs and prepared for the worst I made my way cautiously through the house to the garden. The silence was deafening. There was a sense of terrible stillness all around me. Then I saw him: my husband lying crumpled up on the ground with blood pouring from his mouth surrounded by two sheepish-looking men and a couple of boys. Everything went into slow motion. It was familiar, I had experienced death many times and I knew he was gone. The shock threatened to paralyse me completely and strangely, I spontaneously started chanting a Buddhist mantra: “Om mani padme hum”, “compassion to all souls”, over and over, as if to protect everyone from what had happened.
The story goes that Brett had climbed up an old elm tree to help a ten year old boy who had hiked up there on a $5 bet and panicked at the top. He got the boy down to safety but barely three metres from the ground he grabbed a branch and it broke off. He fell backwards to the ground where he was impaled on two new bamboo shoots standing vertically about 30 centimetres from the ground like daggers. They pierced through his back and his heart. For some reason the two men pulled him off the bamboo shoots which would have let blood pour into his lungs. He probably died within minutes. Fact is, I will never really know what happened because all the families at this gathering closed their doors on me and my family refusing to talk to us. I haven’t heard from them since.
Within twenty minutes of going to a barbecue my whole life changed.
Face and Acknowledge Crisis
I tell you this story not to make you feel uncomfortable but to show in no uncertain terms what life can throw at us at times. I went into a sort of no-man's land for a good year after Brett died. He had been everything to me and our three children for 36 years and without him all my dreams died. I had always been an optimistic person but now my thought process was that it was all just too much to expect anyone to bare. Brett’s death came on the back of several years of both personal and professional challenge so I was already worn down. This was the last straw. I remember calling my brother and asking him, “Do you think it’s possible to recover from this?” I asked him because I honestly couldn’t see how I could recover. Death is so final. A person can never come back. There is nothing you can do, no change you can make, that will make it possible to see them again.
Accept the Change
For some time anger threatened to subsume me. I just couldn’t accept what had happened. The emotion was awful and exhausting as I reacted to my own negative thinking. But after about a year I reached acceptance. I stopped blaming myself and others for what had happened. I realised that I had to go on living, for my children. To do that I had to let go of everything that had happened over the previous few years, and I had to let go of Brett. This crisis had happened and no amount of ruminating over reasons would change anything. This change was completely beyond my control and it was up to me now what I made of my situation. No one was going to carry me through this, it was my own dark night of the soul. The universe was demanding I step up, deal with this and take a stand for what was important to me. And I eventually did.
Successfully negotiating the sometimes swampy fogs of transition towards a new life phase, I have found, involves us learning to let go thinking and embrace instead a whole new way of being. The details of this process will differ from one person to another, but what guides us is our capacity to be present in the moment, turning our attention inwards in order to know who we are and what we really want, now. We have to learn to be wise and understand that, as Eckhart Tolle has advised, the present moment is all we ever have.
Be present in your body and aware of sensations especially in your gut. Your body will alert you to times when you must pay closer attention, or perhaps move away from a situation, or towards another. Keenly observe what is going on around you in this moment, especially be aware of coincidences, symbols, metaphors you see in every day life which can signal next steps. Connect deeply with others through empathy and listening carefully, watch for body language and feel what they are feeling. Be infinitely aware of nature, the tides, the ebb and flow of life around you, this will teach you. Go within and ask for guidance and it will come if you listen carefully. Whenever negative thinking arises, just observe this and let it go so it doesn't drown out that inner knowing.
Trusting your intuition means accepting that taking a step that might feel as if you are going backwards occasionally is a valid part of finding the path through tough times. There is always a reason for that step, something you are learning.
Gradually, step by step, through disciplined focus knowing that life is working for us not against us, we move through and beyond the maze of our transitions. Sooner or later you find, as I did, that you have come a long way and you start to feel a wonderful sense of gratitude for all you have learned; for all you are and for all you are becoming. You realise that if you choose to let your heart stay open moment to moment taking purposeful small steps, difficult as we might sometimes think it is, in fact it isn't. Our wounds do heal. Tough times always pass. There is so much to be and do.
When we let it, life flows like a beautiful river in and around us and will always find its way.
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