Shuffling papers, meeting with clients, crisis interventions, meetings, family contacts, documentation…Getting busy, staying busy, feeling productive. And then a shadow emerges out of a corridor, a half-broken figure, contorted, confused and healing- to thank you but you can’t remember for what… a smile and then you remember you only placed your hand on his shoulder and uttered four words. The smile is reciprocated and you realize that this whole time you’ve been busy with nothing and the most productive thing you’ll ever do is tell someone “I’m here for you.”
We fall into trances…asking what seems to be broad existential questions regarding meaning and purpose. A man in dire straits who engages in self reflection may at some point ask himself “why is this happening to me?” If he would just remain still he would discover that he need not go far externally or into his mental faculties to find the answer. Most times he snaps out of his contemplation due to desperation and attempts to find the answer from the outside, missing the chance of finding the answer right there in front of him. The answer he seeks can most times be found within his question. So if he asks “why is this happening to me?”, the correct answer will likely be “why, this is happening to me!” Though we may find it unlikely or even quite a strange response, it is one of the few answers that will prompt him to action. Another matter to take note of is if the one asking the question already possesses the answer during or prior to asking, it is essentIal to ponder who is it that does the asking. Surely, it is the same one who answers. This points to the strong likelihood that divine guidance resides inside man.
What makes anything beautiful, what gives it life, is the experience it has had. We stare at a certain painting and become mesmerized by something unexplainable-there is an emotion, a life, a story that it has lived. This is the essence of all things worthwhile. They are neither fabricated or desired. Instead, these are the things that preserve us and provides a deeper connection to ourselves and the world around us. To be fully in the moment entails a full participation and realization of the experience. Experiencing moments where we are submerged in what’s occurring is the lifeblood of humanity. A bellyaching laugh, a melancholic embrace, a joyful victory, an attentive posture-all provide the opportunity to make the most of our lives.
Without the experience of participating in the moment, we lose an essential part of ourselves-a missing part that becomes excruciating to live with. Before we turn to medicine to alleviate our instabilities and sorrows, let’s ask ourselves how much are we participating in the joy of living, and how much are we avoiding it through diluted means of connecting? An emoji can never take the place of seeing a beautiful face smile. An “lol” cannot doesn’t come close to shared laughter around a table of friends. And words types across a screen can never replace an invaluable embrace of a loved one in distress. What makes anything beautiful is the loyal commitment to strive to engage in life as much as possible.
Inside every person is the built in desire for salvation. This need is two-fold: we want to save and be saved. Children and adults long to encounter or become the heroes of society. We look deep within and ponder the possibilities of saving those in great need, and we await to be relieved of our problems-to a time where our troubles will all make sense. But rarely is the meaning of heroes, salvation, and reconciliation ever explained. We entertain, fantasize, and pray of attaining qualities of heroship but when the process of attaining begins to happen, we give it up. This is because the character building of usefulness doesn’t come in light and power- it comes in struggles and suffering. It comes in understanding the human condition and being able to navigate through the negative aspects of life and the mind. A person who doesn’t understand the map of insanity…of depravity, cannot save a lost soul trapped in the trenches of the underworld. Both would be lost and consumed by the darkness. A person that wishes to be used effectively must understand that his reward is in rescuing others, but the price is knowing first hand the atrocities that imprison them.
If you’re struggling with something too deep to express, have you considered you may be in a process of preparation to one day help a few or perhaps many people? Remember, the greatest heroes in history were not those with crowns but carried wounds for the sake of being used in a purposeful way.
Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor. My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts. There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce. Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives. Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void. One thing I came to understand: depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels. Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.
Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is. When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling. A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security. Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective. The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience. People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”
Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most. All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis. Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness. The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true. This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis. They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception. These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting. In this, there is great freedom.
It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives. However, tragedy occurs daily. I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind. Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal. On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives. If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.
The spiritual life is not a theory. In this realm the win always goes to the man who places unconditional trust in his Creator. Whether he is prospering or penniless, his soul rests confidently on the reality that G_d is always in control.
Do not be so quick to escape the unbearable. Sometimes it is the very flames of hell that melts the chains which bind us.