The Gift of Crisis

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The Gift of Crisis

“No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”~Albert Einstein

Most of us think of crisis as a “problem”. Another way to think of crisis is when we have a breakdown in our world, an interruption in the normal flow of everyday life (usually in our external world), that perturbs our perspective.

We all have crises. It comes with the territory of living and being a human being. Whether it is waking up and realizing that we’re going to miss an important meeting because our car won’t start, a health crisis, or losing our job, our home, our spouse – all constitute a shift which requires us to step back and readjust. Crises can be small. Crises can be big. A colleague of mine says, “The bigger the crisis, the bigger the opportunity.”

It is often when we aren’t responding to our crises effectively when clients begin work in psychotherapy. At this time, they are frequently in the “belly of the whale” and deeply stuck in pain and can’t see possibilities.

With our old, hard-wired (flight/fight) primitive stress reactions, our brains can’t distinguish between life-threatening survival stress and smaller challenges which evoke fear. Our bodies constrict and tense, sending signals to our brain that we are in danger and we react out of that place, thus often experiencing pain. If we stay stuck in this constricted place, our bodies become compromised and these challenges become and remain problems. From this perspective, we are held captive to the crisis, resigned to powerlessness in the situation — our only power is just waiting for things to pass and hopefully get better.

Where is the gift?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Viktor Frankl

We don’t need to stay stuck in these habitual patterns – we can breathe, stay present and attentive to allow possibilities to unfold. What if we looked at crises or things that perturb our perspective as opportunities to look more completely at what life is wanting us to learn about being human – about ourselves, life, others?

If we aren’t having crises, we aren’t learning.

Crisis challenges us to look at life not as “cause and effect”, but “challenge and response.” And in these challenges we can have a creative response. In being with it, in it, we can hold it differently. Maybe in being with it, or “in the flow” of the experience we can find our way out. That way out is choice. And in that new place, a new learning occurs that allows us to return to that same challenge with new and different eyes. A new place with ourselves, not with the event.

What possibilities are available to you if you were to cultivate an intention of seeing crises in your life as learning opportunities?

Opportunity: Explore a challenge you are currently facing:

~Notice without judgement how you are currently responding to it;

~Surrender to the moment….to what is; not what you would like to be happening;

~Ground yourself – feel your feet on the floor. Take a big, DEEP breath. Visualize yourself as a lotus flower opening, a large beautiful tree, or a mountain. Continue breathing. Notice your natural body sensations, reactions, feelings and thinking. Again without judgement;

~Radically accept where you are as what is happening without the pressure to react or control.

~Be patient as you are in this place and see if curiosity can begin to bubble up. In curiosity, ask yourself:

~Where is my learning in this?
~What is this crisis trying to teach me?
~Where is my power in my response?

~Does this challenge present as an opportunity for me to trust myself more? To trust others more? To make a request of others? To accept my limitations as a human being?

~What is emergent in me? What new capacities do I need to “pull out of myself”?

As you begin having new awareness with this inquiry, I invite you to begin to embrace and step more fully into the challenges in your life as opportunities. Create the intention to begin living with breakdowns in your life with mastery — to create masterful living.


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World Laughter Day, May 1, 2011!