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Navigating Through Difficult Times




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The following article was written by Gwen Randall-Young. Gwen is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more articles and information on her books and CDs go to www.gwen.ca.

Navigating Through Difficult Times

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship.

Louisa May Alcott

The recent hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and now the fear of a pandemic, may make us feel we are living in dangerous times. Even if we have not been directly affected, we have seen our fellow humans endure the unimaginable. If it can happen to them, some twist of fate could surely render us as vulnerable, turning our world upside down. Our bubble of security could easily burst.

The solid ground of our lives may begin feeling more like thin ice. If we are grounded and centered in the personal world of our own construction, who are we when some unexpected event results in its deconstruction?

Much as we may have the illusion that we are in control of our lives, we do not know which of our many possible futures will play itself out. Ego could be in for a shock if its defining aspects are suddenly non-existent. If the job no longer exists, the home, community or city is destroyed, health is unstable, or loved ones are lost, ego can collapse. It is as though those aspects were the pillars that held ego aloft, and if even one falls, the whole structure that was ego can come crashing down.

It is attachment that is the problem. If we are attached to the world being a certain way, we are not likely working on how we will sustain ourselves if those attachments are lost. I am reminded of a dear friend who was about to undergo chemotherapy. She had lovely long blonde hair, and knew it would likely begin falling out in clumps. Realizing that would be difficult to deal with, she cut her hair very short before she started treatments. She let go of it before it was gone, and so was prepared when what little was left began to go.

Buddhism teaches about the suffering that is caused by attachment. The more attached we are, the more we will suffer when we lose something. It was interesting to see some of the very poor who were displaced after hurricane Katrina. Within days they were working at new jobs in Texas, and looking for places to live, fully into starting their new lives. For some, it represented a better opportunity.

This would not be the case for those who were perhaps highly successful due to a thriving business or busy law practice, for example, and lost not only a lucrative source of income, but a social circle and clientele that were a big part of who they were.

How then do we prepare ourselves to develop the resilience and courage to deal with the unknown, should it suddenly present itself in a way that shakes our world?

Like my friend with the chemo, we release our attachment before it is wrenched from our grasp. Does that mean we let go of anything, or anyone that is important to us? No, we do not let go of them, only to our attachment to them.

We must acknowledge that everything in life is temporary and transient. Nothing stays the same, and there are no guarantees. Eventually, we must let go of everything. We have to think about that once in a while, so that our inner compass keeps pointing in the right direction. We can have mini fire drills in our mind: what plan can we build for coping with a huge loss or change in our lives?

If we develop an alternate life plan that we could utilize in the event of the death of a spouse, loss of job, health, or other major crisis, then although we still may be shocked, we need not be dumbfounded.

Our journey here is not all about ego, much as ego would like to think that it is. It is about soul, and only soul. It is about learning to get ego out of the way so we can know our soul. We come into the world as a naked soul, devoid of any ego trappings, and we leave the same way. If we release our attachment to ego baggage along the way, we are able to be responsive and adaptable to whatever comes.

Knowing this about ourselves, we are free to savor each day of our lives from a love-based rather than a fear-based perspective. We can be grateful for our blessings, as well as for the strength and courage we know will be there when we need it.

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