I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the times I made some of the greatest leaps in my personal and spiritual growth…about the stories that brought about change in me.
While some came at the hands of age/time/maturity, most of the big leaps came in the midst or aftermath of struggle or adversity. I’ve been thinking about why this is.
For me, there are a number of reasons. Sometimes we see a repeating pattern in our lives and, at some point, the consequences of continuing on get kind of bad and we know the universe will just keep upping the ante until we learn our lesson. And sometimes crisis shocks us into recognizing that some behavior—or some aspect of our personality that we hadn’t recognized before—isn’t working for us and we need a change.
Some of the more game-changing shifts, however have come in the midst of some of my biggest crises and I surprised even myself with the leaps I’d made. They came in times of great loss or personal challenge. And I think I've pinpointed why this is, at least for me.
Some moments in life are so jarring, we’re shocked out of our routines. We’re in crisis. Life is seen through a different perspective. We’re broken. We don’t have the strength or wherewithal to focus on maintaining our defenses. We’re cracked open. And those cracks let in both light and darkness.
In those times, we look toward either the light or the dark. But if we don’t look toward the light, the cracks will grow larger and larger or they’ll crack and re-crack until we can’t ignore the light. Sometimes that takes decades. Most of the time, the shifts happen quickly, though.
When my father was murdered, for example, I didn’t have the energy to both hate and deal with the surreal circumstances of his death. So I made a leap in my ability to forgive. Another lesson I learned then wasn’t quite as high-minded. It was the lesson of how alone we are as individuals. Surrounded by the insanity of the situation, the differing emotional journeys of others, the dearth of precedent (in that I have never, outside of my siblings, met anyone else whose stepmother was a black widow) and the fact that the systems we rely upon for justice aren’t always just or fair, you definitely go home at night and realize that, while you might have support, sympathy and people who love you, you are nonetheless alone.
Some slip into the darkness in situations like that. After all, the darkness is all around you and you’re mourning and dealing with whatever you’re dealing with. Emotions like anger, revenge and hate bubble up and keep acceptance and letting go at bay. For some reason, I was blessed with a spiritual awakening and some big insights that changed the course of my life for the better at that time.
All I can sense about why that is is that, with all my defenses stripped and weakened, I couldn’t take on any more darkness. And also, the more that's asked of me, the more I generally deliver. This was a large order and with the stuff in front of me I HAD to deal with, I didn't have much energy left to feed darkness and let it grow. So the same circumstances that may have shocked others into anger and hate, shocked me into a kind of understanding and forgiveness. It's like a switch turned on inside me that brought me clarity. A divine insight that couldn't have breached my defenses and gotten through so quickly under any other circumstances.
I noticed the same thing when I was sick. At times when I would normally protect and defend myself, I found myself making different choices, grounded in forgiveness and acceptance. Many (but not all) things seemed to just flow off my back. In some ways, I had enough fear to manage not knowing what was wrong with me or if I was going to be able to function tomorrow, that I didn’t indulge other fears so much. And interestingly, as I’ve gotten stronger and healthier, I’ve backpedaled a little on some that growth...haha. Things piss me off a little more now. But still when I look back, the net result is significant growth.
I can't say bad things happen to us so that we grow. I struggle with what things may or may not be fated to happen…or come “at the hands of god” or are karma or any of the other mystical reasons we assign. But I am certain bad things present an opportunity for us to experience big growth...if we choose to look for the light that comes in through the cracks created by whatever was broken.
I think letting go is key. Letting go of wanting to control a situation out of your control. Letting go of needing to blame someone. Letting of wanting to fight back. Letting go of wanting to displace your anger. Letting go of fear. Letting go of denial
Like I said, I find this more possible the more severe the “crisis” is. So I’ll be less generous of heart to, say, a stranger who stole my parking space as I’ll be to a stranger who stole my wallet. Go figure. And, again, some of the letting go just comes with age, for much the same reason—we no longer have the energy to put toward the kind of emotions that drain us.
So there's something here to consider if you're in the midst of a situation like this. There is no shame in letting go or forgiving. It’s not a betrayal to the deceased, it’s not a matter of principle, it doesn't give anyone the permission to hurt you again and holding on is not what god or any caring human would want for you. Not when it’s painful or toxic.
What's important is to take care of yourself. And sometimes we need to indulge ourselves in the darkness, at least for a little while. But remember we can choose differently at any time and turn our darkest moments into something triumphant and beautiful—a last gift left behind by someone who passed or the light at the end of the tunnel in a bad divorce or a valuable lesson that prevents you from being taken advantage of in the future, whatever the situation may be in your life.
There is no shame in finding light within the darkness. And some of the moments in which you feel most vulnerable, actually hold the greatest power for change.