Monday, April 28, 2014

The Paradox of Stillness - 5 Things to do in Crisis

After struggling with symptoms of severe adrenal failure, my sister was finally feeling the benefits of a strengthening recovery.  She was doing so well, that she was back to playing badminton - her long time passion.  In fact, she was doing so well, that she entered and won local tournaments, and had just signed up for a Master's tournament with her eventual goal to participate in the Master's Olympics. 

During one of her training sessions, she blew her MCL, a ligament which stabilizes the knee.  She was suddenly immobilized, in severe pain and looking at a period of complete immobilization, and a long, slow recovery which also meant temporarily leaving behind all those activities which brought her so much life!

And so, after years of gradual recovery and a taste of "her old self" she found herself once again back into a recovery phase.


Crisis arrives looking like we have taken a sudden blow back with all of our hard work and effort crushed in a single event or circumstance.

"When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair," writes Henri Nouwen, "Your healing is not a straight line.  You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don't say to yourself, All is lost.  I have to start all over again. This is not true.  What you have gained, you have gained."

Crisis creates space.  By its nature, it develops a 'hole', a rip in time and a kind of deafening silence that for most of us, feels horribly unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Yet, it is in this black pit of pitifulness as my sister calls it, where our real nuggets of transformation reside. If we take time to stop, be still, sit with our discomfort, breathe, pay attention to the restlessness and be still some more, we inevitably find that we come through on the other side transformed.

The reality is, stillness is active. Taking in the present experience and not distracting and moving your energy or focus away, is in fact the fastest way of moving through your crisis. For many of us, myself included, the practice of stillness is challenging. When crisis hits me, I go into my back brain fight or flight response and I either feel the need to flee via distraction or fight by creating more chaos in my life.  Neither of these responses move my crisis towards transformation although they do provide temporary relief.

In these moments,  the best gift you give yourself is permission to pause.  Keep yourself focused on your present moment experience, focusing on the care and your body. 

Here are some suggestions:

1. If you can, go for a walk.  Being outside and in motion are tremendously helpful for both your body and your brain.  Breathe in the air, notice what you smell, what you feel and what you hear.
2. Practice conscious gratitude.  What are you really grateful for right now? Make a list or endeavour to say it out loud to yourself or someone you trust.
3. Take an epsom salt bath.  Again, this is tremendous for both your physical and emotional self.
4. Make self care a priority.  It is important to bring your experience into your physical body so do what you can to pamper yourself. 
5.  Eat well and eat consciously.  Make the food that you ingest part of your spiritual practice. Eat as "clean" as you can. Prepare your food and make the practice of preparing your food part of your spiritual practice. 

My sister, like most of us, struggles to trust the sitting still.  It may be the simplest and most difficult task which crisis commands of us. Yet, I can promise you, that if we continue in our doing, we will simply be spinning our wheels feeling only more depleted and stuck in the muck of our grief. There is the paradox.  Stillness is the only way we will move forward in our crisis.  Treat the process as if it is your spiritual practice and we ultimately find our way towards a field of clarity and somehow, despite ourselves, the crisis brings us closer to our 'real selves'.

It is all temporary.  Both crisis and bliss are temporary states.  We don't have to wait for bliss - we can choose to have our crisis lead us to our transformations. 

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