Break Down or Break Through?
A therapist explores how our pain can become a pathway to possibility.
In spite of the distractions provided by the upcoming election, the threats to our environment, our economy, and our families still trouble me deeply. I am unsettled by the rise in groceries, fuel, heating costs, and unemployment. I worry about the welfare of my more vulnerable brothers and sisters. I worry about future generations. I worry about the tremendous challenges that confront my daughter and her family. I worry a lot these days, and I still hope.
I read an entry on Brain Blogger recently that served to gently blow on the tired embers of my faith and my hope. It asked the question, "Can This Economic Down Turn Lead to Better Psychosocial Health?" The title immediately contradicted what I understood to be the mounting consequences of decreasing economic stability - increasing anxiety, depression, stress related illnesses, family and individual dysfunction and demoralization. Then I read the article and began the sluggish process of reclaiming what I have struggled for so long to nurture firmly in my core.
In the first chapter of the book I published in 2000, BirthQuake, I had written the following:
"This book is about a phenomenon that is presently challenging numerous members of my generation in particular. It's about the 'BirthQuakes' that so many of us are struggling with and through. Where everything is rocked and shifted; where foundations crack, and treasures lie buried beneath the rubble...
Bill Moyers once observed that, 'the largest party in America today isn't the party of the democrats or the republicans, it's the party of the wounded.' I think he's right, we've all been wounded. Wounded by the barrage of bad news, political scandals, traffic jams, jobs that so often feel futile, the signs that surround us of dying cultures, dying children, dying species, and even a dying earth. We may not think too much about it, and may even do a reasonably effective job of burying our heads in the details of our lives, but there's really no escaping it for most of us. We feel it. We feel it a little bit every single day, and even though we generally manage to keep one step ahead of it, we sense sometimes that it just might be closing in.
The good news is that we're not alone. Quakes are trembling everywhere. The bad news is that this also means that there are fewer places to hide. It's not as simple as it was even a decade ago. Moving to the country won't shield us. Believe me, I tried.
In 1992, over 1,600 scientists from around the world released a document entitled, "Warning to Humanity". This warning stated, among other things, that human beings were on a collision course with nature and that we need to make significant changes now if we want to avoid profound human suffering in the future. Other rumblings of a global quake in addition to our environmental crisis can be felt all over the world. Felt in addictions, increasing levels of depression, crime, suicide, and so much more. I recognize that many of the concerns that I've mentioned have existed for centuries, however at no time in history has the world been at such universal risk. We're coming closer every day to facing a crisis that every living organism on the entire planet faces. And at some level you already know that. Don't you?
We're all in this together. We're each waging a battle with collective demons that threaten to become more and more personal. They've made it into your neighborhood, and into mine. Are you ready? I'm not, but I'm working on it. While I'm more than a little bit scared, I'm still tremendously hopeful.
A wise man who wishes only to be identified as "a brother along the way," shared with me that, 'it seems that our travails are often a preparatory path, helping to make us better instruments through which we may serve, especially during times of crisis, which the world is now entering - A BirthQuake of worldwide proportion.'
So I'm called to service, and I'm calling on you too. Trust me, the rewards will be well worth it."
I wrote those words before September 11, 2001, before the war in Iraqi, before the falling American dollar, before we were charged $4.00 per gallon of oil, and the rapidly escalating costs of groceries. I wrote them before the production of "An Inconvenient Truth," before the renewed conflict with the former Soviet Union, and before the ravages wrought by the past eight years with Bush. And then, eventually, I surrendered to my sense of inadequacy and helplessness. Things only got worse.
I am now striving to embrace once again my (albeit sometimes shaky) belief that pain is often a pathway to possibility; that what wounds us also teaches us, and that what threatens us also calls us to action.