Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When You Find Yourself In Hell, Stop And Look Around

"Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we gradually discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario of the worst person in the world, in the middle of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there."
~ Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun
If you're like me, you have experienced at least one period in your life where everything seems dark, or knocked out of place. You find yourself off-balance. Jobs end. Relationships fail. Things that had made sense all of your life no longer make sense. Or perhaps your emotions are dulled or they may even have sunk to a seemingly dangerous low.

During such times it is important to have the guidance of trusted friends or therapists, but it does us well to also look for the Teacher in such times.  What can we learn from this unwanted experience?  This is not a question that many of us in Western society stop to ask ourselves. We want gratification and happiness, and we want it now. Everything is instant in our culture. 24-hour stores, movies on demand. Hell, you can even order your groceries online and have them delivered to your door without ever stepping outside.

But what if these dark times in our lives are instead golden opportunities to learn something about ourselves?  What if, instead of running for the nearest exit from Hell, we stop and look around a bit, surveying this new surrounding?  I am not saying that this is easy; it isn't.  But often in our darkest times there are things that we can learn, and instead of coming out of these periods utterly defeated we can come out a more well-rounded person.

Let me speak personally for a moment. I have suffered from what many would call mental illness for most of my life. My latest diagnosis is chronic depression with episodes of major depression, bi-polar type two, and mixed anxiety disorder including obsessive compulsive disorder.  Through the years I have sought the counsel of pastors, friends and therapists; I have even been hospitalized briefly. I take a cocktail of medications each morning and each night.  However, I am increasingly learning new things about myself and about life. For many years I have felt a call, a "pull" if you will to become a quieter, more simple person. But instead of heeding that call, I have continued to try to do business as usual and to seek happiness at all costs.  But now, as I still live with what many would call depression, I am finding that it is a teaching tool. It is as if the depression is saying to me, "Learn from me. I have dulled your mind and emotions right now so that you will finally become the quieter, simpler person that I have wanted you to be all along."  This may fly in the face of some therapists and some religious teachers, but I am finding it immensely helpful.  This time of "depression" is helping me to slow down, to look at myself, to depend on God/The Divine more fully, something I have craved almost all my life.

So the next time you find yourself in a dark time, in a time of depression, I encourage you to yes, seek assistance (you don't have to go through this alone), but also stop and ask, "What can I learn from this difficult time in my life?"

Love and blessings,

Mark Andrew