From time to time we all have very scary nightmares both during our sleep as well as in our daily lives. We need to be reminded that the nightmare is not the total reality of our lives. Here is how.
The antidote to being scared out of our minds by the difficulties and challenges of life is to recognize the totality of our experience.
We live in a world of paradox. We are strong but we also have our weaknesses and limitations. We shake in our boots in the wake of life’s challenges but we can also find ways to be resilient. Our world may be filled with scary atrocities (think Trump and Russia for a start) but there are wonders and miracles to behold for those with eyes that see. Such a perspective keeps us from being to cocky or cowering in a corner.
- There are actions we can take like driving out the vote in our next election that is an antidote to learned helplessness.
- We can choose to listen to honest and accurate feedback about our blind spots to ensure that we stay awake.
- We need to put our egos aside, listen to the feedback we don’t want to hear, and finally internalize such advice and reorder our lives accordingly.
- A typical wake up call often comes when life deals us a painful blow. As we reel with shock and disbelief the key is to allow this painful moment become a “teaching moment” or a lens through we see the wonders of life. . Here there are two lessons to be learned.
Life is Fragile
I recently received the diagnosis of an irreversible heart condition that shook me to my very core. It reminded me of the Latin root of the word humble humus meaning earth, ground, or soil. It is reminiscent of the name given to the first biblical figure Adam whose name is derived from the Hebrew word for ground or dust. He was literally a ‘man of the dust.’ The Taoist philosophy, found in the book of ancient Chinese wisdom Chuang Tzu, reflects a similar theme. The universe and its people are viewed as a mighty mud ball (Hun Tun -’dark essence’).
Each reference reminds us how vulnerable we are and how little control we have over life and death – in a moment we can be killed or disabled by sickness or accident. We can lose all of our material possessions in a fire. A sudden corporate merger can mean the end of our job.
The notion that we are fragile/mortal can be a powerful wake up call reminding us that we don’t have unlimited time available. We should live every moment to its fullest. We also don’t waste time on the regrets of the past or the anxieties of the future. All that really matters is that we live life to the fullest right now. We also embrace our ‘mud nature’ by factoring in the possibility of judgment errors and even business failure. Such a realization of our human frailty in turn should lead to reflect on the fact that
Life is Good
Occasionally, especially in those tough moments, we find ourselves astonished at the goodness of life. Most of the time, however, we wander through life clueless to the goodness that surrounds us. We fail to notice the beauty of the countryside or the kindness of others. We can spend most of our reflective time focusing on the past and especially the future without truly being in the present.
People who are filled with gratitude have often just experienced extreme hardship or suffered profound losses. For example, you meet many grateful people who are recovering alcoholics, or those who have found genuine love after enduring years in a loveless relationship. Sometimes it takes the shock of facing one’s own mortality to experience gratitude. Playwright Dennis Potter (who was dying from cancer) remarked during his last television interview that he was living so intensely in the present that he noticed the beauty in ordinary things that he’d hardly paid attention to before. He captured this beautifully in his comment:
“ The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous.”
How wonderful if more of us could achieve that level of awareness and appreciation for life!
Finally, don’t wait for tragedy to wake you up. Wake up by yourself.
Reflect on the words of Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello,
“Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.”