Wrestling with Crises

Pathwork Lecture 183 – The Spiritual Meaning of Crisis has always attracted me. It says that the purpose of crisis is, among other things, to help us experience that our life strategies and belief systems are not really working for us.  Crises are to motivate us to grow, and if we do not learn from little crises, then bigger crises will arise until such a time when we have no option but to grow or die.  Or something like that.

What has been arising in me in this regard is that the purpose of crisis is to rock our boat.  I am aware of just how much I do not want my boat to be rocked.  This manifests in several ways. First, it seems, I shall numb myself to or deny the very crises I am in. I numb out or deny the pain of my crises. How? In many ways I suppose, but one way I am most aware of is to get busy, and busier. Busyness keeps me from being aware of the pain I am in.

A second way is to withdraw. This happens often. Just this past week I was in a sharing group. I was not feeling seen or, if seen, not accepted for where I was. I felt a kind of a “fix-it” energy coming toward me. It may not have been intended that way, but it was the way I took it in.

Where do I go with this? Into a negative vortex. The comment can be helpfully and lovingly intended, here a simple comment, “Gary, don’t be so hard on yourself, be present to what is.” Where I take this is, “I am being unduly hard on myself, beating myself up all the time.  I must be a wreck. I’ll bet there are all kinds of psychological problems deeply rooted in me that give rise to my self-debasing behavior. And clearly, since I do not want to be present to all of this, I’m doubly messed up and a psychological and spiritual basket case. I have committed my life to spiritual growth. I have found Pathwork so helpful. I’ll bet it isn’t.  It has likely led me even more astray. Oh my, what a mess I am.” All of these inner thoughts occur within 10 seconds or so of the comment made to me.

So where do I go with all of this inner turmoil going on inside? I put off (withdraw myself from, protecting myself from) the speaker by saying, “Thank you, you are probably right. Thank you for you insights.” All the while I am tight as a drum inside, just wanting to scream, or leave, or both. So here is how I have numbed myself to my pain, denied it, and certainly did not allow myself or others see it because it would reflect so poorly on my spiritual state. My Ego could not allow that I was a wreck! And I was also pretty aware of this pattern going on within me, knowing it was my own stuff. But I did not want to explore further. Rather I decided to just shut up so we could go on in our group in “peace.”

In this case, however, another friend intuited what was going on in me and intervened.  She asked how I was with what was being said. With the direct question, I was able to share what was going on, and the group deepened.  But the incident reveals to me how crisis-adverse I am.  My wrong belief or image is, “If I am in crisis, then clearly my spiritual path is not working, my faith is ineffectual, I am wrong fundamentally about life, its purpose, its meaning, and its inevitable problems.”

Part of this is familiar from days when Christian Fundamentalists would try to save me. If I would share any problem of any depth, the answer would always be to “Gary, just accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior and Lord of your life, and you will find peace in your Soul.” All this did was make me pretend, even to myself, that I had no real problems, since if I did have problems, the problems would show me my stubbornness and my obstinate refusal to adequately accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, etc. I was in a Catch 22 situation. I could simply not admit to myself or others that I had crises in my life.

Another version of this is the notion that at higher levels of consciousness all problems become beautiful problems — problems that contribute to our growth and lead us back home to ourselves, leading us to return to God. This is a key teaching of the Pathwork Lectures themselves. And intuitively this teaching feels correct to me.

However another problem with this “higher consciousness” position surfaces for me. To do its work, a crisis has to be experienced as a crisis.  If I simply tell myself that, “This crisis is no big deal, I know that, while painful, it is ultimately for my own growth and development,” I am in a way denying rather than experiencing the crisis! The only way a crisis can transform me — fundamentally change my belief systems, images, conclusions about life, etc. — is to for me to live into and through the crisis, feel it deeply, and then come to understand how my belief system, images, and conclusions about life are, in fact, giving rise to the crisis in the first place. The only way a crisis works for my good is when it is, in fact, experienced as a crisis for me. And then, after fully experiencing the crisis, to discover how I have architected and created the conditions leading to this crisis, feel the negative pleasure I get from being in the crisis, etc.

When I understand this, and discover that I can choose other belief systems, make other conclusions about life, and give up defenses, then I can watch the crisis dissolve over time.  This is the process of growth.  This is the role of crises in my growth.  Reminds me of the need for the First Step in the Twelve-Step program. We do not change if we do not come to the First Step of awareness that we are in crisis!

So in this case, how have I contributed to this crisis, this downward spiraling negative vortex in my soul, precipitated in me in response to my friend’s comments about not being so hard on myself?

Am I possibly being too hard on myself? First reaction, “No, Gary, you are just trying to be honest with yourself.” “OK, I accept that. Could you consider being honest about positive things in you?” First response, “What positive things!” Oops, a piece of my belief system has just emerged from my unconscious. My unconscious belief is, “There are no positive things in me.”

Look at what comes out of this simple revelation. If there are no positive things in me, then I will do two things. First I shall strive to prove that there are, in fact, positive things in me — becoming in this process a workaholic, never resting, never giving up on projects, never enjoying the fullness of life. “See, I am good! Please tell me that I’m good!”

Secondly, I realize that I have become comfortable with the belief that there are no positive things in me. In fact I experience a negative pleasure in this belief. I do not have to risk showing up, risk revealing myself. After all, there is nothing good inside to reveal or manifest. A kind of laziness, a comfortable pleasurable laziness. So unconsciously I invite others to agree with me that there is nothing at all worthwhile in me. This invitation manifests in many ways, some more subtle than others. One way is to overtly be hard on myself, as people are telling me.

So, is it true that there is nothing good in me? Intellectually I know this is false, that there is “good” in me. But emotionally, and probably reinforced by my brand of Christian upbringing, I do not know this is false. (The poor miserable sinner syndrome) AND I cannot will my emotions to change. I just accept that emotionally I am not at all sure that it is not true that there is nothing good in me. This is honestly where I am emotionally. Let me be with this and see what happens over time.  Let me be an honest observer of myself and see whether or not, perhaps, some good in me is revealed.

When I experience some good manifesting from and in me, perhaps I shall change my belief, truly and emotionally feel the good in me, feel my Divine Essence, and perhaps then I shall not be so hard on myself. Perhaps, some day. But there can be no forcing this transformation and purification. Let this be part of my spiritual evolution.

Yesterday I was sharing part of this with a Pathwork buddy of mine, Zim. We had just completed over an hour of deep sharing in one of our bi-weekly phone calls. At the end of the call he paused, and reflected back to me, “Gary, you are really passionate about your own spiritual and personal growth, for doing your work.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. “This feels right and true. I am passionate about my work on myself.” And to Zim I said, “Thank you my friend, for mirroring that back to me. Let me take that in.”  After a pause, I then said to Zim, “Passion, yes, passion. But probably for all the wrong sick psychological reasons.” Yes, I really said this! Laughing out loud, Zim responded, “STOP IT, Gary, STOP IT! After all you have shared about this tendency to put yourself down, do you think I can let you get by with this remark?!” I laughed. But I also got it. Thank you brother Zim.  The work goes on. The passion is real.