This article was first published in Issue #74 in the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal. Read the issue here.
By Kate Durda, M.A.
We live in turbulent times, yes, but human history has been full of crises, natural and man-made. What is important, what makes or breaks us, is how we respond to life’s challenges as well as its gifts. Maya Angelou wrote, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” All we can do is try to meet that challenge with power and presence, becoming bigger through our response, and perhaps even do something positive in response.
There is no guarantee that we will come out of a crisis unscathed. Such events sap our very life force, making it difficult to move on. How many of you know of someone (or were such a one) who couldn’t stop crying, or stayed in bed for days, paralyzed, or who seemed to become totally numb in response to some event (for example: 9-11, the 2016 presidential election, or one of the many recent mass shootings)? Unfortunately, tragedy and disaster can lead to despair, depression, passive acceptance of reality, hopelessness, or other expressions of “checking out” of life.
Grief is a healthy, natural, and necessary response to such events. It is important to express our emotions so that we can experience their lessons, benefit from the healing inherent in them, and then move forward with our lives. Beyond being hurt, we may respond with anger, outrage, and lay blame, judge, and even hate those whom we see as responsible. However, when our reactions to events deepen into clinical depression, suicidal despair, attitudes of separation (us vs. them), or deep hatred, we’ve given those emotions too much power. We may need support or help from friends and family, or even professional help, if we are to recover and heal.
The emotional responses above collectively might be considered as reactive (used here in the sense that we experience them passively, as in being the recipients of actions done to us, personally, or collectively).
However, we may also respond pro-actively with acts that reflect our most noble and creative instincts. Offering compassion, aid, and support to those suffering, or perhaps engaging in social or political reform would be an example of a pro-active response. George Elliot asked, “What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
Indeed, what do we live for? What are our values? The inspiration to act is directed from deep within our experiences of who we are and what we live for. We interpret events based on our values, our understanding, and philosophical perspective. Nietzsche wrote, “Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
That why embodies what has value and is deeply meaningful to us and provides an internal compass to help us to navigate difficult times. Viktor Frankl (psychologist and Holocaust survivor) wrote of this importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, as a reason to continue living.
A necessary practice for anyone who strives to live a spiritual life is to examine one’s values. What are you living for? Let’s explore attitudes/values from two perspectives: the material vs. the spiritual.
- Self-centered; individual advantage; “me”
- Fear of change, control oriented
- Fear of the “other’”(us vs. them, anyone not like us)
- Extrinsic orientation—placing blame or cause outside of ourselves
- View of Lack–not enough, glass-half empty
- Power over, dominate (for personal gain)
- Other-centered; communal values
- Accept change
- Seek unity, connection with others (including Nature)
- Intrinsic orientation–to self-reflect and accept
- Abundance, plenty for all, glass half-full
- Power within, collaboration (communal gain)
While the material-based values may have contributed an evolutionary advantage thousands of years ago to our ancient ancestors, they certainly must be questioned as to their advantage now. Such attitudes result in divisive and destructive acts that benefit self or one’s tribe to the expense of other people and the environment. Taken to its extreme, they result in oppression, destruction, war, and exploitation of ‘others’ (people, animals, the environment).
An obvious reality is that not all people share the same values. This is where a lot of conflict can arise. The U.S. is currently deeply divided politically, with each side entrenched, and often hating the other side. Common sense tells us that hatred is not a solution; we are simply adding fuel to the fire. A spiritual solution is to start by considering the impact of our stance (whichever “side” we are on) upon the well-being and outcome of our world and ourselves. A helpful and healing practice is one of non-judgement. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” If we cannot love or at least respect all people, we have little chance of healing the rifts and moving forward.
Non-judgment is the first step, and the next step is recognizing our role in the conflict. How are we contributing? A Hawaiian spiritual practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, H’opnopono, suggests that we are responsible, on some level, for all that is. For example, how are we complicit in our acceptance of current government policies and social norms in allowing poverty to exist? Acknowledgement of this is critical. This owning of responsibility helps us move from passivity to action and our acting in ways that can reduce or change the problem. I encourage you to explore this practice further to see if you might find power and healing there for you.
As Einstein stated, “We can’t solve problems using the same consciousness that created them.” How would our world benefit from actions coming from spiritually-based values?
A powerful approach we can embrace to inform our response to crises, as well as guide our everyday life, is through spiritual practices and beliefs. Devoting ourselves to a spiritual practice provides the ultimate home from which we grow up, learn, and manifest our highest self.
One spiritual path that lends itself perfectly to the values we are discussing here is Shamanism, an ancient, yet contemporary spiritual practice focused on restoring balance and providing healing to self and others. In this practice, all beings have a spirit, and all life is respected. The core beliefs and the many practices of the shamanic path have tremendous power to increase one’s well-being, health, attitude, success, and joy. They can also lead to cohesive and harmonious relations with all that is.
The ultimate search for meaning in life entails this question: What do you live for? If we are full of peace and respect for those around us, our actions will be reflected in a world that mirrors that back to us. Answer this question, live accordingly, and you will find yourself helping to create the changes you are seeking!
Kate Durda is a developmental psychologist, shamanic practitioner, and is trained in reiki and esoteric healing. She and Spirit Weavers partner, Stephanie Tighe, MSW, have been providing shamanic healing, experiential shamanic training, and spiritual community for over 25 years. For information, please visit SpiritWeavers.net and watch for her on the Crazy Wisdom blog in January. Email: SpiritWeavers@gmail.com.