Have you ever felt like the world is collapsing around you? Like nothing you do can stop the onslaught
of fear, sorrow, or desperation that floods your mind and your body? Have you ever been laid so low that you thought you would never recover?
Of course you have. We have all shared moments of our lives that were devastating. The end of a relationship. The death of a loved one. The end of a career or life-long dream. A diagnosis of a serious health problem. A long-term battle with severe depression. A devastating addiction. Any of these experiences can strip us down, test our willingness to keep going in life.
Believe me, I have been through a few of these. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I experienced a deep depression that wore me completely thin. I had wrestled with this for a few years but, not finding a way out and more importantly not being aware of how to carry the sorrow that I had buried deep down since my childhood I tried to numb it with alcohol and other substances. Instead of helping alleviate the suffering it only created more of it. I reach a point where my desire to keep living was next to nothing. The deeper down I spiraled the less life seemed worth living, until one night I lost control of my car and nearly lost my life in an accident. What’s worse is that I was the one that caused the accident.
That night I had a revelation, a moment that woke me up and helped me see that while I had lost everything I now had a clean slate to create a new life. I realized that if I had been so successful at destroying my life I would be equally successful at creating a new one.
In a few years I had completely changed my life. I went from being a college dropout, battling substance abuse, being unable to keep a job and in constant legal trouble to learning two new languages, living abroad in Europe and South America, and getting a doctorate studying something I really love. I was able to see that my life only got better from the lowest, most desolate place in my life.
Now, I am not saying that any of this was easy. It took taking full responsibility for where I was in my life and accepting that I had to do serious emotional, psychological and spiritual work to free myself from the beliefs, behaviors and wounds that had eaten away at me for twenty-two years. That is not a small task. Actually, it is still a work in progress. What changed was the trajectory that I was taking.
Before making the decision to see my anger and sorrow as an opportunity to grow, I let them drag me down. They were twin paths to death instead of the possibility of a new life. Since then I have learned a few valuable lessons. Here they are:
First, your life is not determined by your circumstances.
The story is not over until the casket is closed. This means you have a choice whether or not your circumstances will lead you to that casket. If this is what you choose, then game over. All of the things you have lived through, all of the beautiful and hurtful experiences that you have had will go with you. Every possibility that you have to help someone that is also suffering through a difficult time in their life will be extinguished. Angeles Arrien said “We are all unique medicine.” That is not to be taken lightly. Your resilience and your willingness to heal through your wounds is what makes you a gift to the rest of the world. Your medicine is what you give when you share your experience with those that are suffering through similar dark times.
Second, every myth has a wounded protagonist.
Not hero, but protagonist, the main character. In the mythic life that you are living you are the protagonist. You have been wounded before in your life. You will be wounded again. The difference between whether the story of you will be shared for future generations or fall back into the creative void of forgotten characters is what you do with your wound. In shamanic societies, a budding shaman will undergo a full dismemberment. This is a total destruction of the ego self (in some cases the dismemberment is more than psychological). To become who we must be to bring our medicine into the world we have to undergo the tearing down of who we think we are, over and over again. The incident I described above was only the beginning of these experiences for me. With each one I realize how much I am here not for myself, but because I am graced with the incalculable privilege of witnessing Life. I am deeply indebted for this, and so my life is dedicated to be of service to what is greater than me. Namely, you, the Earth, the ancestors, and the Great Mystery.
Third, the path to wisdom is through surrendering in gratitude.
Sorrow will find you. It is the nature of this existence. To seek to be perpetually happy is a self-centered, adolescent endeavor. Happiness will arise in your life, but it cannot be expected to remain every waking moment. You cannot frame it like a picture and expect that it will always be around. On the other hand, gratitude for your being alive is a perpetual state of being that you can maintain regardless of your circumstances. When we understand that the gift of life is something to be grateful for without desiring to control how it arises, everything becomes a blessing. Better said, when we feel the blessing of living in our bones then we can take both the joy and the sorrow as a testament to our being a part of something much greater than ourselves. Something that for the briefest instant has given us the immense blessing of being here and now. When we reach this point, every moment is sacred, every day is an opportunity to share that sacredness with everyone and every thing we come in contact with.
Fourth, your wounds are an invitation to a bigger role in the Cosmic Story.
Through your wounds you are brought into a deeper communion with all that is. Not as a spectator or a voyeur, but as a willing participant. What you have lived is not just about you, it is about how you can heal from it and use your experience to serve others. Our sense of purpose is intimately woven with our deepest wounds. It is a principle we find in all aspects of nature. The medicines that heal us, when used in excess, are the poisons that kill us. Likewise, the things that are in some cases venomous are in others used to heal. When it comes to the emotional wounds that we have carried in our lives we are the vessels that can transform the pain into medicine. The choice is ours to make. And again, this is not an easy task. But it is a necessary one. This is especially true when considering the current state of our species and our planet. The world desperately needs healers. It needs visionaries. It needs those courageous enough to step into the Healing Ground of their own wounds with a willingness to heal for the sake of all beings.
Wait, but this is too big, you may say. Well, maybe. Ultimately the choice is up to you. This is a calling, not a counterculture. It is a beckoning for those that will awaken to the deeper task at hand: to lay down the obsession with “my story” and become a devoted servant of “THE STORY.” The one that encompasses all of us, our ancestors, the Earth that has always been the source of life, and all of the generations that will follow. Your story does not end with your personal cataclysms, it only begins if you have the courage to use them to serve the Whole.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching