An Exercise for a Time of Adversity

I’ve been working on my thoughts for the blog this weekend – one I promised on growth in adversity. And I’ve written it once, had it edited, and am issuing a fully rewritten one now. Obviously, adversity is hard to go through – and challenging in other ways. The meditation that had hit my inbox on Friday that spoke to me about growth in adversity was from Henri Nouwen in “You Are Beloved.”  And what strikes me today in it is the same and yet different after more meditating and doing a finger labyrinth meditation today.  The quote is: 

“The great conversion in our life is to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions in our projects [or lives], but the way in which God molds our hearts[.]…Our great temptations are boredom and bitterness. When our good plans are interrupted by poor weather, our well-organized careers by illness or bad luck, our peace of mind by inner turmoil, our hope for peace by a new war, our desire for a stable government by a constant changing of the guards, and our desire for immortality by real death, we are tempted to give in to a paralyzing boredom or to strike back in destructive bitterness. But when we believe that patience can make our expectations grow, then fate can be converted into a vocation, wounds into a call for deeper understanding, and sadness into a birthplace of joy.” [changes mine]

What my labyrinth walk, a talk with a friend this morning, and the above from Nouwen have all pointed me toward is – – release.  Release is necessary to grow in times in adversity.  In fact, it was just in rereading the quote that I realized that the onus was on God and Spirit to mold – not me to change.  And then release of what?  From what?  To what?  Ahhh – there is the rub at times.  From even knowing that. 

What we often want so much during difficult, really adverse life events or times is to KNOW.  Know what we are to do next.  Know why something happened.  Know how to change it.  Know how to prevent it.  Know how to keep life from changing as it has been comfortable for us. And in the last weeks, months, or even days, we each have had to face down varying levels of demons or challenges in our lives.  Think about it for just a moment – what are you facing right now?  Is it illness?  Is it not understanding your partner or spouse?  Is it not knowing what to do next to help someone?  To help yourself?  Is it financial difficulty?  Go ahead, take a few moments to name the situation for yourself. Write it down if you’re open to doing so before you read on.

Now, what is it that you are trying to control in that situation?  For me, often it is outcome.  I want to be able to create a change or gain an insight in order to grow and move.  Or I want to create that space and hold it for another.  But my goal or method is not the answer; often, it is allowing the answer to unfold.  It is … release.  And yet being with someone or sharing the process with someone without knowing is to walk in darkness alongside them knowing that is enough.  As you are aware of what you are trying to control – perhaps a parent from getting Covid or dying from it alone in an ICU; maybe how you will pay the bills in 3 months when the severance runs out or tomorrow when there is no money; maybe how your employer is responding to changes in life recently; or maybe how you are managing your day-to-day life in the midst of a mild or moderate depression.  Give yourself a moment to pause, and again write down whatever outcome you are trying to control.

Next, I’d like you to find an object that reminds you of that issue.  A penny for a financial one; a rock for a stubborn issue you can’t seem to get around or influence; a Bayer Aspirin bottle for a loved one who is ill; these are some ideas to get your mind going.  If you can and choose to do so, take a few minutes to go find it in your home and return to finish reading. Pause here.

Then take the item you have chosen and hold it in your hand. Gently, as the hand is with the birds in the image above. Consider this item as fragile, even if, at first glance it isn’t. Your emotions about the issue this item symbolizes may be fragile, so treat this item with tender care. As you are meditating, look over the item you’re holding and see what feature you might not have noticed previously.  Release what you think you know, and turn it over and look at it with new eyes.  Consider what it has to show you.  I’ve had a very craggy rock Finley brought in the house that I’m using for my exercise in this.  And as I’m looking at it, I’m seeing an eruption in the top of it that is very sharp and discolored and today am aware of that as the focus – not the rock.  It is helping me to see the pain in something from not a heavy place but from the sensitive, hurting place.  What is different about the item in front of you – what hadn’t you noticed about it previously?  What is the message about the situation from that perspective?  Consider spending a few moments writing about that.  You might think about it in these terms if you get stuck on this part. 

I saw the _________________________ as representing _________________.

What I’d never noticed about the ___________ was ___________________________.

I’m aware now that it is possible that ________________________________.

As you finish the above exercise, what is the takeaway for you?  What have you learned by simply looking for the small factor you hadn’t considered or known about or been aware of as clearly?  Does that allow your view of the adversity you experiencing to shift?  And what does that mean to you about moving forward? Take some time to think about this and make some notes about it before moving on. Pause here.

Going back to Henri Nouwen’s writing – adversity, change, growth, understanding, and finally, joy are the stages of movement when moving through adversity and emerging in a new place.  What we must do is release ourselves from having to understand and know — and then, only then, we can begin moving towards the change, growth, understanding and finally joy that comes from that release.  The baby bird in the above picture wasn’t born with the ability to fly, it needed tending to and nurturing until ready to be released from the nest in flight. Only then, after time, after growth, came the release. I hope you can find your way to it through the above exercise too. 

Peace and calm be yours this week.

Take care,

Dr. Beth

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