The Precious Gifts of Challenging Circumstances
Financial uncertainty. Fear and anxiety. Worrying about what the future will bring.
These are all familiar experiences for people going through a divorce.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, they are becoming familiar to almost all of us.
Most people, if they are lucky, experience only a few earth-shaking events in their lifetime. A life-threatening diagnosis. The sudden and unexpected loss of a career. A divorce. On the surface, these events can simply seem bad—something to be gotten through--with an eye toward returning to “normal” as quickly as possible.
It’s been my experience, that in our rush to return to normal, we can miss the precious gifts that come only from such challenging circumstances.
When I was eleven, my mother committed suicide. Her suicide broke apart our family. Her death and the fallout from it caused much difficulty for me in subsequent years—depression and low self esteem, which contributed to my first marriage ending in divorce, among other things. And yet, I also succeeded in school and started a career in law. For many years I disliked my profession, and almost left it to become a therapist. But after decades of struggle, I discovered a set of practices and beliefs that took me out of my limited view of life and allowed me to begin taking a larger perspective on things.
Eventually, I met my current wife and began a beautiful marriage that has lasted over ten years. Later, I met my business partner John Hoelle, and we started Conscious Family Law & Mediation. I now love my work, and consider my life very blessed.
My experience going through the tragedy of my mother’s suicide, while deeply painful, gave rise over time to many qualities in me that I now treasure: empathy for others’ suffering; my ability to track people’s emotional states (a hyper-vigilance I developed for self-protection, but which later morphed into a highly useful skill for me as a mediator); an ability to understand multiple perspectives in a situation; an appreciation for life, and for the impact we as humans have upon one another; a perspective on difficulty that allows me to meet it head-on rather than shrinking in fear. My suffering caused me to seek relief, which led me to a spiritual path that now protects me from the fear and anxiety I might otherwise be suffering in this crisis.
Crisis is opportunity only if we are open to allowing it to change us. For years as a young adult I simply suffered, stuck in a victim mentality over what had occurred. It was only after I began to give up my stories and judgments about what happened that I began to realize the gifts that were available to me.
So what opportunities for positive transformation exist in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Here are a few that have shown up for me.
Slow down and quiet down. Largely as a result of their sudden absence, I’ve become aware of the suffocating level of noise and rushing I’ve been operating under for the last several years. Slowing down and quieting down has exposed to me how much I’ve been taking for granted. I could be short with my wife because I take for granted she will always be there. I could ignore the beauty surrounding me and postpone a walk in nature because it will always be waiting for me. I could stay focused on minutia that have little importance while ignoring the things that are most important to me: my relationships, the ways I’m staying connected and in service. As I’ve come to appreciate what is actually important and begun to release my attachment to the lesser stuff, the thought of losing things I’ve been mistakenly focused upon has lost its fearsomeness.
Ability to Live and Let Live. I’ve noticed how much “offended waiting to happen” I’ve sometimes been: Upset that someone cut me off in traffic; judging the young couple who walked past me without even looking up; bothered that the grocery store I walked into didn’t have the particular brand of frozen pizza I wanted. Suddenly I get to notice all the ways I can honor everyone else, and the world as a whole, by simply letting them be, without my judgment or concern. There is enormous peace in that. And with it comes a greater capacity to appreciate others and life.
Taking a Larger Perspective. Events like this can heighten existential inquiries such as: Why are we here? What is life about? We are born. We live for a short time, accumulating things we think are ours and creating a persona we think we are. Then, inevitably, every bit of that is taken away from us. And we die. This may sound like a morbid line of thought. But it can be exactly the opposite. Knowing this, I am motivated to treat each moment, person and opportunity for connection and service in my life as absolutely precious. And I get to choose why I’m here. For example: what if this world, this matrix of separation and duality, is a conscious school of love—where we get to come to realize our ultimate nature is boundless, endless, and created from love? And that everything that comes into it is an opportunity—perhaps designed perfectly to be so—to help us get to that realization? If I truly buy into this line of thought, it occurs to me that I have no reason to fear anything that could happen here. I have only to use it to do what I came here to do: to become more open, loving, connected, and mature. That is comforting to me.
In writing this, I do not mean in any way to discount the very real suffering that the COVID-19 pandemic will generate. Yet, I remain steadfast that our ability to meet that suffering with strength and helpfulness is entirely dependent upon our determination not to let these events extinguish our spirit.
What might be possible if we relate to events like the COVID-19 pandemic as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and mature as human beings? When else will we be faced with circumstances that force us to choose whether to open or close; whether to take a narrow, fearful perspective or one that opens us up to new possibilities?
To take advantage of such an opportunity, I find I must cultivate my ability to stay in a witness perspective: to notice how things actually are, without rushing to judge them or change them. I must acknowledge and surrender to the fact of how little I actually control in this world. And I must consciously develop, through practice, my ability to welcome life, to love others, and to seek connection and opportunities for service. If I do these things, I believe that whatever difficulties and suffering I may experience will not be in vain, but instead will be fuel for becoming a better, more useful human being. If many take advantage of this opportunity, perhaps we will end up with a better world when this is all said and done. There are significant aspects of the “normal” that has been suspended by this virus which I would wish to see changed for the better. Perhaps some of you reading this blog would agree.
If you find yourself wondering how to approach your marital situation in the midst of this crisis, please contact us. All meetings are currently being conducted via zoom (preferably) or telephone. If you are in a space where you feel you may want to divorce but do not want to proceed in the current uncertainty, we can help you think through what to do in the meantime as a couple still living together. We are offering such mediated discussions at a lower cost than our divorce mediations. Let us know how we can help.