WHO AM I WHEN THE “HUM” STOPS?

humming-birdWhen our lives are going well, we feel a certain “hum.” Skies are often blue, the sun shines bright, and warm, and when we look into our check books, we seem to always be in the black. Work is clicking along, with an occasional bump or pothole that temporarily deters us; but soon, with good colleagues and mental agility, we are back on our way, humming right along. We are loved and we love, and life is good.

But, what do we do when the “humming” stops? The stock market tanks, a door shuts on a cherished dream, a relationship abruptly ends, a loved one dies, or some other crisis drops down from the sky as if from “out of the blue.” What then? We listen, but there is no hum. We try to find the hum, to get it humming again, but effort and willpower get us nowhere. Maybe, instead, there is only silence — or pain, or anger, or fear, or helplessness.

Maybe we turn to God in such times – a common practice. But to which God do we turn? The God of comfort and compassion? Or do we turn to the God referred to by Jesus when he said, “Whoever wants to save (get the hum back) his or her life must lose it (the hum)?” Or do we turn to the God of solace and soothing embrace? Or what about the God of emptiness and non-attachment as suggested by certain Buddhist ideals? Which God we turn to can make a world of difference when the hum stops.

Carl Jung said that “God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my path violently and recklessly, all things which alter my plans and intentions, and change the course of my life, for better or for worse.” When the hum stops, part of the problem we face is that we miss the hum, we seek the hum as if we are lost children longing for home, we want to re-start the hum — and thereby, in our anxious striving, we end up increasing, rather than decreasing our suffering. It’s hard and nearly impossible to muscle the hum back into its resonant existence, no matter how hard we try. It’s not so simple as finding a key or unlocking a lock in order to unleash the lost humming. Sometimes, maybe always, the best thing to do when the hum stops is to lean into its mystery, lean into the unknown, see what else is there in the middle of our plans getting turned topsy turvy.

If we’re running into brick walls at work, for example, maybe we see in this how devoid our lives have become of play. Have we lost touch with our children, or have we been absent from the “child” that lives within each of us? If we’ve been living at light speed while sucking the life out of the humming, is there a message of stillness and observation and a need for peace in the midst of the lost hum? If a relationship is ending, is it really a catastrophe, or is it life inviting us into creating a new version of who we are? Are there others who want to be there for us, or new friendships waiting to be kindled? Looking backwards with 20-20 vision, we often see that this is absolutely the case. But what if, in the throes of hum-less-ness, we developed better forward-looking vision? We might glimpse the seeds of hope, creativity, spontaneity, laughter, new life, and adventure in the dark soil of loneliness, dullness, and even depression.A depth psychological view, a view from the perspective of the soul or the collective unconscious — or whatever you wish to call it — of hum-less-ness suggests that there is a whole world of creative energy beneath the surface of the way we wish our lives to be. I think, though, that it might be an entire rich and expanding universe, actually, that is down there. I’m betting on that, both for you and for me.

 

Peace,

John R

 

WHY PSYCHOTHERAPY?

counselingShould I or shouldn’t I pursue psychotherapy? And if so, then when and with whom? Important and sometimes crucial questions.

Truth is, most people wait until there is some kind of crisis in their lives. A loss, a break-up of a relationship, an illness, a job loss. These are the most obvious times, and it’s best, I think, if it’s sooner than later — before things get out of control or start falling apart.

But I think there are other not so obvious times to seek out a psychotherapist, someone who is most of all a good listener. We suffer most, sometimes, when we feel alone or when we feel as if no one really knows who we are. Conversely, we feel better if there is at least one person in the world who listens and cares or who affirms us just for being the person we are rather than for what we do. We are human BEINGS, right? Not human DOINGS.

We are a complex lot, we humans. And we are so imperfect. So, it’s easy to get in the rut of putting on a public face everyday for each other, for our children, for our partners, for our bosses. It can be frightening to let others know our hurts and our insecurities. But the  public faces we put on are like the tip of the iceberg — there is so much more beneath the surface of the lives that others can’t or may not want to see. Who knows the secret or private or even the hidden realities of our lives, the lives we know best usually only when we lie awake at night thinking, wondering, wishing, or worrying?

When I was in between relationships some years back, I posted a profile on an internet dating website. Instead of stating my vocation as psychotherapist or minister — which I knew would cause most women to run away as quick as possible — I listed my vocation as “someone who listens and keeps secrets.” I figured this might be more intriguing than frightening, and that I might attract someone who would want to get to know me beyond my public image, title, or job. And thankfully, I did!

We tell our therapists, mostly, our secrets — that which we would otherwise keep to ourselves. Oh yes, we might share over coffee or lunch with a friend something of what we are discussing and learning about ourselves in therapy. But with our therapist, we can go as deep under the surface as we wish; or we can go as deep as we feel safe to delve. Someone who has no judgment or no agenda except to be there for us and us only — to me, this is the core of a good therapist. Someone who knows me at my best and at my worst, and helps me to know even the darkest parts of me that exist like unexplored islands of mystery, discovery, and healing. I know well how seeds long buried in the fertile depths of the soul can grow into something life-giving and beautiful.

So, maybe there are many reasons to seek out a psychotherapist. But this is the key ingredient I try to provide: a safe sanctuary, a sacred space. We meet to talk about whatever is important, whatever hurts, and whatever gives the soul breath, life, hospitality, and joy.

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO EVIL

Good versus evilWhat should we do now in response to the terrorist attacks in Russia, then Lebanon, and now Paris? What is an American response? What is a sane response? What is a response that predicts an effective remedy to an outrageous manifestation of evil?

Of course, these are just my reflections in the wake of a torturous week watching and hearing of atrocities inflicted on innocent victims by ISIS, the Islamic State. I feel what most feel: disbelief, helplessness, rage, more rage, and eventually numbness. But I confess that the rage remains. Part of me wants revenge. But I pretty much know the cycle of violence — we’ve seen all of this played out before. The Dalai Lama is right: “War is obsolete.”

As a Christian, I want to respond in a way that is true to my values, my faith,…and also true to my rage. I claim it as a “holy rage.” But the problem is, what to do with this rage? How can I can be truly authentic and also truly humane? Can I temper my rage with Christian compassion?

When Jesus told his disciples about his own destiny — that he would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of the religious and political elite, and then be crucified and die — Peter spoke up for the others with his rage. He protested. He told Jesus “No!” Peter wanted a military solution. Which was when Jesus said the famous words, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus pointed to the “Satan within” Peter — the same Satan that is within me, and you, and every member of the human race. We so naturally want to fight objective evil from the place of our own inner evil.

So, this week I have no final answers about a Christian response. I will pray. I will think about the suffering that the world experiences in the face of the evil that is ISIS. And I will also think about the children and the powerless, and the refugees who have left their homes. And I will try as best I can to keep Satan behind me and before me, always in my view. And I will seek the mind and the compassion of a Christ I long to know and to manifest in some way that feels both real and sane.

Amen

THE HAPPINESS MYTH: OR IN PRAISE OF MELANCHOLY

happinessI would like to be happy, and sometimes I am. I can’t predict it though. Some days are blue sky and sunshine, and my mood is anything but. Other days are cloudy and rainy, and my mood is all sunshine and light. So, what’s up with that?

The Bell Curve for Happiness is actually real, according to psychologists. A thin slice of the population seems to be helplessly happy, purely by luck of genetics, or some combination of genetics and environment. Literally, these smiley-face people couldn’t be un-happy if they tried. They are no more immune to bad things happening in their lives than the rest of us, and they can be as sorrowful as anyone when there is something about which to feel sorrowful. But their temperament — rain or shine — is one of sheer happiness. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The rest of us, as it turns out, have to work at happiness. Or else, we have to learn to live with the temperament that we have. We live, to some degree or other, outside of that thin Bell Curve zone of happiness where the happy minority live. The majority of us are moody, at least some of the time. And a fair number of us are moody almost all of the time. “Melancholy” is a word that describes us, as defined by Webster’s, “a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.”

Now, having “no obvious cause” to be sad, blue, or upset is a difficult thing. Our culture is inordinately uncomfortable with this. “No cause for your lack of happiness,” might be met with quizzical gazes when you share your current mental state with a friend; or worse, you may get scolded: “Cheer up, be happy! There are people who really have something to be sad about! What’s wrong with you?”

Or, let’s say, you are one of the many, unblessed by being born outside the Bell Curve happy population, but you grow up in an environment where “happy” was the privileged state of being, and “sad” was against the rules or, worse yet, just out and out ignored. Your sadness had to be repressed, landing in a place in your soul where sadness turned to misery, isolation, and any number of other shadowy moods or nascent addictions. I worry that this common family dynamic is also becoming the privileged American, cultural dynamic. It’s as if there is a “Happiness Club,” and you’re either in it or you’re out. And if you’re out, just run down to Barnes and Noble or your local library and find a book on the shelf telling you how to be happy in 10, 5, or even 3 easily imitated steps. We even have an entire new branch of psychology now known as Positive Psychology that has much to be said for itself in terms of making conscious choices to optimize the possibility of happiness. But I think it is still fair to ask the question: “Why are we so quick to judge sadness or melancholy as a bad thing?”

As you may be able to tell, I have struggled with the Myth of Happiness pretty much my entire life. I’m sure that, even if everything is going well — or seemingly so — my psyche can easily find itself rolling around in some muck, some dis-ease, or restlessness. It has always been so, so it’s a good bet, it shall always be this way — not just for me, but for many like me. Do I need a break from myself sometimes? You bet! But do I value my muck-loving psyche too? That, I most certainly have learned to do. I have had so many experiences now, of leaning into the sadness or melancholy and finding some illusive but transforming fruit there, learning something I needed to know or do. Sadness can often be a well where the only way to bring up the healing water is to go down into it.

You see, with all due respect to people as admirable as the Dalai Lama and his book, The Art of Happiness, happiness is often used in our society as a marketing ploy — it’s just not reality for most of the world. A mindful person, a person who meditates, a thoughtful person, a person who has not stopped listening to the news, or just a human person knows the truth that sadness and melancholy are often mirrors for life as it is. As Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, states, life is both wonderful and monstrous — life is not universally happy, nor has it ever been.

“All societies are evil, sorrowful, inequitable; and so they will always be. So if you really want to help this world, what you will have to teach is how to live in it. And that no one can do who has not himself learned how to live in it in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” (Joseph Campbell, Reflections on the Art of Living)

So well stated: “to live in the joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy of the knowledge of life as it is.” Sorrow AND joy — they seem to be conjoined twins, destined towards eternal togetherness.

I have learned that avoiding my sadness is the quickest path downward into staying stuck in the muck. But when I see my sadness as a friend, melancholy as a mood about which to be at least slightly curious, then sadness becomes the path towards meaning…, and sometimes, yes, incredibly mysterious wonder and joy.

WHY ARE RELATIONSHIPS MESSY?

messy relationshipsCan we be completely honest about relationships – even the best of them? Relationships are messy, are they not? Yes, relationships can be wonderful, and they can also be difficult. Ending a relationship is certainly one of the most painful of human experiences. Beginning a new relationship that seems full of expectation and hopefulness can be one of the most frightening of human experiences, while also being exhilarating and magical. We may try, try, and then try again, with the help of the most recent manuals on love and “divorce-proofing” a marriage, and yet, no one that I know ever avoids the maddening and unavoidable messes that intrude on the heights and joys of intimacy.

I recently began re-reading Thomas Moore’s book, Soul Mates (1994). Since my first reading of Moore’s insight-filled work, I have experienced the odious experience of divorce, not once but twice. I have fallen in love — well, let’s not count the times — and fallen out of love. And sometimes, even though I am remarried to a wonderful partner, we have our times of hurt, confusion, and messiness. It is not so much that we necessarily lack the communication skills that we need, or that we could benefit from improving on techniques for conflict resolution. It is, rather, that our souls are created for conflict and messiness. Let me explain.

In romance, relationships seem to blossom and flower. We feel a sort of expansion, a feeling of us against the world. The couple in love usually is viewed by others as being a bit crazy or out of step with everyone else in their social circles. The couple in love may act as if they are above the strife and suffering of life in the world. They appear almost ethereal, given to aesthetics and emotional heights that regular human beings often experience as pure indulgences. But this is the way of romance. It’s an adventure, full of hope, expectation, feeling larger than life, and often filled with riskiness and daring and even a kind of wondrous madness. The feeling of having found one’s soulmate sustains us through the maddening times because the other person feels like the one and only person in the world who is just right for me.

Psychologically, a unique feature of romance is that ego defenses come down. We tell tales to each other in love, sometimes tales never told to another person, because vulnerability reigns supreme. We are open, full of wonder, and full of whatever acceptance feels like – in love, acceptance is the aphrodisiac that sets our souls to flight. Until, somewhere along the line, someone gets their feelings hurt. The ego defenses that had softened, slowly begin to harden again, and a little distance creeps into the previously unfettered intimacy. The soul, at this point, imagined by the Greeks as a fragile butterfly, retreats little by little, unless the hurt is repaired.

On our better days, we know how to repair these hurts, but the truth is that most of us are ill-equipped to know how to repair the wounds of love. Where would be have learned how? Did anyone have the kind of upbringing to teach those skills of healing love’s wounds? I have been working with couples for over twenty five years, and I have yet to meet couples who are masters at knowing how to do this. Some are better than others, sure. But we all have egos, we tend to defend ourselves too much, and over time the soul tends to withdraw into a safe harbor far away from the life of the ego. The soul may reappear in a relationship at work, or in other zones where there is safety, or else the soul makes a new home in the shadows of fantasy, addiction, or some other symptom or illness.

Such is the way of soul. When the fragile butterfly of our being retreats, it enjoys creating a conflict just so it can come out of hiding once in awhile, even though the result is unpleasant. Or the soul may contribute to some other symptom or form of disturbance – anything to have a semblance of life. Carl Jung referred to the dark expressions of soul as having to do with the Shadow, the land of the repressed. So, if we want more soulfulness in life, this is the exploration the soul requires. We have to be willing to go down into our imaginations to see what the short-tempered outbursts symbolize at the level of the soul. To see what causes us to daydream and fantasize, what distracts us from our ego-centered consciousness, we have work to do on making peace between ego and Shadow.

So the messiness of our relationships, ideally, is our teacher. Our messes, when consciously engaged, are the teachers that show us the way to bring soulfulness to the lives we seek to live. I would have never consciously chosen the failures of my relationship history. At the same time, however, they have turned out to be exactly the wise teachers I have needed to serve me along my way. I have learned much because of the wounds of love, and I am grateful for those partners, pastors, and other healers who have opened my eyes to see the light in love’s dark shadows.

Weaving a Life of Meaning

 This gorgeous beauty, black and yellow, patient and still, lives outside my front door. Each night she deconstructs and re-constructs her web. Her web is her hoWriting Spiderme as well as the source of her sustenance and survival. Sturdy and flexible, this product of her patient and wise weaving, provides a means for her livelihood. Nightly she works hard, so that during the day her food will magically appear, not just for herself but also for her children who will traverse the fall and winter in their mother’s care so that they will be birthed into creation come springtime. Alternating between repose and effort, the Writing Spider weaves a life.

What does it look like for us to weave together lives that have a sensation of meaning and purpose? A life that is not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the larger whole. And what does it look like to live in sync with the rhythms of one’s own unique temperament, weaving together the various filaments and threads that life hands us in a way that gives one a sense of wholeness and purpose?

There are probably many ways to address such questions. Religions and philosophy strive to answer such profound things. Depth psychology addresses such questions from the perspective of listening deeply to the various ways that the soul deconstructs and re-constructs the conscious or ego-centered mind that dominates our thinking and behavior during the day. The ego actively decides what is acceptable and unacceptable to our dominant mode of thinking. Then at night, our dreams take the material that is left-out of day-time consciousness and then seeks to weave together a tapestry that expresses the totality of who we actually are. A life well lived, from the depth perspective, is one that tends to the weaving together of conscious and unconscious images. The ego-mind is relatively conservative by nature, while the unconscious mind sees everything as food for thought and for our potential vitality. We dance our lives between these polarities – conscious and unconscious – and we seek to grow as we strike a balance between the two. Carl Jung referred to this dynamic dance as the process of individuation.

In my own life’s journey, I see this dance play out in between the polar opposites: periods of darkness interspersed with periods of light; times of incredible joy mingled with unexpected times of sorrow and pain; the experience of satisfaction in the company of others while, at other times, retreating into long periods of solitude and reflection, and moments of clarity bracketed by times when I feel confused and lost. I have not been able to resolve these polarities by force or manipulation or sheer willpower – though I have certainly tried. The opposites often co-exist in exasperating ways. Grief interrupts joy, sorrow disrupts happiness, darkness interrupts light, and sometimes the necessity of solitude cuts me off from the need for meaningful relationships. But I know this, now, after 62 years: I need both, and become anxious, angry, depressed, or even sick when I resist these rhythms and fight against them. It’s easy to say “go with the flow,” but the challenge is to actually do so.

Dancing, weaving, going with the flow – knowing when to hold on, when to pursue, and when to let go — these images stir my imagination and give me a sense of hopefulness. Meister Eckhart, a 13th century Bishop in the Catholic Church, encouraged his flock to make space for God by becoming “mothers of being,” by creating space within for “nothingness,” so that God would have room to take up residence within the human heart and soul. When we learn to dance with what “is,” we can learn to weave what God gives us hourly and daily — and nightly — into a life that matters and has meaning for ourselves and for those for whom we care. Like the Writing Spider, we can weave together the various and often disparate stories of our lives into something beautiful and strong, not just for our individual journeys but for the world as well.

WHY AFFAIRS?

affairsMarried partners who have, at some point, participated in an affair is a phenomenon that is now a common part of our cultural landscape. Some estimate that only as low as 26% of Americans have had affairs while being married. Others estimate — when all kinds of “strayings” are included, from online relationships to the use of escorts and the regular use of pornography — that as many as 75% of married women and men have participated in extramarital sexual activity at some point along the way. So how come?

Something that happens with a great deal of frequency across the cultural spectrum of committed relationships must be important, in any number of ways. From a depth psychological perspective, the question needs to be asked: “What is the soul looking for in a marriage where one or both partners go astray?” This question avoids the too-easy kind of moralizing heard from pulpits or from a variety of cultural or sociological perspectives. A sociological analysis might, for instance, look at the pressures modern day marriages face: two-career income families that are stretched beyond thin, the demands of balancing devotion to the company versus devotion to one’s family, or the ways in which many families today are now child-centered rather than being centered on the ongoing development and maintenance of the health of a marriage. And this is only a very partial analysis.

But the soul-question lingers, partly because sociological pressures and other pressures will not simply go away or change. The momentum of history and the values of the larger culture are firmly in place. We can rely, however, on what people report in their closely held stories about their secret relationships. In my own listening to these stories during the 30 years of my practice of psychotherapy, I hear one particular, recurring theme, from both women and men in affairs.

That recurring theme is the theme of “aliveness.” People in affairs universally, it seems, feel incredibly alive. And they don’t primarily mean that they feel alive to sex. In fact, most often — and this is true as much or more in stories I hear from men — the aliveness to which they are referring is the kind of aliveness that they feel when they have someone who listens to and understands them and accepts them. It is this kind of aliveness that seems to create a kind of glue in affairs that is difficult to resist or to leave when that time comes. They picture returning to a dead marriage or a functional life devoid of feeling and meaning or returning to simply pushing the same rock up the same hill every day as in the Greek myth of Sysiphus. I can hear the protests of those who might judge such a simplification of the soul of affairs: “Oh yeah! Easy for someone to feel acceptance from someone they rendezvous with on occasion without any responsibilities or expectations of accountability?” And those protestors are right! The problem, though, is that the needs of the soul will not simply go away or return to the repressed land of psyche — without meaningful connections with others, we are all vulnerable to the allure of an affair.

Quite often, I get to be an honored witness to those courageous and determined couples who decide to transcend the violation of fidelity in order to make a new life for themselves — one that includes the needs of the soul. When they decide to do so, they are in for a lot of work as they heal what has been torn asunder. I am in awe of this process and the sorrow and suffering that has to be worked through inevitably. But for all of those who act on their fantasies of having an affair, I still worry as much or more about those who never act but only fantasize, maybe feeling guilty or ashamed or maybe even just incredibly frustrated by a life wrapped in the trappings of duty and conventionality. Where do they find solace for the yearning of soul? Where do they find support for the call to “be alive?” Life is short, as they say, and it’s certainly not a dress rehearsal. So where are the priests, shamans, and cultural commentators who will show us the way to transform marriage into the amazing mystery of a lifetime that it can and should ultimately be?

Movies with Soul

dreams and other mysteries

Woman in Gold     I’m known to go to a movie I think I’m going to like very much, and within the first few minutes, I’m nodding off. Woman in Gold is the most recent movie in which I found myself in this soporific state; but at some point, I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to get hooked by this powerful movie about redemption, justice, and human transformation.

David Putnam, producer and Oscar winner of Chariots of Fire and The Mission, said that, “If movies were what they might be, there’d be no need to go to church.” Such is the power of stories that tap into the depths of our souls. We recognize instantly stories that reflect the highest of human values in the characters depicted on the screen. Stories told well tap into our own personal longings for what matters most to us. They lift our…

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Movies with Soul

Woman in Gold     I’m known to go to a movie I think I’m going to like very much, and within the first few minutes, I’m nodding off. Woman in Gold is the most recent movie in which I found myself in this soporific state; but at some point, I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to get hooked by this powerful movie about redemption, justice, and human transformation.

David Putnam, producer and Oscar winner of Chariots of Fire and The Mission, said that, “If movies were what they might be, there’d be no need to go to church.” Such is the power of stories that tap into the depths of our souls. We recognize instantly stories that reflect the highest of human values in the characters depicted on the screen. Stories told well tap into our own personal longings for what matters most to us. They lift our spirits, or they challenge us, or they give us hope to live lives of courage and determination in the face of daunting odds.

Such is the story depicted in Woman in Gold. As a psychotherapist trained in the art and science of depth psychology, I find many themes related to Jungian concepts: both the  personal and cultural shadow, the struggle between conventional paths of life and vocation versus living from the deeper collective roots of personal and societal callings, and the nature of conventional religion in tension with an authentic living out of spirituality that enriches ones life in relationship to both self and community.

Maria is cast as an adult living the golden years of her life in Los Angeles, far removed from her Austrian and Jewish roots in Nazi occupied Vienna. Having left her family behind at the pained request of her father, she also left behind her aunt Adele who was the subject of Klimt’s famous painting ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.’ The gorgeous and also priceless painting hung in Maria’s home until confiscated by the Nazis along with thousands of other  wonderful works of art during WWII. The plot of Woman in Gold hinges around Maria’s desire to reclaim what belongs to her family; but more importantly the story hinges on Maria’s need to face her traumatic losses and the losses suffered as a central aspect of her Jewish heritage. Randy, her young inexperienced attorney, destined for a successful career in line with his father and grandfather before him, becomes Maria’s hero – her knight in shining armor. But Randy, unbeknownst to himself, is also on a journey of facing his personal shadow as he encounters the not so repressed unconscious of Austrian political power. In a moment of defeat and recognition, Randy repents of his desire for status and financial reward, opting for a second chance to reclaim the stolen work of art through passion, personal sacrifice, and commitment to a higher calling. In the process, Randy discovers his place in the great story of our shared yearning for redemption and justice, while Maria is afforded an opportunity to confront and to grieve the losses of hers and her family’s past.

Movies like Woman in Gold, in my humble opinion, do not come along often enough. So, I’ll continue going to church, but will also relish these wonderful opportunities to encounter the sacred through cinema and story. What movies have you seen recently that capture the yearnings of our souls?

 

THE NATURE OF ACCIDENTS

th  What do we make of accidents that befall us? Harrison Ford’s plane lies, mortally wounded, on the lawn of a local golf course after being skillfully landed by the experienced pilot. Accidents happen to the best of us as well as to the average Jane and Joe – no one escapes. Accidents, both large and small, are part of everyone’s life at some point.

Planes fall from the sky, just as relationships sometimes do. A person’s health can take a dramatic nosedive, or one’s bank account is critically depleted, the stock market takes a sudden tumble, or a career on the way up takes an unexpected turn downward – sometimes from out of the blue. These experiences often happen without any warning at all. Being wise and being smart and being careful do not seem to provide ultimate insurance against those things that can literally or figuratively drop right out of the sky.

Are accidents random? Maybe. Do they have meaning? Possibly. It’s always somewhat subjective whether we say that everything happens for a reason or not. Was it pilot error or a mechanical failure, or was it an “act of God?” Is an illness recently diagnosed the result of unhealthy behavior or a mutated gene gone haywire? When a relationship we really cared about goes south, despite our best efforts, is it something I did, consciously or unconsciously? Or is it just bad luck?

These questions have no absolute answers. If they did, someone would write a book about it, and it would be the final word – we would all rush out to purchase it in a flash while the author retired richer than a small country to a secluded island in the Caribbean. But so far, that book has not been written. And so we are left with our own subjective answers in order to find meaning when life goes awry.

It is, however, worth the effort usually to take a philosophical approach towards accidents that befall us. There is ample documentation in the narratives, the novels, and the religious accounts of those who have succeeded in transcending ruptures in their journeys. Buddhists tell us, for example, that suffering in life is not an option. Learning, however, to minimize one’s suffering certainly is optional through the practices of mindfulness, meditation, and the development of loving-kindness. A delightful poster depicts a bearded Yogi riding a surfboard on a huge ocean wave. The caption below states delightfully, “If you can’t stop the waves, at least learn how to ride them!”

Also, it is often the case, though not necessarily, that accidents that seem to throw up brick walls to our efforts at progressing through life may also may be timely detours toward hidden, yet-to-be-revealed rewards. Our vision in the moment of disruption is limited to the immediate scene: the loss, the pain, the brokenness, the hopelessness of our felt sense of demise. Only with 20-20 sight a year later or five or 10 years even, do we see that the brick wall was ultimately transformed into a portal of hope and success beyond our limited mental capacities at the time of said accident. I would not trade now, for example, an ounce of temporary promise for some or maybe all of the accidents that have happened in my life, as I review them through the rearview window of my mind. What seemed disastrous at the time eventually became a path hidden in a tangled forest that opened, slowly but surely, into unseen vistas of new life with time and with one other factor….

Consciousness. What seems to make the difference in whether an accident is an objective tragedy or a subjective experience of mystery and hope is what we refer to as consciousness — the capacity to see with the eyes of intuition and wisdom rather than the eyes of literal facts. Of course it helps to have each other in the midst of these times. Particularly is it useful to have the eyes and the ears and the compassion of wise mentors, life coaches, pastors, counselors, and shamans. They’ve been there. They have studied the sacred texts that address the realities of accidents and human pain and suffering. And they are always there to hold the beacons of hope as we wander, haltingly, towards a distant but sure light.