Have you ever been rafting down a fast-moving river?
Before people load into a raft and position themselves to participate in guiding it down-stream, they are warned that they might fall out. This is followed by instructions on what to do if that happens; such as “relax, keep your face out of the water so you can breathe, keep yourself from hitting obstacles and await rescue by your fellow rafters.”
What would happen if, when you got dumped overboard, you were swept up by the fast-moving water, dragged below the surface and could no longer tell where the surface was? With water roiling in every direction, while turning and twisting as you’re swept along, what could allow you to orient and steady yourself so you can watch for obstacles and continue to breathe? In a situation this disorienting, what we need is something; awareness or knowledge, upon which we can count.
When this happened to me, what re-oriented me was one of my fellow-paddlers poking me with the blunt end of their paddle. Someone, outside of me, who had a larger perspective from mine and had the power to take action. Grabbing onto that paddle was the end of my nightmare of disorientation and feeling out of control.
These kinds of feelings often accompany traumas, life’s emotional challenges and unexpected events. Instead of life proceeding in an orderly fashion, we are suddenly dumped into a “fast-moving stream” of events. We live for a time in disbelief, with our challenges difficult to comprehend. We roil, not knowing which way to turn or what to do.
Intense emotions accompany these experiences, leaving us with two important challenges to answer and work out:
- What do I hold onto while I make sense of what is happening?
- How do I work with these intense emotions?
You may have the good fortune to have an intimate or solid friendship, allowing you to lean on others for a time. While this can help, it doesn’t usually give all the support we need, because we need to face what is happening for ourselves and must be separate from others in order to do this fully.
If you don’t have this kind of support, it’s important to have something similar to that of the paddle wielded by my raft-mate. If we’re not actually on a raft and no one is standing by to offer help, where do we get that kind of support?
Over the nearly 50 years of being a Transpersonally-Oriented Psychotherapist, I have found that people weather these types of experiences best when they have something “larger than themselves,” which they can hold onto. This can be a philosophy, ancient principles, their religion, a belief in their own higher-self, or in a supreme being. We need something, or someone, outside of ourselves onto whom we can lean and which we know will give steady support, while we adjust to what’s happening. Without this, we roil and tumble, unable to find the surface of the emotional waters into which we have been dumped.
I’m not advocating that you adopt a particular set of beliefs, religion, or philosophy but that we each need “something,” in life that feels larger than us; able to steady us while we adjust to and work with the powerful changes we’re experiencing. You can read more about how the emotional and spiritual interrelate in my book, Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System.
I’ve noticed that being totally based psychologically and emotionally in the material world leaves us with many more limited, “something-larger-to-hold-onto,” options. Things in the material world change constantly. When we hold tight to the money we have made, a home that has been in the family for generations, or a particular job, they can suddenly be taken from us. The stock market can crash, the house can be condemned to make way for a freeway and jobs are more ephemeral now than ever. A man with whom I was talking not long ago, worked as a consultant in the oil business for nearly half a century. Recently, he walked into his office and was told the entire division in the company for which he consulted had been closed down. He needed to take his things and leave the building that day.
In the river, I held onto a paddle that was also being held onto at the other end by a person.
Often, when things are challenging, we attempt to hold onto particular people. This can work in many instances, but people have their own perspective, needs, ideas of what is important, limits on their energy, patience or strength; so we don’t always get what we need, or receive it long enough. This is a workable, but not totally reliable, way of getting our needs met in ways we need them met.
Having something or someone of a spiritual nature that we can hold onto is preferable. Not only is it something in which we can hold, but we know the spiritual world as on-going, rather than ephemeral or passing. Spirituality is bigger than we are. From a spiritual perspective, we have an overview of things. I was once instructed that, “God is ever-equal to your understanding.” So, I want to mention that your understanding of the spiritual world or God makes a difference in how accepting and supportive your “something larger,” is for you. Yet, even with differences in how we understand God and spirit, holding onto a spiritual “something larger,” is more reliable and powerful for us than reaching for people or material things.
If you haven’t already, consider developing your relationship with “something larger,” that supports and cares for you.
For example, through repeated meditation you can create a “pathway,” to reach that energy, entity, or place, so that when challenges arise, you can get help quickly. Life will flow more smoothly when you stay connected to that non-material, spiritual “something larger,” that is right for you.
Stay tuned for the final part of this series this time next week!