In a recent conversation about personal struggles, a respected colleague commented that these struggles ‘were necessary’. He was making the point that struggle and crisis were a natural part of the evolutionary process.
Crisis is nature’s way to inform us that change is necessary. Crisis is life’s feedback loop that blocks existing behaviours and disrupts the familiar in order to facilitate a new way forward. It is in the crisis that the potentiality of a new pattern exists. However, this new pattern does not yet have any form for those in the crisis. It still needs to be created. In a crisis, one cannot go back to the old, yet no clear direction for movement into the future is evident. In such a situation one feels very stuck, not knowing what to do.
A crisis activates a high level of internal energy. This energy helps drive the change process. The resolution of a crisis, however, requires second-order systemic change (which I first came across in the work of Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch in my training as a psychologist in 1984). For this type of change to occur, the fundamental premises and assumptions that underlie one’s world-view need to change.
Referring to the global crises that we are presently facing, Atlee in an article ‘Something bigger than life is trying to work through us‘, states that ‘crises are magnificent in their complexity, their challenge, and their perfect fit for our evolutionary awakening…our emerging crises are a call to become wiser, collectively’.
I believe that the severity of a personal (societal or global) crisis tends to be in direct proportion to those actions that may have damaged or destroyed some of the fabric of life. While there may be a view that crisis is like karma and is pay back time, I don’t believe life takes things personally. For me, the nature of life is co-operation. Life matches and resonates with our thinking and our actions. It will support beliefs, assumptions and actions that support the evolutionary unfolding of life and it will confront those assumptions and actions (in the form of a crisis) that damage the delicate balance that underpins the fabric of life. Crisis is life’s way of speaking to us. It is a message that we need to listen to.
While the causes of a personal crisis may appear numerous, on a deeper level the crisis usually confronts the illusion that the self stands separate or apart from the inter-connected fabric of life. Second-order change requires the individual to reconnect to the fabric of life. In essence, this means that a person in a crisis needs to carefully evaluate the nature of the relationship that he/she has with self, with others and with nature. Greed, self-centredness, lack of respect, excessiveness and beliefs and assumptions around the importance of self (that the self is bigger than anything else in life) are some of the causes that affect the connection (or relationship) between self and the fabric of life.
During a crisis, ‘something bigger’ is trying to work through us. In my experience in working with clients in crisis, something bigger than SELF is trying to work through the individual and that ‘something bigger’, is the evolutionary process of life itself. To resolve a crisis, the SELF needs to dissolve so that the evolutionary life process transcends the importance of SELF. This is why a crisis feels so painful.