What if it defeats you?

In the Southern Hemisphere, we are celebrating spring day. The jasmine in my garden has recently come into bloom. Nature is awakening from the dormancy of winter.

Spring day – Jasmine in my garden

As a child, I remember the significance of the 1st September. It was the day that the municipal (public) swimming pools opened. Irrespective of the weather conditions on that day, the swimming pools always opened. Having a swim on the 1st September (irrespective of the weather) elevated you in the peer group. You were part of the in-thing, the in-crowd.  It was part of the ritual. If you did not have a swim on the 1st September, you felt out. More and more pressure built up internally, the longer you delayed your first plunge. You felt as if you were losing out. As I think back now, I can still feel how cold the water was when you eventually took the plunge. In the sixties, no municipal pool had the luxury of heating.  As I reflect on this today,  I realise that it was the coldness of the water that offered us the opportunity to feel alive.

Humfrey, my bull terrier was soaking up the sun today, like only he can.  He treats every day as a spring day.

Humfrey soaking up the sun – 1 September 2009

After reading my posting ‘something bigger than self’, my wife asked: ‘why must you have a crisis before you decide to live your life to the full?’

Facing a life-threatening crisis can help to put your life into perspective. It may challenge your beliefs about yourself, the limitations and restrictions that you may have unknowingly placed on yourself. It may activate the dreams that you have put on hold.

There are many stories of  how the human spirit is able to transcend  adversity. One of our national sporting heroines, Natalie du Toit, who lost a leg in a motor-cycle accident, became the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics, where she was placed 16th in the 10km ‘marathon’ swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In a session today, a client posed another question about crisis: what if it defeats you? He was feeling despondent with his struggle. He stated that he saw no light. He was right in the middle of a crisis. He felt lost and hopeless. He stated that he could understand why some people commit suicide.

I could offer no response that could lessen his pain. A crisis goes beyond words and explanations. As you try and assimilate a crisis in the initial stages, it can be very over-whelming. Nothing makes sense.

His question kept on replaying itself in my mind: What if it defeats you? As I pondered this question, another question emerged. How do you position yourself in relation to a crisis? If you position yourself in opposition to the crisis, as being separate from the crisis, as if it exists external to yourself, then you may be setting up a combative, competitive context in which defeat becomes a real possibility.

While a crisis demands that you take stock of the past (learning from your mistakes and/or accepting your failures), it also challenges you to be more conscious of the present moment that is unfolding (your response to the situation). In addition, it  activates you to create a new way forward, that offers more balance and harmony in the way you live your life.

In my experience, a crisis responds best to reflective space; to introspective space. As you encounter the severity of the crisis, you are called on to engage ‘something bigger than SELF’ to assist you through the feelings of ‘powerlessness’. A crisis activates a spiritual part of your being. As you embrace this aspect of yourself, the need for acceptance comes to the fore. Acceptance of ‘what is’, is required in order to resolve the crisis. Paradoxically, accepting ‘defeat’ is part of the transformational healing process.


5 thoughts on “What if it defeats you?

  1. Tommy White

    Nice thought KEN, as U say ‘a crisis’ gives one perspective – it tests one’s spirituality whatever it is, or even to see if one’s spirituality is there – it may even help one ‘find’ one’s spirituality. There is also solice in knowing that no matter how big ‘your crisis,’ someone else has a bigger crisis. One needs to also rise above advertsity [a crisis] and turn it into a positive experience – there are some greats [as references] in the world and even in our little SA backyard – U mention Natalie … the name ‘Mandela’ also comes to mind.
    Speaking of ‘cold & swimming’ – Do you know where the saying :- ‘…freezing the balls off a brass monkey’ eminates from ?

    I passed-on ur BLOG to a liberal … some feedback :-

    “Good, sensible article with accurate post race observations on Caster – as usual the local clowns play the race card.
    Regards – John B”


  2. Ken Jennings

    Tommy, thank you for your comment. You have expanded the link between crisis and spirituality and I agree that crisis can even help one ‘find’ one’s spirituality.

    In my experience in working with crisis, you will only be able to rise above adversity once you have accepted that you have been ‘defeated’. This defeat is nothing more than the defeat of the ego (or the importance of SELF) which we all hold onto so tightly. Once you remove the ego, you no longer feel a victim.

    You have pricked my curiosity regarding ‘…freezing the balls off a brass monkey’. Please share this with us.

  3. Tommy White

    Your curiosity … In the days of warships with cannons & cannon-balls, – to prevent the cannon-balls from rolling around in the ship on the high-seas, they were place on triangular cradles made of brass, – now u had high & low temperatures causing contraction & expansion – so in the freezing-cold – [like u plunging into the cold pool on the 1st Sept] these brass triangles would contract and the balls became un-secured rolling off the triangles – hence ‘freezing the balls off the brass monkey’ – enjoy your freezing dip !

  4. Lutz Otto

    Ken your freezing pool description made me giggle inside. Matthew, Justin and I jumped into a freezing pool on Saturday – Your summary of how we felt [including the feeling of exclusion], even though we did not think it, is wonderfully accurate. We were in an incredibly beautiful place, boy we felt really alive and most importantly it felt really good to be alive.

    More seriously, I have for a long time through observation, and introspection, believed that crises [or stress or hardship] can release the courage in some human spirits to reach the potential that they already know that they have [perhaps even spoken about] but not had the courage or true self belief to live out. Besides the immediate positive output through its indirect action as “unthought though/ un-premeditated catalyst” the crises can also lead to a change/ positive correction in medium to long term behaviour. Anyway that is the observation but from this two thoughts spring to mind:

    [1] Why is this though only true to some humans – Some people “fold”. Is potential {performance, leadership, etc} therefore not an innate human characteristic?

    [2] How can we, without inducing hardship, effectively and sustainably release this potential in people? Sometimes it seems that without pressure a percentage [I am not sure what this % is] of humans are not able to deliver their potential – Their focus is just too distracted.

  5. Ken Jennings

    Lutz, that’s great that you and the boys had a swim – very brave of you, but you have gone through the ritual! I am sorry that municipal pools no longer exist in most of our towns (now replaced by all the private little swimming pools). The municipal pools in the old days offered a context where communities of youngsters and ‘oldies’ congregated to exercise and have fun; and in the case of 1st September to witness each others’ achievement of that ‘first swim’ to welcome in the start of Spring.

    I would like to reflect on your last paragraph. Crisis, challenge, hardship does get the mind to focus more. Extreme sports that have an element of possible death if you make a mistake (for example, sheer face mountain climbing), have the same effect of focusing the mind on the PRESENT task at hand.

    But if the crisis, hardship or challenge is too severe, then it may result in the person withdrawing, giving up or feeling defeated with no belief that the crisis will get resolved or the challenge overcome. In such a situation, the person encountering the hardship will need support and encouragement to continue with his/her efforts.

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