Each crisis is a chance: This can sound really cynical in the face of people dying and losing their economic existence. Some life situations don’t feel like a chance but more like a huge threat, filled with anger, anxiety and frustration, many times for a good reason.
And still, in most situations there is a tiny space left within our control and in this post I would like to focus on what we CAN control: our own attitude and what we make of a situation. If there is a chance in a crisis it doesn’t always show up by itself, this needs our conscious choice and will and some practice and awareness.
In this post I would like to draw our attention to the many small breakdowns of every-day life, we can use as practice cases to be ready for bigger challenges.
No matter the circumstances, it is our choice, whether we cultivate resilience and joy or frustration and anxiety.
What is a breakdown?
Mostly we refer to breakdowns as major life events: a job lost, a divorce, a disease. But in this post I would like to draw the attention to those little and constant every-day breakdowns that sum up: the lawn behind the house is full of molehills (Maulwurfshügel). A new post blog nobody cares about. A a new offer no-one buys. An invite to a free online course and no one shows up. This sounds like luxury problems, but life is really very basic. Small things are precious opportunities for practice in order to build resilience for the bigger, more substantial and existential challenges.
The practice is to transform EVERY breakdown into breakthrough, no matter how insignificant it might be.
It takes a little bit of practice and awareness, but after some time you get not only very resilient to whatever happens, but joy of life and personal effectiveness improve exponentially. Suzuki Roshi once said: there are no small things and there are no big things. There are just things.
As a preparation to the 5-step program we get the fundamentals right, which is the inner attitude towards breakdowns. Lets try out the the idea that every breakdown happens for either or both of these two reasons:
- To protect you from harm or mistakes
- To help you find a better or new option
As we know in the moment of breakdowns the benefit is not always obvious and sometimes we create a lot of suffering before seeing the benefits of the breakdown. But we can shorten the process and by practicing with small things (you missed the tram and now you can walk a little bit or so).
5 Steps to create conditions for breakdowns to transform into breakthroughs.
By self observation I identified a pattern of 5 major steps, helping me to transform breakdowns into breakthroughs. While each step can fundamentally vary in intensity, flavor and length (3 seconds to days), they seem to be quite consistent over all types of breakdown.
Every breakdown evokes resistance. Using the simple example of the molehills, these were the thoughts I had: oh, now, not again, now there are even more! Why are they exactly on our plot of land where we have a cultivated a smooth lawn and why aren’t they digging at the waste land next to our property? How can we finally get rid of the moles? There is a sense of frustration and desperation over the destroyed once beautiful lawn.
Now is the time to dwell a little bit in frustration, self-pity, complaint and act out emotions like anger, anxiety, frustration and aggression. They need to be acknowledged too, fully.
It is very important to NOT suppress the resistance and pretend everything is alright, when it is not. Feeling into the resistance and all the emotions and feelings attached is extremely useful as they hold a lot information about ourselves, our concepts, values and desires. Resistance tells us: somethings wrong here and our job is to find out what it is and why.
Now comes the tricky part. Acceptance does not mean resignation but a way of fully acknowledging and honoring the full dimension of the breakdown: “This lawn will never be the same. We won’t get it back in near future. Actually it is getting worse every year, no matter what we try”. In this phase of the process it is important to “NOT THINK POSITIVE”.
Positive thinking would simply be a self-lie and denial of what is the case. The acceptance part is the key to letting-go: Letting-go can be another form of resistance, but letting-go through acceptance is to acknowledge that something is gone and will not come back (an opportunity e.g.) Sadness is a good quality here, it is a way of mourning.
After working through my resistance and acceptance a new state will emerge: a dis-identification from the lost state. I AM not the project lost, I AM not the perfect lawn, I AM not the teacher, that I have to be. I see that I lost something I never had (a business opportunity) or that the loss is simply a concept compared to real life happening right in front of me (molehill). Distance is a way of creating space between my wants and my expectations. A way of stepping down from my attachment and persistence that things need to be the way I wanted or expected or hoped for them to be.
The best way of creating distance is humor, we also call it black humor, which we experience a lot right now. It is a coping mechanism and creates space also between me and myself, by laughing about myself: this is a way of seeing clearly and creating spaciousness within myself.
In that space between my concept, expectation, disappointment and myself is room for the emergence of new information, ideas and evaluation. Emergence is an interesting concept, as it works by itself under the right conditions. I cannot force an idea to emerge, but I can allow for ideas to emerge – if they want.
The best question to invite the emergence of new possibilities is to hold this questions alive within yourself: “What is possible now (that the other possibility did not manifest the way I expected)?”
In this state of acceptance and spaciousness new possibilities can form and rise. If we go back to the molehills after a while a new possibility showed up by itself: to repurpose the molehills into little flower beds for bees and butterflies. To simply transform the lawn into a living organism to nourish insects and eyes. To make it a much better place than it used to be.
Suddenly I reframed the moles from destroyers of the lawn to builders and helpers. If I had stayed with my concept of the perfect lawn, stayed in the resistance I would have created suffering (very small but still), every time I saw or thought of it.
Now I realized that the breakdown was a chance to improve my little world for myself AND others. This summer I will be so happy about the beautiful lawn and I am thanking the moles for all the hard work they invested as co-gardeners. The same is true fo the neighbor cutting the beautiful beech hedge (Buchenhecke) behind her house, leaving behind a terrible mess. I was so furious until I realized the chance in finally redesigning the garden and plant our own hedge as we always wished. When we couldn’t acquire a piece of land from the farmer, I was so frustrated but now I know why: we found a beautiful olive garden in Southern Spain instead for a percentage of the price. Sometimes a breakdown is the Universe protecting us from false or harmful decisions we are not able to see in the given moment. Or a way to show us a the way and force us into new endeavors. Breakdowns hold new possibilities within and it is up to us to explore them, let them rise in our consciousness and use them. Sometimes we succeed, oftentime we don’t, because we don’t want to as we have no resources or we prefer to stick to the benefits of being victims of our circumstances. If we choose that consciously that’s OK too. If we are not aware of that it will create suffering.
Even the corona crisis is a way of making the latent obvious. When we start to look and accept and create space and let new options emerge and transcend we might – we might – end up at a whole new level of consciousness, as everything, the whole life is here to make us – not happy – but more conscious. And breakdowns are the best invitations to deepen our consciousness and transcend our own concepts, limitations and egos into joyful bliss.