My “invincible summer”: on threat and opportunity

A long family crisis triggered my collapse with severe burnout at the end of 2001. I had to let go of a busy, creative life and rest for years. It took me until 2008 to recover my natural vitality. Five years on, I am still discovering in a variety of ways the benefits of that long period of enforced rest.

Some of you may have come across the Chinese ideogram for crisis which contains the two concepts of threat and opportunity. Energy collapse deprived me of the one constant which I had always relied on to get me through whatever life threw at me – my strong will. I discovered – and this was a brutal, frightening discovery – that my will had collapsed along with my energy.

Thus I had to learn, very slowly, the value of  letting life shape me whilst lying on a couch much of the day, reading avidly and tapping my laptop. I discovered the virtues of passivity, and the creative space that opens up within when of necessity you do very little. I had to rely on the loving support of those closest – my husband, my brother and a small group of close friends, and remain full of gratitude for that constancy and care.

Fortunate to have a strong and rich inner life to draw on, a significant part of what sustained me was knowing that although this long ordeal was mine, it was also archetypal. As Stanislav Grof so vividly puts it, “the stormy journey of the soul” has been a central part of all human experience throughout the ages. I was not alone in my descent into the Underworld. It is a well-worn path.

I also knew that through the tests encountered in the Underworld, your soul grows  into a shape which more closely fits the essence of who you are meant to be. So I hung on, called upon Spirit to guide me, survived, and grew.

Now I am reaping the rewards of that long crisis which was so threatening yet so full of opportunity. Able in a variety of ways to offer out some of the fruits of retreat, I hope that these offerings may inspire others. All my life I have loved and been inspired by quotes. Here are two which I pinned up in our kitchen,  absorbing their energy and wisdom when my own energy was perilously low.

I do hope you find them of value!

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into shape. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go.”

John O’Donohue, pp 83-4 Anam Cara Bantam Books 1999

(John O’Donohue 1956-2008 was an Irish poet turned priest, whose writing merged Celtic spirit and love of the natural world )

“In the midst of winter
I finally learned
That there was in me
An invincible summer”

This is a popular quote whose original source I have as yet not traced, but have come across a slight variation ie ‘within me there lay an invincible summer’ – different sites have different versions. Come on, detectives out there! Where in Camus’ writings does this quote appear? Let me know!

Albert Camus

( Albert Camus 1913-1960 was a French philosopher best known for his book L’Etranger (The Outsider) whose existentialist philosophy influenced a whole post-war generation)

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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11 responses to “My “invincible summer”: on threat and opportunity

  1. What a fantastic post, Anne, in the midst of putting down my hammer and letting spirit shape me during a healing retreat time of my life. John O’Donahue is one of my favorite authors, gone too soon among us. His quote is inspiring, especially as Spring Equinox has me raring for rebirth while the rest of my being knows I still have a lot of recovery to do from years of doing way too much. You always seem to enter my mailbox with words of wisdom just when I need them. Thanks for being there for me.

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    • Thanks so much Joyce. I am so glad to have been able to provide you with inspiration at this important time of rest and recovery. Funnily enough, you were on my mind as I was preparing the post – not the first time you and I have been in synch. I’ll email you. Rest well!!

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  2. I love both these quotes but the first resonates with me. I love the line, “Your soul knows the geography of your destiny”. Thanks so much for sharing these quotes and especially, your amazing story. Your (forced and/or destined) surrender to the depths and coming to understand that it was all about letting go and trusting that everything that was taking place had a much deeper meaning and purpose for your life. I’m sure you must have struggled with fear and doubt mightily during those long years. Remarkable!

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    • Thanks for the affirmation, bookpeeps. Yes, I certainly did struggle long, deep and hard with fear and doubt during those years. At various points I feared I would never recover……but every time I despaired, help came from those non-material levels that I (a pretty hard-to-crack sceptic) have learned to draw from and to trust. As a famous scientist once observed – life is not just stranger than we suppose, it is stranger than we CAN suppose!

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  3. The Camus quotation is from “Return to Tipasa” (1952). The slight variations appear to be the result of different translators and the inclusion of the piece in various critical anthologies.

    I’m intrigued by the first quotation, but I think I’m more kindly disposed toward “will” than Mr. O’Donohue. I’ve come to think Luther got it right when he contrasted “knowledge” and “will”. An example is probably best. I know I should take off some pounds. But all the health and beauty related arguments in the world – all the piling up of knowledge – won’t do a bit of good for me if I don’t have the will to make changes.

    Now, here’s where I think there can be a distinction, and where Luther and O’Donohue may converge. Clearly, the kind of teeth-gritting “will power” that we’ve all tried now and then doesn’t do us much good. Luther would say it doesn’t “work” because we’re not truly willing the good. To meet our goals, find a path, we need to allow the will to be transformed.

    Phew! That’s about as much thought as I’m capable of tonight!
    Lovely post!

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    • Thanks for this thought-provoking response, Linda. I think that a life skill we (hopefully) can acquire with growing older, is that of recognising when we are in a situation in which the application of the power of will is both apt AND within our grasp. There certainly are other situations – as I discovered very harshly when my life’s energy virtually disappeared – where the appropriate skill is to recognise that one is virtually powerless – apart from the power to accept that there is little or nothing one can do except let go and trust that “all shall be well,and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” in the challenging but wise words from mediaeval times of Mother Julian of Norwich.

      And – many thanks for tracking down the source of the Camus quote!

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  4. I like your quotes, thank you.
    When I was in the depths of my undoing, barely able to read for more than a few minutes at a time, it was the words of Gurdjieff that helped – ” Looking backwards, we only remember the difficult periods of our lives, never the peaceful times; the latter are sleep, the former are struggle, and therefore, life.”

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    • Glad you liked the quotes, eremophila. And thanks for sharing the Gurdjieff quote. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to know exactly how many of us throughout history had gained inspiration and strength from those wise ones who came before us? We can never know, of course. But I have an image arising of an unbreakable golden thread of wise words running through Time’s weave, casting shards of light, easing human pain as well as affirming its joy….

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  5. Thought I’d add a general comment to the heartwarming responses to this post. I find it ( almost) uncanny that, every time I get fed up of blogging and feel I’m running out of ideas re which way to go ( it’s been nearly five years now) I receive lovely affirmations of the value of what I’ve been trying to achieve – either via email, or via comments which inspire me to continue. Thank you!

    Also – I am being pursued at every level by techno-gremlins at present. Cannot manage to get the replies to sit beneath each comment!!

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  6. Thank you as well Anne.

    Lately have felt ” overloaded” by all the information” from all over the world, both of spiritual as well as of earthly matters (news).
    I have picked up the books by Carl Jung again about: Dreams and Religion, and the one “Owning Your Own Shadow”.

    But then one day a friend recommended a new book to read titled: “Meeting the shadow: the Hidden power of the Dark Side of Human Nature”, by several authors, such as Connie Zweig, Jeremiah Abrams along with several others.
    I have not received the book yet, but have ordered it from the Internet bookstore Amazon.com.

    Lots of blessings to you from Inger Lise.

    P.S. How on earth did we manage (and survive) without Computers ?

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  7. Thanks for dropping by, Inger Lise. You are in for a treat; that is a brilliant book you have just ordered! And replying to your ps question, I think the answer is “perfectly adequately”….

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