As regular visitors to this site will know, 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, once more able to re-connect with the world from which I had had of necessity to retreat.
However, 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 beginning to reap the rewards of that long crisis which was so threatening yet so full of opportunity. Offering 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 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 2009
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