Portland, Maine lighthouse. Photo credit: Jill Dutton www.USAbyRail.blog
Finding Your Port in the Storm
By Dr. Cara Lee Barker
What a world, huh? Everything’s topsy turvy.
Old structures are crumbling. In their rubble, I am reminded of what the Buddha said eons ago: “Life is change. Life is suffering.”
Much younger when I first heard that, I could give a nod to the fact that life is change. But, suffering? I thought naught. The idea since the 70’s, until the present, was to just “think positive” and the bad stuff would vanish, and we would evolve. I am not saying that the trend in my field toward Positivity Psychology has no merit. It does. But to depend on that to remove weeds from my garden does not vanquish the intruders. Nor does it alter the havoc Hurricane Ian is creating upon Florida, as torrential flood waters rise and people die.
The truth is we are experiential learners. It took years to undergo four major conflicts that changed my life and perspective. I am not alone. Neither are my clients/patients. Ironically, they, too, have found themselves in the maelstrom of painful change, with no way to sort it out, and transform their suffering. When pain is deep, it brings disorientation. Some Africans refer to this period as “walking the path beneath the gray cloud.” Indeed.
Years ago, Dr. Tom Holmes developed the “Live Change Event Inventory.” Turns out that those enduring the most change (both positive and negative) had an enormous probability of ending up hospitalized 18 months later. As Dr. Bessel van de Kolk has found, the body keeps the score.
At the time, Dr. Holmes and I discussed the really big change events, and how they might be categorized? Clueless at 35, I got curious. How do we transform our lives in the presence of the toughest experiences?
I have spent the past 36 years investigating the forms of suffering holding the greatest potential for our further development. Each of the four can hurl us into the dreaded unknown. During these passages, it is of little consolation to recall that chaos had always preceded new development, just as it was for our ancestors.
How can life be rebuilt in the major storms of hurt? How can damage be minimized in the toughest winds of change? The major storms are: (1) trauma, loss, and grief; (2) monster indecision regarding our next best step; (3) lost authentic voice; (4) navigating love disappointments.
Significant suffering escalates when we are flooded with any, or all of the following beliefs: (1) ‘I can’t ask for help’; (2) ‘There is no help’; (3) ‘I’ll just stay busy and not think about it’; (4) ‘If I let myself feel this pain, it will get worse’; and (5) ‘I’ll never find a way through this.’
Meister Eckhart, a visionary monk in the 1200’s, put the situation this way: “God strips us of our props.” As the Gospels of St. Thomas put it: “If we do not bring forward what is within us, what is within us will destroy us. But, if we bring forward what is within, what is within us will heal and save us.” To heal, we must assess those beliefs which block new ways of being that support trusting our own interior guidance system. How? Perhaps the hardest challenge is to cultivate inner stillness enabling the ‘wee small voice’ to guide us through the daunting.
Blessedly, mindfully paying attention to bodily signals and dreams can help. The tricky thing is: and willingness to be vulnerable, and finding trained assistance to plummet the depths of our being, locating indisputable advice that only the heart can reveal. As Heart Math has found: the energy of the heart is 5000 times more powerful than the brain.
I can promise you this. First, you are not alone. Second, it’s not only possible, but probable to improve your quality of life, and sense of aliveness, if you are willing to do the dig into the required subterranean terrain. This takes guts, I assure you. When my only son was killed in college 31 years ago, when I got divorced, when my career direction dead-ended, and when my relationship to love was challenged and expanded, my life became wholehearted, more joyful, more promising. But first, I had to let go those props.
May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you find gentleness in the midst of the storm.
Zurich trained Jungian Analyst, Dr Cara Lee Barker, has assisted literally over 200,000 people to honor their true nature, finding purpose through their pain, for over 50 years. Keynote speaker, retreat leader, international teacher, her work has spanned the globe.
Born in Washington, DC, she integrates her professional and very personal experiences of loss, growth, and transformation into her latest book, Nighlight: My Soul Calling, Body Listening, Heart Speaking. She lives on the shore of a lake in Kirkland, Washington.