A Way of Coping

One of the benefits of an intentional practice of self-knowledge is that such practices allow us to “connect the dots” in a way that is deeper and more nuanced than the casual reflection we might do as we drive to our next appointment, or drag the trash down the stairs. When we take time to sift through our days, we find hints, clues, seemingly unrelated events that begin to form a pattern.

This kind of deeper reflection can be enormously reassuring and useful as we strive to live better every day. Sometimes seeing the pattern of our behavior helps us laugh at ourselves; “Oh, no wonder she makes me mad; she’s just like my little sister”. Sometimes, we find habits that no longer serve us, like cooking for four when there are only two in our household.

But self-knowledge can also be downright scary. At a moment when we remember childhood abuse, or put the pieces together to realize that our children are in danger, or finally understand a betrayal, it can be devastating. We may be fearful, angry or disoriented by the power of such self-revelation.

It is at this point that the practice of self-discovery, the intentional work that we are doing, needs to help us. For this reason, we dis-engage from the world, briefly. For this reason, we start with cleansing breaths. And for this reason, we have rituals that re-connect us to the world, and allow us to take a step back from the intensity of the experience.

Our first impulse, when we have a moment of revelation, is to act. Unless we have discerned an urgent, physical danger to ourselves or someone else, we should curb that impulse. We need to be able to use our rational skills to figure out what to do with our knowledge. Breath is really important; take 10 deep breaths, slowly, to recenter your body. Rituals are important; finish your practice, do whatever you usually do at the end, and re-engage with the world around you.

Now you can spend a couple of minutes thinking about responses to what you know. Don’t do anything yet. If your realization was powerful and painful, leave it “in a box”, so that you can get on with your day. Promise yourself that you will deal with it later, and revisit it tomorrow. When you have figured out a course of action, move deliberately to do what you feel you need to do; a phone call, some research, a change in your activities. Often, you need do nothing; just see the world differently. If you find something that is really alarming, consider a conversation with someone you trust, or seek counseling.

But you are not alone; the Holy Spirit that brought you this revelation will be your Guide and Comforter. God is more powerful than even the most disturbing realizations, and God’s power is available to you all the time.

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