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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Other Face of Catastrophe

The Other Face of Catastrophe

            Disaster happens!   Severe tornadoes and the Mississippi River flooding are the latest in a long line of environmental catastrophes.  Lost or damaged homes, human life, possessions and crops have, once again, brought despair to human beings who urgently need a way to cope with the adversity that life can bring. 
            Viewing a situation in terms of its opportunities rather than its agonies can help anyone, anywhere to deal with hardship.  What if there was actually a grander purpose in all crises?  What if tragedies such as this could make us stronger and wiser?  What if we could learn something profound or useful from our experience?  I believe that it is the nature of the Universe in which we live to challenge us to improve ourselves and discover hidden pockets of knowledge and power that we didn’t even know we possessed.  If we open to this possibility, not only can we navigate rough waters more easily, but we can also develop amazing new versions of ourselves – ones more masterful and empowered, self-aware and compassionate.
            My life has certainly had its trials.  I’ve struggled with chronic illness, an estranged sister, irrational fear, deep loss, the murder of a close friend and a myriad of other “mountains to climb.”  I’ve worked with students and clients who’ve faced similar challenges: abuse, loss of jobs, homes and loved ones, hospitalizations, domestic violence, and yes, environmental disasters.  All of these events tend to rip us down, bring us to our knees or leave us raw.  And yet, it is in these very moments, when we are feeling most vulnerable, that we become willing to reach outward and upward.  We agree to reinvent ourselves, to consider new ideas, new knowledge, new behavior.  So it’s really to our advantage to undergo adversity with an attitude of curiosity and eagerness to learn what we can on the journey.  We are being presented with an amazing opportunity to make changes that we’ve always desired.
            When I was hospitalized a few years ago for 12 days with a serious and unusual illness, I was terrified at first.  I couldn’t have felt more vulnerable during that time.  And to make matters worse, my doctors were anxious and concerned about me.  They were afraid I wouldn’t make it, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what was going on.  I was as frightened as I’d ever been, and it didn’t help that medication I was on was adding to the almost constant anxiety.  I was dealing with loss at all levels, work, home, familiar surroundings, people I usually spent time with, a functional body etc.  But as I moved through my fears, using all the inner tools I had, including deep prayer and finally surrender, I was given all the resources I needed to further access and activate new inner sources of insight, understanding and vigor.  I have to admit that this experience helped to make me what I am today.    When the storm finally let up 5 months later, new and wonderful things came into my life, as if they were waiting for me to make room for them.   I published two books and began a new business, both of which I am extremely grateful for, and honored to share with others.
            However, the important story here isn’t so much “me” and “my” life.  It’s really about all of us, and the amazing human capacity we have to transcend real tragedy and rise from its ashes.  The human spirit is incredible, powerful, clever and resourceful.  If we can just believe this, we find that we can overcome any condition or circumstance with amazing results!  To me, evolution is about change, and change is first and foremost about letting go of mind-sets we’ve been holding onto that are really hurting us in some way.   Catastrophe provides a vehicle for letting go.  Evolution is also about adapting attitudes and perceptions that bring about greater freedom, security and happiness.  Viewing my illness in retrospect, I can see how Divine Spirit was at work the whole time, cradling me and urging me forward, sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully.  Yes, it took time, and yes, the journey was uncomfortable, to say the least.  But now I see through different eyes and have total confidence that anyone who faces a catastrophe, if they want to, can fly again, this time higher than ever before! 


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. When my first child was born with autism and a host of other developmental impairments, my world turned upside down. All I could think of was, "Why me, how could this have happened?" Eventually I turned away from the edge of the black hole I was about to fall into and reached inside. Somehow I found the strength to start a support group (which eventually grew into the Merle and Shirlee Harris Children's Division of JARC), and I found a wonderful new world of supportive people and organizations such as The Friendship Circle. Today my daughter is 24, and yes, she still has autism and other significant issues, but she is sweet and wonderful young woman who has taught me far more than I could ever teach her. While I'm not comparing this to a life-threatening situation or natural disaster, I do believe that there is much we can learn from challenges and even tragedies. A friend calls it "going through the eye of the needle." So thank you, Laurie, for the insightful and inspirational words.

  2. Ronelle, Thanks so much for your comment. Autism is indeed, a challenge. But your perseverance, courage and love pulled you to the other side. I'm sure your daughter is an absolute delight now, in so many ways. It's amazing what kind of gifts adversity can bring! I had an aunt who was mentally challenged (I think that's was they call it today). She was so kind and loving, and taught us all about what was most important in life - the simple, little things, like excitement, smiles, togetherness. She was a real blessing to my family.