The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
34 years ago I almost died. Having travelled on a shoestring for months in Nepal and India without taking the necessary precautions, I got typhoid fever.
With my last dollars I could buy the cheapest ticket back to Europe and ended up in a youth hostel in Athens where I spent two days trying to recover from what I thought was just a bad case of diarrhoea.
What I did not know at the time is that typhoid flushes out everything you put into your body. Even though I was drinking water I was dehydrating fast and after two days I lost consciousness. The people in the youth hostel called an ambulance. The next thing I know is waking up in intensive care, attached to a number of tubes. I was getting pumped full of antibiotics and received life saving fluids intravenously.
Naturally I wanted to fly back to Norway the sooner the better. I learned from a compassionate doctor who spoke some German that I would not be allowed to fly until I was declared free of contamination.
After three weeks in the IC, I was allowed to fly home. I remember landing and getting out of the plane. There was a small breeze blowing which made me stumble and almost fall. After having spent weeks on my back in bed and having lost 15 kilos from my already skinny frame I was so weak I could hardly walk. However, my mind was sharper than ever.
I understand why spiritual seekers go on fasts when they meditate. Fasting makes you lucid, able to think clearly. My involuntary fast had made my mind razor sharp and two things stood out like black on white:
- Getting typhoid fever was a result my own irresponsible behaviour while travelling in India. My behaviour was a result of how I felt and how I was thinking at the time. I had grown up in a very negative family dynamic that had left me pretty traumatised, depressed and lost. Driven by my own unconscious despair, I had almost succeeded in taking my own life.
- If I would not change something, it would be a question of time before I would create a similar situation and then, perhaps, succeed in my death wish.
Those were the stakes when I friend handed me a book with the discourses of Osho, a spiritual Indian master. I read it like someone drowning grabs a life-buoy thrown into the water. It changed my life forever and probably saved it too.
The transforming message in the book was that personal growth is possible and even enlightenment is within reach for the sincere seeker. Meaning and purpose can be created and discovered and handicaps can become strengths. A time of crisis can become a stepping stone for growth and change. I had nothing to lose, except my life. What followed was me leaving my comfort zone and jumping into the world of personal growth.
At this moment the whole world is taken hostage by a new and virulent virus. It has turned our world upside down in a way unthinkable even just a few weeks ago. Borders are closing, public life has come to a standstill and most businesses are struggling. The world superpowers have begun a blame game of who is responsible for the disease. Social media is full of the usual misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Life as we know it and until now have taken for granted is over. There is uncertainty and fear, even distrust. Keeping distance has become a way of caring for one another. That guy sneezing in the supermarket could be infected. I walk the other way.
We can create possible scenarios, but the truth is, nobody knows for sure where this situation will go. It is a time of crisis and therefor also a time of tremendous potential for personal growth and development. If it worked for me I figure it can work for others. I dare say this pandemic could become a point of transformation for everybody, if used as an opportunity.
In China, the characters for the word ‘crisis’ are said to consist of the signs for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’, 危机, Although the symbols more accurately translates as ‘danger at a critical point’ it says something significant: what is happening now is an opportunity for change, on a personal level and all the way to a global level for humanity as a whole.
Somewhere we all know we need to change. We have full awareness of the fact that we are polluting the earth to such an extent that if it continues we will destroy the very eco-system that we depend on for our survival.
The following message from Standford’s Department of Earth System Science, referred on CNN on March 17, 2020, illustrates the irony of this situation:
“The drastic measures enforced by China during the coronavirus outbreak have slashed deadly air pollution, potentially saving the lives of tens of thousands of people, a Stanford University researcher said. Marshall Burke, an assistant professor at Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science, said the better air quality could have saved between 50,000 and 75,000 people from dying prematurely. The reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country,” Burke wrote on G-Feed, a site run by a group of scientists researching the relationship between society and the environment. “
Activists are rightfully asking why governments have not acted on the air pollution with the same urgency as with the corona virus? Finger pointing is unavoidable in this situation, but not very likely to produce the changes needed to prevent humanity from cutting the branch it is sitting on.
My hope is that this crisis will make us aware that we are all sitting in the same boat. That is, living on the same planet. Let’s take this pandemic as a wake-up call, a less than subtle hint from nature that we need to change and grow. We might as well. The alternative seems to be a slow global suicide.
What will produce the changes needed is increased personal awareness. Yes, starting with you! Not that the politicians or overpaid CEO’s don’t need to get it, but you cannot help them. You can help yourself and only then can you make a difference to the world.
Of all the possible practises to increase your personal awareness, let me give you one with some oomph: What we are all faced with at this particular moment is fear of death; fear of our own death and the fear of loosing loved ones. Ok, I can already hear a choir of voices saying “Me? No way!”. Even if you are not connected with that fear in a conscious way, meditating on your own death is recommended by every spiritual teacher through history. They say it is the most miraculous and mysterious moment of your life, and stuff.
Still not convinced? A University of Kentucky study found that “thinking about death fosters an orientation toward emotionally pleasant stimuli.” In other words: We think that thinking about death will make us less happy, but in fact, it might make us more happy. A golden rule applies: Whatever you suppress inside, you make it stronger. Whatever you embrace, recognise and accept, it will stay in motion and transform.
Whatever. A bit of introspection will do no harm. Let’s go:
Take some time to answer these questions. Don’t worry about making it beautiful prose, bullet-points will also do:
If I had one year left to live, I would…
If I had one month left to live, I would…
If I had one week left to live, I would…
If I had one day left to live, I would…
When you confront your own death, it helps you to see what matters to you in your life. Chances are you learn to appreciate what is really important to you. This could be health, love, friendship and finding your mission in life. Chances are that things related to status, money and living up to expectations will seem less important.
But who knows? Let’s leave it open.
I recommend you do it on an iPad or computer. Why? Because you have the option of looking at it every day and changing your narrative. The first time you do it you may decide that if you had one day left to live you would tell your upstairs neighbour exactly what you think about him. Hmm…, tomorrow you may want to change that and decide to give him a call before you go shopping and ask if he needs anything from the supermarket.
You get the point. The important thing is that you enter into a process of discovering what is important to you. What gives your life purpose and meaning? By looking at it regularly you will start zooming in on the things that really matter.
My own close encounter with death changed my life for the better. My choices at the time were either to change or to put an end to it all. I was in a sad state and I needed to take responsibility for what had happened to me. Growing up the way I had was not my fault, but it was my responsibility to do something about it. Covid -19 can not be blamed on anybody. However the responsibility lies with every one of us.
Let’s use what is happening right now in the world to change, starting with ourselves. It is with yourself that you have the most leverage. When you point a finger at someone else there are still three fingers pointing back at you:)
The thing is that once you start a process of self-discovery, you cannot undo what you learn. Growth and personal development becomes the norm. Whatever life presents to you becomes another learning possibility, another chance to step up, like now.
Projecting myself into the future, I look back at this precarious time with gratefulness, feeling grateful for this chance to grow.
Do not require the world to change, first change yourself. Then you can view the world clearly enough to change what you think needs to be changed.
Anthony de Mello
Anthony de Mello: Awareness (https://www.bol.com/nl/p/awareness/1001004000948565/?bltgh=lqnG-37w5Z9hWygBB05B7Q.1_4.5.ProductImage)