Wednesday, 2 September 2015

52 Ordinary Words: Crisis

I always associate the word crisis with the turning point of a disease. Indeed the medical Latin term arises from the Greek word krisis, meaning decision. Thus it refers either to an event or to the point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death.

In any event, a crisis is a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; a turning point.

When David Whyte, in his book, Consolations, says that crisis is unavoidable, that every human life will eventually be drawn “toward the raw, dynamic essentials of its existence, as if everything up to that point had been a preparation… for a confrontation in an elemental form with our essential flaw,” I agree with him.  Until then we can only imagine how something will feel; how it will affect us. In this respect I well remember the experience of giving birth; no amount of imagining could have prepared me for it.

But I do wonder what he means by “our essential flaw.” I take that he is referring to that aspect of our human nature that tends to live beyond and above the stuff of life - “the rawness of life” - and to indulge in a “felt need to control the narrative of the story … with no regard to outside revelation.”

I can’t say that my response to any crisis in my life has felt like an encounter with a “robust luminous vulnerability,” although I would concede that when sat with a dying person I have felt “shot through with the necessary, imminent and inevitable prospect of loss.” And whilst I know how a crisis of faith can feel like a dark night of the soul, I have serious doubts that such a noche oscura del alma pertains to what many of us feel at a moment of crisis.

A crisis, to my mind, is that moment when our ability to choose is thrown into sharp relief; as such it represents an opportunity: to go backwards in fear, or forward in faith.

Our best response when confronted by a crisis is to ride it out on a wave of our own making; for at such moments, if we are prepared to give up our known selves, we have an opportunity to be “renamed, revealed and re-ordered”. (On a more sober note Whyte also tells us every time we endure a crisis we have attended another dress rehearsal for the process of our own dying.  I can't argue with that!)

My overriding impression is that Whyte is suggesting that we respond to the call of a crisis by living in the moment, without fear, but in a spirit of profound trust. For, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

6 comments:

  1. Thank you, Sophia, for your wonderful words of explanation, expanding on White's concept of crisis. They came at exactly the right time for me to find them.

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    1. Thank you, Mary. I'm delighted to know that they've helped.

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  2. Oh, I so enjoy the way you write and make me think. I like the visual of a tipping point, because I do think that once that crisis point is reached, there's no going back. We may try to control the narrative and end up only bitter. I am going to remember when faced with my next crisis to ride a wave of my own making.

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    1. Thank you very much, Kim. I struggled to unpack David Whyte's reading of this word, but I *think* I've got it right.

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  3. Me too, Sophia. I always learn from you, and will also try to remember this when crisis hits. I have just joined your site here, and look forward to more great thoughts!

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    1. Thank you, Carol. I'm flattered; really I am!

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