We all have personal crises. Those crises where our chest tightens, our brain fogs and our world seems like it’s swirling down the plughole. At the time, it feels like we are the only person in crisis while the lives of everyone around us are on an even keel. It’s not whether we have crises that distinguish us; it’s how we deal with them. Our education does little to prepare us for such crises. Our heads are filled with facts and figures. These may be useful in what one might term a mechanical crisis, a crisis that can be solved by the structured application of logic and knowledge. But when a crisis has an emotional dimension, often involving our most cherished relationships or even our relationship with ourselves, all the logic in the world adds up to very little. What we need is the equivalent of a mechanical toolkit that helps us deal with such moments. Well, here’s one. As you can see, it’s small. All the best toolkits are.
The tools included here were selected on the following criteria:
a) They’re available 24/7
I need tools now, not during business hours, while I’m pushing a trolley round a crowded supermarket or while I’m changing a nappy. I don’t have time to go to church or to the beach and I don’t have the space to meditate. I don’t need tools on a website, in a book or even in a garage. I need tools I can easily remember and I need them now.
b) They cost nothing
I don’t need tools that I have to pay for before using them or I simply won’t use them. I may not have the money to buy the tools or I may not have the time to acquire them. I don’t need tools with a next-day delivery. I need tools for free and I need them now.
c) They don’t clash with religious or other beliefs
I need tools, not a lecture on the correctness of my beliefs. Rightly or wrongly, the beliefs I hold right now are the beliefs I hold right now and that’s the only place I can resolve this crisis from. I need non-denominational, non-judgemental tools and I need them now.
That’s the intro done. Here are the tools. Put them to good use. Afterwards, clean them and put them in a nice little box. They’ll work much better the next time you need them.
Have you noticed that in times of crisis your whole body buzzes? That’s because it’s not just your mind that’s in crisis; your cells are too. You can talk to your mind but not to panicky cells. You can’t assure them everything’s fine. So how do you ease their fears? You breathe. Slow, deep, conscious breaths. Nothing fancy… No figure-of-eight infinity breaths, no upside-down, inside-out, loop-the-loop breaths. No holding counts of this or that. No imagining Nirvana; you need your mind to do less work, not more, and anyway they broke up years ago. Be aware of the breath entering, pausing and leaving your cells. Don’t try to de-panic them. As the breath flows clearly and calmly through your cells they will relax of their own accord.
2. Know it will be alright
At the time of crisis our mind fills with doom-laden thoughts. Instead of giving us solutions, our imagination crowds our brain with a secession of dreadful outcomes, each more appalling than the last. Remember the old adage: this too shall pass. Previous crises have passed without catastrophe, this one will too. Some of those prior crises even had beneficial outcomes in the long term. The adage that the Chinese word for crisis is comprised of two characters, danger and opportunity, may be bending the truth but it can be the case. In the midst of crisis we tend to focus on the downside. Breathe. Calm those cells then calm the mind by knowing that it will all come out in the wash.
This tool is like one of those handy double-ended spanners so it’s actually two tools rolled into one. One end of the spanner is accepting that this crisis is happening to you. The mind can whizz off into wishing that a problem had not occurred. This keeps you in denial and blinds you to any opportunities that may arise from knowing things will turn out all right. So breathe, accept the problem into your life and engage with it constructively.
The other end of the spanner is accepting responsibility for everything that happens to you. This doesn’t necessarily mean any legal or financial responsibility, which may or may not be yours; it means the emotional responsibility. As long as you regard someone else as responsible for your crisis you remain a victim. Victim mentality gets you thinking that the perpetrator owes you redress. Guess what? Fixing your crisis is probably not at the top of their agenda right now… or ever. So take internal responsibility for being in a mess, no matter who or what caused it. This moves you out of victim mode and frees your mind to think about solutions.
4. Don’t compromise
At times of crisis it’s very tempting to cut one’s losses and accept any kind of compromise deal that moves you out of crisis, at least in the short term. Can you feel that creeping sense of despair as you accept the compromise… that sinking, mud-in-your-boots feeling that your mind is desperate to ignore? Solely focused on easing the immediate stress, your mind screams at you to do the deal and take the short-term gain. But deep down you know you haven’t fully dealt with the problem, you’ve only swatted it away like a pesky fly that will come buzzing ‘round again. It’s tempting to believe that next time you’ll be better placed to deal with it. You won’t. A time of crisis seems like the worst time to dig your heels in over some intransigent issue. Actually, it’s the best time. The refusal to compromise – either with others or with your self – emits a powerful signal. Life starts to take you seriously. So breathe, know it will be all right, accept the problem, and don’t settle for anything less than a fair, full and permanent solution.
5. The solution already exists
Here’s the kicker, the weird alchemy that arises from using the first four tools in the toolkit. We live in a polarized world where everything is divided into opposites; nothing is neutral. Just like an electrical circuit that requires both positive and negative currents to function, what this means is that whenever one form of energy is present its opposite is also automatically present. So if you are experiencing a problem in your life, its solution is already out there. You just can’t see it yet, largely because your mind hasn’t been trained to look for it.
Not only does a solution exist, the perfect solution exists. It’s sitting there in the ether, drumming its metaphorical fingertips, waiting for you to use tools one to four so it can pop into physical existence and steal all the glory.
By knowing the solution already exists you draw it into your field of awareness. By not compromising you go for the Rolls-Royce solution, not the orange-crate home-made pedal-cart solution. By accepting responsibility you change job descriptions from victim to trouble-shooter. By knowing it will be all right you calm the mind so the outline of the solution can enter your perception. By breathing you settle those panicky cells so when that perfect solution registers in your mind your can distinguish it from all the clutter and the doom and the end-of-the-world babble presently doing the rounds.
Just be aware, the solution may be scarier than the problem!
Image: Tools by Josep Ma. Rosell on Flickr. Cropped to 16:9.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.