Crises are some of the most significant human experiences. All of us have encountered them at times. Crises might last from a few short moments to days, even years. However, the primary significance of a crisis is not how long it lasts, but what it means to us. In general, crises involve experiencing a profound shock, a commotion at the depths of our being, a breakdown of what we had taken for granted, of that which had been firm or durable. When in crisis, we feel like the foundations and structures of our being, the values on which we have built values of our lives, are shaken strongly, including our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Therefore, we experience decreased self-confidence, as well as an erosion of our inner sense of security, stability, and our routines. Our routines are especially impacted and shaken! An illness, a separation, or a loss might produce such a crisis—a painful, shocking, and sometimes traumatic experience. Each crisis opens an irreversible fissure in our routine, that which might call our Tower, a kind of prison that envelopes us, a prison built over time by our actions, omissions, and/or by our energetic attraction to something that makes us suffer, even though we are used to it.
[The Tower, XVIth Major Arcanum,
The Crystal Tarots, artwork by Elisabetta Trevisan]
The Tarot—especially the twenty-two Major Arcana cards—contains images that symbolize some of the most significant human experiences. The Tower represents core crises in life; deep cracks in our established ways of being; but also turning points which can lead us to insightful learnings which might represent painful opportunities to mature and which always involve certain liberation from ignorance.
When in crisis, we feel moods so strong and unpleasant that we just want the suffering to stop as soon as possible. While in crisis, and experiencing suffering from anger, frustration, disappointment, humiliation, depression, and/or desperation, it’s unlikely that we will practice mindfulness. Instead, we are more likely to say something like this: It hurts so much! I have to fix it! I have to make the suffering stop! And yet we know that complaining is useless, that blaming is in vain, that denying what hurts us increases the suffering, and wastes mental energy that is needed to find effective solutions for the crisis, as well discovering useful learnings from our suffering.
What can we really do when in crisis? This is the most important question for addressing this existential, inevitable human experience. Recognizing that crises are different for each of us, I suggest the following three basic steps to deal with it: (1) cultivating mindful acceptance; (2) trying to understand each crisis and reveal its learnings; and (3) practicing gratitude. Let’s take a brief glance on them.
I. ACCEPTING REALITY MINDFULLY
What does the Enneagram have to say about reality itself?
It is well known that according to the Gurdjieff perspective, the Enneagram is not simply a static, geometric figure, but primarily a kind of schema of life’s dynamism, which is able to explain the changing flow of all the realities in the world. This is the first Enneagram lesson: Everything changes; everything flows.
The hexagram results from the relation between the fundamental unity represented by the circle and the Law of the Seven, 1/7 = 0, 1428571… The central triangle arises from the relation between the fundamental unity and the Law of the Three. It establishes three equidistant points within the circle, the centers of the triads: doing, feeling, and thinking. All of these are not by chance. This is the second lesson of the Enneagram that underlays the symbolism of its geometric structure: Nothing is in the wrong place; each point takes its own rightful place within the whole order.
It would be a very good thing to remember this when in crisis: Everything changes for a reason; and it does so according to an order, so that each change has a meaning within the whole. Considering this, we will be able to cope with crises with less rigidity, more plasticity, and more open and receptive inner attitudes. These are conditions of possibility for more assertive, consequential actions to overcome the crisis.
How can we accept this reality?
The first step to cope with crises is accepting the facts; reality as it is. This is not about resignation; it is about being mindfully present in accepting the true nature of reality, which is flow, change. To do this, we should just look at reality from a mindful perspective, so that we can find peace, even in suffering, by cultivating an accepting attitude of the changes, of life’s flow itself. In other words, we should try to accept sincerely the facts as they are.
You can take some nice, deep breaths while considering… This/that is broken. — It is over. — It is lost… Indeed, it hurts! Do not forget that there is a great lesson to learn from any crisis—at a minimum, the acceptance of limits. Yes, the limits! Only an Infinite Being, by definition, has no limits. We are not Gods; we are finite beings! All of our existence is limited; all things in our lives have a start and an end, including ourselves. Once again, the first lesson the crisis entails is that on the human level, everything has limits.
II. SEARCHING FOR MEANINGS AND LEARNINGS
If we start searching for the meaning to a crisis by asking “Who is guilty?” or “Who is at fault here?”, we are running in the wrong direction. Understanding a crisis does not necessarily imply finding a culprit. Each bad thing happening to us is not simply our fault, nor our neighbor’s fault, nor God’s fault. Every change in the world has a myriad of causes involved. Actually, pointing to a culprit is far, very far, from finding out the real meaning of any crisis.
When in crisis, many people do not want to understand the underlying significance of the situation. They just want to vent their negative emotions—such as hate, resentment, and pain—onto someone/something designated as the guilty one. However, in doing so—sometimes onto the wrong person or object—the mind finds no rest because you have not discovered the meaning of the crisis. Until you find a more significant meaning, negative emotions and thoughts will return like flies around a wound. To seek after the meaning underlying the crisis we have to make a sincere effort to leave aside negative emotions such as anger, frustration, humiliation, and sadness.
To find the deeper meaning contained within a crisis, you should consider at least two elements, ‘from and toward’, which constitute a sort of course or direction for the mind to understand the issue. The same can be applied to any crisis. Its direction is framed by the tension between where it comes from—the causes—and where it goes—the aim. The Enneagram can help us analyze the crisis to discover both aspects.
On the one hand, the purpose of a crisis always contains a certain vital learning and also a kind of ‘liberation’. Again, take some nice, deep breaths; close your eyes, and look through the inner eye of the mind. Look gently at the present, and consider: What does this crisis mean to me? What can I learn from it? Something is true: Nothing happens by chance in our lives. Everything has certain meaning, even though it is not completely clear right now.
On the other hand, understanding the causes that produce a crisis can help us learn more from our experience. When we are able to see the causes producing the crisis, the suffering involved makes sense and it becomes more fruitful and bearable for us to deal with it. On the contrary, nonsense turns the suffering into something too hard, unbearable, and barren.
The first great teaching of the Enneagram—that everything flows—teaches us that when energy has been blocked in some existential aspect of our life (e.g. in our physical, mental, emotional, relational, material, motivational, or spiritual life), sooner or later we will fall into a crisis if that energy flow is not reestablished. The energy flow can be blocked by either excess or deficiency, or simply by energy becoming depleted because of it being oriented toward absurd schemes or unhealthy mental patterns.
Blockages of energy belong typically to the egoic plane. Therefore, in order to overcome a crisis, it is essential to not only to know oneself, but to also work hard to remove unhealthy patterns, even attaining self-transcendence by going beyond the egoic identification (our Enneatype) to reach the awareness of the Being itself.
Following the Enneagram diagram, the nine points can help us to identify blockages of energy, which might be at the foundation of our crises. Regardless of our personality style, any or several of them—if not them all—might become the root of a particular crisis. We need to pay attention to them all.
Point 1. Inflexibility. Plasticity is an essential condition for existence. Every living being needs a certain degree of plasticity, allowing them to adapt to the environment. Otherwise it would be very difficult—if not impossible—to survive. Directly opposed to the flow of life’s energy, rigidity reinforces artificial structures that bind reality and its natural qualities in unhealthy ways. Inflexibility does not allow intermediate points between extremes to be experienced and explored. However, existence is not rigid—as with art, it has many colors and hues. Of course, reality includes not only a pole and its opposite but all intermediate points. So, in order to avoid our life energy stopping and not flowing through physical, emotional, relational realms, we must accept that flow, variety, and change really are more valuable than our mental patterns or frames we place over them. On this point, Martin Heidegger would say: “Just let being be!”
Point 2. Dependency. There are different forms of dependence. Sometimes it appears paradoxically like becoming dependent on independence or becoming dependent on recognition resulting in strategies such as seduction, helpfulness, or even loving others. What would it mean to set free from our own dependence—whatever it be? Beings, things and people already existed before our entrance into the world, and many of them will continue existing when we are not here—or when we are not in the way now we are. We all need something from others, but nobody is absolutely necessary for anyone. Learning to love authentically means learning to live freely. Moreover, learning how to be genuinely free implies learning to love truly. Saint Augustine said: “Love, and do what you want.” I would add, make sure that you are really loving instead of creating dependence, or becoming attached to it.
Point 3. Appearance. According to ancient philosophers, beauty itself is defined as that which pleases the eyes. Beauty brings enjoyment and pleasure to the person who is able to contemplate aesthetic wonders with no attachment. If someone only lives for themselves or their works to be liked by others, without enjoying the beauty itself, that person probably lives like a slave in his/her own prison. Who would deny that harmony, proportion, smoothness, order, and effectiveness are important in human life? However, if ‘packaging’ takes first place, what about the value of reality itself? You should not strive to make something if you are not able to enjoy and share the product. For whom do you do what you do? As The Little Prince said: “Remember, what is essential is invisible to the eye”. And do not forget that you cannot fully enjoy what you are not able to share.
Point 4. Contempt. Whoever does not value the inside will find little value in everything else. A child goes blind to everything except their own emotions when they feel angry, resentful, wounded, or worse, disconnected from the source of care and love. When we feel like that child, we hardly appreciate the great gift that lies in front of the eyes—the present. Not all wounds can be stitched with presence; nor can all kinds of lack be filled with things, achievements, and relationships. Paradoxically, we can experience whatever sense of lack is left behind when we are able to enjoy the scent of a flower, be amazed at an insect, or animal or when we are able to laugh with a child, give and receive an embrace and enjoy it. The point is that nothing can fill up a hole from the past―maybe an overestimated hole―except the experience of being fully connected to the present moment. That is the key! In the end, whatever thing you are looking forward to, yearning for, sometimes unconsciously, is not something absent except the present itself, and the ability to be connected to Being which is always present. If you enjoy the smallest things in the present, your heart will naturally transmute the bitterness and criticism into gratitude and joyful creativity. Melanie Klein would say: Turn your envy into continuous gratitude, and you will feel that your heart is reborn bringing new, good prospects with it.
Point 5. Disconnection. Although all things are connected, that connection itself is not evident for external eyes but only for the inner eye. And fear, whether it be the fear of feeling too deeply, of letting ourselves go, of being used by others, of being ‘empty’, or of losing everything makes us feel isolated and it disconnects us from life’s flow. But on reflection, what would we/can we really lose? Which leads us to consider the next question. What do we treasure the most in life? What do we refuse to lose the most? What if deep down the fear of emptiness is what we really refuse to let go of? In fact, we don’t want to let it go! Because we are used to it. We are so attached to our fear of emptiness that we strive to fill us up with many things, and we protect ourselves and our possessions by building both visible and invisible walls around us―walls of coldness, insensitivity, and self-sufficiency. Being disconnected from our own heart disconnects us from others’ love. The fear of not being loved makes us impermeable from others’ love. We are so attached to the fear of emptiness that we forget something fundamental, namely that neither fear nor emptiness is ours to possess, so we can let them go without diminishing our authentic self. What we are, what we call Being, does not diminish. What could we lose? Mother Teresa reminds us: “There is more joy in giving than receiving; you give love, you’ll receive love.”
Point 6. Mistrusting. We will not be able to rely on anyone/anything without first removing from our mind the ghosts of past disappointments and frustrations, which are operating in the present and projected into the future. The point is not about either throwing the pigs our pearls, or trusting someone who does not deserve our confidence. The point is that we do not trust ourselves, and then we mistrust anyone/anything around us. The primary object of faith is neither outside nor far away, but very close to and within us. Strength and security are not outside but inside us. In fact, to overcome the fear of darkness, it is better to learn to get along with the dark and stay in it long enough without desperation for transformation to occur, rather than just turning the light on. After all, it is good to remember that with or without light, our being remains essentially the same. Inner security does not arise from what we see, but from trusting, accepting, and loving what we are just as we are. Perhaps, it would be necessary that an angel touches our forehead to help us remember that both warmth and home-security are beating in our heart, in our mind, but not in something/someone else. In this line, St. John says, “There is no fear in love.”
Point 7. Escaping. Whether it’s moving along unexpected roads, flying, traveling in reality or in imagination; experiencing diversity, giving free rein to curiosity; avoiding commitments, jails/limits, and bad vibes; freedom, spontaneity, optimism, variety and change at all kinds; or no boredom, routine, or monotony, you can always do something different, or at least you can imagine it. You can always plan something new. Anyway, for some people experience such a life style, although it can bring conflicts and crises in relationships and in other areas. However, is constant movement and restlessness, swallowing without savoring, really necessary? Do you really need to jump, run, fly… all the time from here to there? Let ask yourself: Right now, what am I escaping from? Perhaps you are just escaping from stopping to scape. What would happen if you stop escaping? Consider this: Wholeness of Being includes everything—what exists and what does not, all of the yes and the no; presence and absence; even though the mind separates things by opposites putting ones against other. Then, we escape by running toward others. But the truth is that all of the things are connected, all opposites are included in the Wholeness of Being. So in certain way, it is not possible to escape from anything. Considering this can help us stop escaping from our daily life. In other words, you can keep doing what you ordinarily do, but with less anxiety, resting in your inner center, and knowing that you have everything already, and you also have nothing, but if you live mindfully, peacefully, you do not need to escape from anything. Heraclitus of Ephesus would tell us something like this: Find your own Logos (meaning/way), then you will rest in the flow of all things.
Point 8. Forcing. It is true that to make a cake you have to break some eggs, but why would you make a cake if not to celebrate, enjoy, or share something? The same force might be used to destroy, dominate, force, or to build, care, and protect something/someone. Likewise, fire like light can burn and destroy. Fire intensity might become attractive to some, but scary to others. Strength and power are essential for any kind of progress, but in excess, they can also lead us into ruin and abyss. This excessive intensity is the exact etymological mining of the term lust. Lust does not ask politely; lust forces the reality to satisfy itself. Many crises might arise from lustful, forcing attitudes. It is a great art to learn how to use the power of fire while controlling its limits. Revenge is useless, and it is not justice; revenge just lets you release your angry-fire. On the contrary, justice results in the restoration of a previous balance. True justice cannot be forced. True balance never can be restored by forcing things/people lustfully. Actually, from the perspective of the high mind, there is no need to force anything/anybody to restore the balance of things. The Law of Karma reminds us: Every action produces a reaction so that the equilibrium is restored by itself in the whole.
Point 9. Inertia. No one can live sleepily in the clouds of inertia, indeterminacy and indolence his/her entire life. At some point we need to wake up! Ego’s inertia is so strong that it has been taken by us human-beings as our true nature. This becomes the main obstacle to our awakening and inner evolution—compulsively thinking we are fine even when actually we are not, or thinking all things are better just as they are than otherwise; as the (Spanish) proverb says: “Better bad known than good to know.” Ego is more comfortable when enmeshed within inertia rather than experiencing authentic, conscious self-determination. Even when it seems like an effective way to avoid daily conflicts, sooner or later inertia takes us into bigger conflicts and crises. But, how can you leave inertia if you remain asleep in it? Well, each crisis remembers us that we should wake up. Like St. Paul was awakened by a ray pulling him down from the horse, we too need sometimes crises pull us down from the horse of inertia to awake. Once on the ground—as we fall when in crisis—we leave the clouds and we are able to connect again to Earth that sustains us as we awake and evolve. Spiritual teachers of all times have said: When each single consciousness awakes, the whole world awakes with them.
If you do not wake up, you do not discern truth; if you do not discern truth, you do not decide right action; if you do not determine right action, you do not ever overcome crises. Otherwise, you are only making sand castles. There is no time to lose! Another (Spanish) proverb says: “Lazy oxen will drink muddy water.” And this is never truer than on the spiritual plane. If we always procrastinate our awakening, we will never drink the fresh waters of renewal and enlightenment because Being is always present and only in the consciousness of presence we can find the meaning of our existence and the most comprehensive and best solution to each particular crisis.
III. PRACTICING GRATITUDE
If crises are something of value, it is because they help us wake up from the ego’s dysfunctional patterns, which support and perpetuate the underlying causes of crises in life: inflexibility, dependency, appearance, contempt, mistrusting, escaping, forcing, inertia. Using these nine points as guidelines to analyze crises, you can identify specific energetic blockages―from one to nine in the same crisis―that might be in the root of them, so that you can find certain comprehension and make sense to each crisis also. However, sometimes we do not want to understand why the things go wrong because we know that most of the time we need to take responsibility for what is making us suffer. Even when we cannot see it clearly, most of the time we collaborate to generate crises by our own dysfunctional mental patterns.
Accepting the facts, understanding their roots, and taking responsibility let us learn important lessons from each crisis in life. Doing so, we have much to thank for each crisis. Every time we say thanks for learning something in life, we get energized by a sort of transforming energy. Nothing is more powerful than giving thanks sincerely from an insightful experience, even when it is painful. Taking responsibility for our crisis makes us more mature, realistic, and conscious beings. The authentic inner growth and wisdom come not from theoretical knowledge but from the practice of both self-observation and unconditional self-accepting. If grateful, you will never become completely desperate in the middle of the crisis because you know you can learn something important for your own development, something that might bring you experience, maturity, and in the future. A wise person is also a resilient and grateful person because he/she is always able to learn something new from whatever happen to them.
Marcelo Aguirre has degrees in Psychology and Philosophy and is a psychotherapist and teacher of the Enneagram. He co-founded the IEA Argentina Affiliate. You can contact him at [email protected] or www.marceloaguirreweb.com