Warren Buffet, the 78-year old billionaire, recently said that our economy has “fallen off a cliff”. His words really struck me. And yet, even with 50 trillion dollar losses, he believes the world economy will still revive, in time, accompanied by inflation. He outlined specific tasks for the government, the federal reserve, the banks and consumers. The only thing I can actually do, if I were to follow his advice, is stop using credit cards — the rest of this free fall has to be “fixed” by powers greater than the consumer. His advice is both heartening and maddening because it returns many of us to a place of distrust and victimhood.
I have clients coming to me with so many losses: cutbacks, job loss, divorce, and illnesses which manifest as emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, hopelessness, self-doubt, anger and so much sadness. I have others who are in a different place. Spring break this year isn’t going to be a fancy trip down south and frankly, they’re a little relieved but also confused by their relief. While they aren’t happy to have lost so much, they’re somehow comforted, while anxious by the new set of economic boundaries. So, what can we do in that time between falling off the cliff and revival that could make us less fearful?
An unlikely source of inspiration was introduced to me recently in the form of the teachings of John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic who talked of the “dark night of the soul.” He explained that it was what happened when something gets taken away that you always thought would be there. He posited that this has to happen in order to grow and in the midst of “what do I do??” – you follow this through, abide with the feeling and know that you are being shown something you’ve never seen before.
I think we are being shown something we’ve never seen before. Older folks, like my mom, who weathered the depression have some experience with this dynamic, but really, the sheer numbers and drama involved is truly something we’ve never seen before.
A client of mine, who in the past year weathered a difficult divorce and now is dealing with financial stress recently sat across from me and tearfully explained that, “what worked before no longer works. It feels like such a loss and I do not yet know what will work. I have to let go of what I know, but I’m scared of what’s ahead.” We talked about this liminal space, the place between what was and what will be, and how scary and yet, universal it is. While she wanted answers from me to her problems, the best I could do was assure her that I was with her, that she was not alone in her journey and that the answers would come to her, perhaps not as quickly as she’d like, but they would come. John invites us to get comfortable with the darkness, with the “nada”, and to consider that from there we may begin to see light. I don’t think he was suggesting that we roll over and play dead, but paradoxically, we can do something by doing nothing.
This dynamic applies to everything we experience right now, from job loss to illness to truculent kids to relationship hell. It speaks to changes on a very personal as well as a global level. But, is there a payoff to patience and getting comfortable with the dark? Yes, according to good old John. Weathering the “dark nights” has the following potential benefits:
* It leaves us freer, more available, more responsive, more grateful.
* It liberates us from attachments and compulsions.
* It inspires us to minimize suffering and injustice whenever possible, and at the same time sheds a hope-filled light on the pain that cannot be avoided.
Here are some questions to ponder as we negotiate this dark abyss together:
~ What coping strategies are helping you in your plunge into the abyss? Chocolate? Exercise?
~ Are there any opportunities here?
~ Are you breathing?
~ For what are you grateful?