Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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Victor MacGill's website
Mandelbrot Set

My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

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My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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Short previews
of all talks

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
Line

Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
Line

Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
Line

Short previews
of all talks

Line

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Coping with Despair


Life seems to go in cycles. One cycle I have noticed in my life is moving between feelings of joy, confidence, strong self esteem and feeling on top of life in the one hand and despair and a lack of finding meaning and purpose in life on the other. Sometimes I can find myself driving along in my car feeling that it is absolutely miraculous that I am alive, of what a wonderful gift that is and that I cannot think of anything in life I want that I do not already have. I also have times, however,  when I wonder about all disasters that can and do strike at anytime and seem to take away everything of worth, everything we value. Money, health, relationships, friends, everything can disappear in an instant. I wonder why we should put in all the pain and effort for something that can just be gone in an instant. I wonder where God is while all this is happening. At times I don’t feel able to answer the question, Why is there life at all? Life can seem like just one big long struggle.

The only certainty about life is that life is uncertain. Life constantly changes and often takes us away from where we would like to be. Sometimes we do not achieve what we set out to do, or something we have had or achieved is taken from us. When the world about us changes, particularly if it is sudden or dramatic, we must reassess everything. The world is then not what we thought. We are not what we thought we were. We have to reassess ourselves. The old picture has been taken away, the old world we new that gave us comfort is gone, there is no choice but to form a new world, a new picture of how we thinks things are.

Death of Dacjo and Pam’s cancer left me with a sense of despair – my old picture of God was broken and no longer usable. I hadn’t realised, but deep down I was still living off the idea that if I was a good person and did things in a spiritual way then I would not generate bad karma and bad things wouldn’t happen to me.

That is a mistaken view of life. We learn by challenges and need things we perceive as bad in order to grow. This bitter lesson is being taught to me and I am slowly integrating into myself that fact that the truth of life lies beyond pain, suffer and loss. We must embrace, but not wallow in the sufferings of life and reach beyond. Sometimes I do well, sometimes I don’t.

When the familiar is removed, we naturally feel lost and pulled apart. What we have relied on for our identity is suddenly not there or changed significantly. To be pulled apart like this is distressing and we cannot stay in this state in the long term without affecting our health and general stability.

We react to these situations in different way. For some people the reaction is anger and rage, expressing the feelings outwardly. Others express the fear inwardly as grief, despair and sometimes depression. Which ever way we react, we are doing it in an attempt to make sense of what has happened. Often first our reaction is to deny what has happened and distort our view of the world so we can pretend everything is the same. Sooner or later we have to give up that game and face reality. We then start to reconstruct a new world for ourselves, it is the beginning of healing.

Over time we come to reconstruct ourselves in a way that makes sense of the new situation we have found ourselves in. In order to get there we may need to alter our lifestyle, change our diet, exercise, change our beliefs, we may need to shift to another location, or perhaps accept a world that lacks something vital it had before and accept the gap left in ourselves.

The question is of course, how we keep on going when we are in the depths of despair. There is no easy answer, and the answer for one person may have no effect, or even be destructive for another. Here are some things that have helped me.

Although times of despair are difficult, they are also times of opportunity. They are times that push us into examining ourselves and the world around us. Particularly when there is no old world to return to,when things have changed and will never be the same again, there is no way but forwards. Our old picture of reality won’t do any more so we have to find a new one. We must somehow integrate the recent disturbing events back into ourselves to regain our feeling of confidence and strength. Although it is distressing, it is a time where we have much to gain because our new self can be far more whole, more real and more effective.

So, strangely, if we don’t have difficult times, and times of despair, when we feel pulled apart, we also don’t grow and when we have stopped growing we have died. So when we feel despair we shouldn’t just push it away and deny it, but examine our despair to find where it is really coming from, to acknowledge and feel our pain and suffering.

That doesn’t mean we go seeking despair, it just means when it comes we recognise and acknowledge it for what it is. And we certainly don’t go into despair to the point where we are overwhelmed by it and we are devoured by it. That is as dangerous as denying and repressing our suffering and despair.

And we shouldn’t worry about making mistakes and not getting it right, to be worried about not being perfect. That only increases our despair. Woody Allen once said If you don’t fall over now and then, you’re not trying hard enough. It is human to make mistakes, to stuff up and if we don’t stuff up now and then something is going wrong!! If we always get things right we are actually not growing any more. We will not grow until we have the courage to try something new, something we may not succeed at. It is far more important to get up after a fall then to never fall. When times are hard, when we fail, we are usually learning far more than when everything is running perfectly smoothly.

I find it useful also to recognise the wider patterns in life. Knowing life always changes can be helpful. I am reminded of a Buddhist story of a coin given to a king as a source of advice in all circumstances. On both sides, was inscribed had ‘This too will change”. When good things happened and he was successful in his life, he would flick the coin and read, This too will change. So he knew not to get too carried away, too big for his boots, for the success would not last forever – and when things went badly for him and he was sad and in despair he would read ‘ This too will change, and know his pain and suffering would have an end and there would be good times to follow.

Reaching out to other people is extremely important when in despair. The more we are in despair, the more we move into our own world and sever links with those around us. Our problems are so overwhelming they take up all our space and energy. There is none left for anyone else. The more we distance ourselves, the more isolated we feel, the more despair we feel. We become preoccupied with our own problems and develop a tunnel vision where we blind ourselves to other people who may be able to help. There are most usually people who have been through what we are going through, who may really want to help and support us, who may have good advice or who may be surprisingly to us very distressed at our predicament that we are blocking out. The world looks blacker and blacker because we deny that which can give us light and encouragement I find looking to those close to me, even just thinking about them helps lift me up and regain my sense of balance. The people about us will not be perfect and sometimes it will be hard to see the love in them, it is very common for people in despair to not be aware of how willing people are to help. The person in despair loses touch with the distress they cause those wishing to help them but are blocked out.

When we feel in despair, it is so important to reach out to people who can help as soon as possible before the downward spiral has progressed too far, before the distance to be bridged becomes too great.
 
In spite of any despair I may feel, even deeper within me I feel an end point we all all moving towards. It is the point of perfection, of wholeness, an omega point towards which all life is drawn, a point where all is one and that one is love.

It can be hard to see the omega point. It often seems like we fell from the Garden of Eden and we have just kept falling and kept falling and kept falling ever since. We can feel like a mighty castle, which over the centuries is just worn away bit by bit by the wind and rain until it is seen no more, like a clock that winds down going slower and slower. The omega point is in the opposite direction, the direction of evolution where we reach higher and higher levels of consciousness over time until all is finally brought together in the unity of all that is.

How do I know there is an omega point. It is only a feeling deep within, not just a fleeting feeling, not one I use to I fool myself so I don’t have to face unpleasant truths, but a deeper one within. I can’t prove it to you, and talking about it may be totally useless for someone else in despair if they cannot touch that point for themselves. Somehow I know it is there within me and within you.. I believe everyone has something to turn themselves towards the omega point, if only it can be found.

It can be very hard to find the will to go on when in despair, to find a way back to the light, the pathway of learning that makes us more whole. It can be very hard to keep on going and we cannot blame those who just find it too hard. but there is an omega point, a reason for hope and though I may often lose sight of it, it is there and it calls us through time, to be our full and true selves, to live our true nature and be that which we truly are.

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