As I am in the midst of making some major life decisions, I thought this excerpt from Joan Borysenko's book "Fire in the Soul" might inspire us all to look at our crises as initiations:
"What a difference it would make if a person in the throes of a life crisis were called, as in the Ndembu tongue, a mwadi - an initiate - and then skilfully led to a rebirth. Instead our psychological initiates are often labeled neurotic, psychotic, addictive or character-disordered, labels that create helplessness and low self-esteem. These labels reinforce the fearful story that we are damaged and less than whole, a belief that prevents accessing the First Stories of initiation that the universe provides to help us move out of liminality into rebirth.
Some of the power of twelve-step recovery programs comes from the context in which addiction is placed - the new stories that Bill W. created that echoed the truth of the First Stories. In anonymous programs, addictions are transitions between a life where the person was out of touch with a High Power and one in which the reality of that Power becomes not only the force for recovery but also a renewal of the meaning of life. Addiction as a mwadi experience, for those who are willing to see it in that light, creates a context of excitement, empowerment and even gratitude for the addiction as a conduit to a new, more self-aware and fulfilling role.
Psychological problems and addiction are not the only challenging life-events where context effects outcome. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, in his moving book Man's Search for Meaning, talks about life in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. In those most terrible of times some people succumbed to the inevitable epidemics that swept the camp, dying before the brutality of the Nazis and the fire o the ovens could consume them. Others, those who were able to find some meaning in their suffering, were more likely to hold onto life. Frankl himself survived four death camps before liberation, and it was in those camps that he conceived of logotherapy, a system of psychological growth and healing based on the apprehension of meaning.
Frankl and others like him created ritual out of horror, growth out of destruction, by choosing to believe that there was some transcendent meaning to their suffering. When we set our sights on a higher meaning, we automatically cast ourselves in the role of a dweller at the threshold, an initiate in a Great Story. We are not powerless, trapped or worthless. We are passing through the fire on the way to a purification of sufficient value that our suffering becomes worthwhile when weighed against it. Part of the value of suffering and dwelling at the threshold is that it initiates or intensifies the search for what is most sacred, for only in placing our minds on the promise of that sacredness can we emerge from the liminal period not only intact but healed.
The late American psychologist Abraham Maslow spoke of the deep need to find in our lives not only personal meaning, but transpersonal or spiritual meaning. A need is like a biological drive, an instinct. It's part of the genes, part of the racial memories that form the collective unconscious that all people share. When a biological drive is thwarted the organism suffers in some way. The particular kind of suffering that accompanies a thwarted drive for transpersonal meaning is a feeling of emptiness, of meaninglessness about life that can progress to depression if the need is not attended to." (1993, pp. 57-58)
~Excerpted from "Fire in the Soul - A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism" by Joan Borysenko, Ph.D