As a cardiologist for over a quarter century, I dealt with life and death circumstances on a daily basis. I came to fully appreciate how precious and tenuous life can be; it can change in an instant. On June 30, 2009, such a dramatic shift occurred in our family when our son, Tyler, was involved in an automobile accident, sustaining a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.
As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” In a nano-second, our entire family was thrust into the midst of one of the fiercest storms imaginable.
Why do disruptive, terrible things like this happen? Why must there be such anguish? Does it serve any purpose? These were questions that had answers…but it would take quite some time for me to sift through the quagmire to uncover them.
There were three things that helped me navigate the storm:
- Journaling became the vehicle of my delivery from the abyss. After the accident occurred, I initially found it extremely difficult to talk about. I needed time to allow the experience to be absorbed into the deepest recesses of my soul, where it would be pondered over and over again. It would be in that silent space that I began my search for meaning. Journaling allowed me to distill my ideas down to the most elemental level, then to expand on them, exploring places deep within that I had never before recognized. It provided me with incredible clarity in the midst of the chaos I was experiencing.
- Yielding to a higher power offered me the strength to endure the ravaging storm. Letting go of my false, egoic belief that I must handle this alone enabled me to find an unfathomable peace within the quagmire. Ultimately, I came to see, to truly visualize the beauty that hid within the belly of the beast. On this path through hell, my mantra became: “I can’t, but WE can!”
- Changing the thought made all the difference. As Dr. Wayne Dyer says: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I came to understand that everything is in perfect order…even this! It’s all about one’s perspective. Even in the midst of such profound sadness, I found that if I allowed myself to look around, I could focus instead on the beauty before my eyes; it was there right alongside the suffering.
There must be this maintenance of equilibrium in our lives, a balance that is manifested in the apparent dualities of life: the monsoon is countered by a calm, sunny day; perfect health is balanced by life-threatening disease or injury; good by evil; and darkness by illumination. These perceived opposites are, in truth, conjoined with one another.
What I ultimately came to appreciate was that this human realm represents a perfect circumstance in which one can approach what we all seek — transformative enlightenment. I have learned that all the pain and turmoil of this existence, those things that cause us to suffer, are beautifully balanced and coupled with those things that bring us pleasure. It is because of that symbiotic relationship that we do not become overly burdened with the negative aspects of any experience.
Through this heart-wrenching experience, I have learned that when adversity comes our way, it is how we respond to that difficulty that determines who we become. Our life experiences become calamities only if we make the conscious decision to make tragedies out of them. Rather than lamenting the so-called hardships in our lives, we can choose to be grateful for them. We can embrace them and accept them as gifts from the Divine. While they may not come in beautiful wrapping paper, these “gifts” provide fertile soil for our growth and enlightenment. They can actually be a blessing in disguise.
An expression from the Kabbalah says it all: “The falls of our life provide us with the energy to propel ourselves to a much higher level.” We should be grateful for the falls of our life.