What do you do when it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel? When everything is in doubt and life's possibilities seem empty? When you watch world events transpire over which you have no control and film and music idols, once seemingly immortal, senselessly succumb to cancer or drugs?
The economy is uncertain. The future of your environment is uncertain. The future of your health is uncertain.
The more dismal you feel, the more you panic. As you panic, the more prone you are to illness in body and mind. The cycle accelerates and intensifies until you feel helpless and hopeless.
What do you do when you feel stuck between living in fear or not living at all?
I recently had this very conversation with my taxi driver in Israel. For some reason, we started talking about the most beautiful places to go in the country. And while he mentioned a few places that he loved most, he also said that he could no longer enjoy these places because he was unable to take pleasure in anything. He complained that he felt trapped in a dark place and was unsure if he would ever get out.
He had lost his job over two years ago, followed by his house, two cars and wife of 20 years. He drove a taxi out of necessity, not out of choice. It paid the bills, just barely. The war had taken the life of his son. His new girlfriend was just diagnosed with breast cancer. He feared he would lose her too. He used to write. Now, he could not find words. He used to sing. Now, he could not find his voice. He prayed every day for God to help, but no help had come. He tried to "think positive", but only negative thoughts appeared.
"I don't know what to do anymore," he said, before apologizing for throwing his problems my way. "How can I keep going if I don't know that everything will eventually turn out well?"
"We cannot control the future, " I said. "I am not a fortune-teller and I cannot know what any specific outcome will be. I can know, however, that if you panic or feel hopeless, it is not going to help anything, but rather make the situation worse."
I told him that he had every right to feel panicked and depressed. The truth is, I explained, that it was physiologically impossible to think positively when he was deep in stress and fear. Hormones and the other biochemical changes in the mind and body were keeping him from being able to do so. It is as if he was trying to stop shivering when feeling cold. "You cannot access good behaviors and positive emotions when you are deep in the fear response. It is like trying to drive your car without any gas," I explained.
"The solution is to surrender," I told him.
"Give up and die?" He asked.
"No," I answered. "Give in and live."
I continued by explaining that 'surrender' meant to stop fighting or struggling and allow himself to simply receive, like a fetus does in the mother's womb. He had to allow himself to imagine that he was receiving all the magic, power and support that the universe has to offer, filling him up, so that he could then find the strength and courage to face life.
I told him to imagine an image of a mother made of light, with her wings spread wide, holding him like an infant, rocking and cradling him, while saying these words:
"You are loved. You are valued. The support you need is here." He should say this over and over, for as long as he wished.
I instructed him to do this exercise after he prayed and any other time he felt fear, panic or negativity rising up. If he did, he might find that as he changed on the inside, his life or at least the way he acted in his life, would change in a positive way too.
By doing this exercise enough times, I explained, his unconscious mind might take in the experience as real. In effect, he would essentially be reprogramming old beliefs of scarcity, of not being enough, or having enough of all that he needs. As his beliefs change, attitudes, behaviors and interactions with others change. Rather than being shut down and shut out, he could be open to his own abilities and the resources others could offer. The possibilities become endless rather than pointless.
"Will I get my old job back?" he asked?
"I can't tell you that," I answered. "You might find yourself doing something else entirely. Whatever it is though," I added, "you may find yourself content and able to appreciate and take pleasure again. You will find your words and perhaps your voice will discover a beautiful melody. It is through our suffering and the depths of despair that we uncover greatness."
"Did you ask for help this evening? I mean, why is it do you think, that we are having this conversation?" I asked. "Yes," he answered, "I did."
"Well then", I continued. "I offer you a wish that all the love and support the universe has to offer find their way to you".
A little gleam came into his eye -- perhaps a tear or perhaps a shred of hope -- and with a smile on his face he said, "Today I will go to the synagogue and pray for you too. I will pray that you also receive all the support and love you need to continue on your path; to inspire others like me to remember that we are ultimately loved, not punished."
I never got his name, but in that moment in time, his heart opened. Mine did too.
In these difficult times, all we can do is to surrender, give in, and open our hearts to one another, to receive and give. Love is the source of our survival.
Follow Eva M. Selhub, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrEvaSelhub