Since the great American recession began a few months ago there was surge of response from the spiritual communities and leaders of this country. From New Age gurus to Christian icons, the message has been clear, "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste!" Instead of seeing this as a terrible downward spiral, these inspired guides assure us that this is time for old adages: "with every door that closes, another opens," "every cloud has a silver lining" and let us not forget there is the old motivational teaching about how the Chinese word for crisis is composed of the two words: "danger" and "opportunity." Even TIME magazine got in on the action in the March 23rd Annual Special asking of the economic catastrophe, "is this an opportunity... or just a crisis?" Most people want to know, if there is any substance to these clichés?
The real question, for me, is not "are we really in trouble" - since in any given moment most of the world is usually facing some kind of challenge. The question I try to help people see is "do problems keep me stuck, or do they help me to grow." Big or small, no life is without strife or unexpected disappointment. Looking deeper you will find, there is a powerful wisdom behind those platitudes about change, but it's a wisdom that requires new personal choices and mindsets, not just in how we evaluate our disappointments, but in how we live our daily lives - crisis or not.
Most of our spiritual traditions would agree that the path to true happiness and peace is an inner one, and one that we actually have a great deal of influence over. Here are 4 of the most helpful pointers I have found useful for people in chaotic times; these are the same qualities that emerge naturally as a person commits to a sincere spiritual practice, like those I outline in my new book "Return to the Sacred: Ancient Pathways to Spiritual Awakening."
1. Look for the lesson. It is hard to admit, but yes, even the most awful things can teach us. The best qualities, such as patience, forgiveness, love, trust, and altruism, are more powerfully learnt in the times that test us. Ask yourself, what you can learn about yourself or life from the situation? What can you do differently in the future? What great quality is being tested in you?
2. Find the opportunity. Simple things can block our view of what might be right before us. A fence, a hedge, a billboard sign - take it away and suddenly you see more. When the familiar is taken from us it is natural to grieve. It is also important to look to see what is revealed. With each change in life the landscape is renewed and you may discover aspects of yourself you have forgotten or long wanted to explore. Look for new opportunities every chance you get.
3. Be compassionate. This means to yourself and others. Remember compassion is more like loving-empowerment than just making people happy. It means to respect your limits, share your talents, help others, but not at your own expense. It doesn't mean rescuing people all the time or taking away their own process of growth and learning. Compassion means to be supportive while the hard lessons are learned. Practice being kind - nurture yourself, be nice to others. It's a kindergarten rule, but will change your life if you stick to it.
4. Commit to Inner Intentions. Outer intentions are about the things we want to have and do. Inner intentions are about our character, and how we do things. Things like perfect health, wealth, sex, or jobs are illusive and impossible to control over time. Inner intentions like the desire to be forgiving, patient, good-humored, adaptable or true to your word, are all intentions that only you can shape and choose. No matter how hard times get, you r inner intentions can always be pursued and met. In fact hard times are the best times to practice the finest qualities of being human.
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