“And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
You’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon
That can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go, though the weather be foul.
On you will go though your enemies prowl
On you will go though the Hakken Kraks howl
Onward and up many a frightening creek,
Though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak…”
~ Theodore Geiser aka Dr Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go
Stephen Covey once said, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey.” It is inevitable that while on this existential expedition of Life that we will miss sign posts, lose our way and occasionally end up in a ditch. It is buried in the fine print of the human condition that we will periodically hit a bottom. The proverbial nadir can come in the form of any physical, emotional, spiritual or mental stimulus that compels us to make very important changes in our lives. A personal abyss can be filled with nasty nightmares where worst case scenarios keep playing in our heads like a 24 hour horror festival. An incubus can be tinged with painful humiliation or gut-wrenching spiritual doubt. While no light seems to escape from these metaphysical black holes, it is within them that souls are often reborn through life altering personal epiphanies.
Some people get lucky. They make rapid course corrections following moderate miscues. We call these fortunates ” high bottoms” — those who have had mild brushes with consequence and in doing so, make alterations that avoid the deeper canyons of catastrophe. Others are hard-headed and need to be tossed around in life’s white water before finally gaining perspective. Sometimes the most successful among us lack the basic ingredients of humility and self-awareness to see a bottom coming. Their spiritual GPS is still “searching for the satellite” as they speed through one of life’s guardrails. These advocates of self determination tend to rely on their own best thinking and are certain that if there is a God, he or she must look and think alot like them.
Just ask the endless parade of celebrities and power brokers who have seemingly had it all — only to sabotage their own lives. Each low is determined by a simple psycho-social equation: “The Probability of Change Is Inversely Proportionate To The Pain One Is Willing To Endure Before Taking Action.” How bad does it have to get? What needs to occur to cause someone to change the way they live? Not all crises of the soul are self-inflicted. Bad things happen to good people. Yet, life changing events test the very foundation of any person’s belief system. Often people find true spirituality and religion in these midnights of mortality. If you subscribe to the doctrine that life is a “testing place and not a resting place,” bottoms are critical ledges that can catch us and redirect us in a new, more positive direction. For those in the thick of crisis, Churchill offered sage direction: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Hubris and humility anchor the opposite ends of a spiritual continuum that begins as a perilous, high velocity rapid of self worship that eventually widens into a peaceful river of unconditional love. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is merely thinking of yourself less of the time. It is in our tormented moments that we come to the conclusion that only a power greater than ourselves can lift us into the light. Often that higher power manifests in the form of real people — individuals who see beyond our imperfections and focus on our possibilities. They reward us with their simple acts of forgiveness and love. In giving us grace, they receive it. They understand that we are all strands in a rope of compassion fashioned out of servants helping others rise from the ashes of their own spontaneous combustion.
It’s these acts of humanity and unconditional support that we see ourselves as part of a community of souls. We realize the greatest gift that we can give is ourselves to others. “Sinners make the best saints.” Bill Wilson often remarked when he was asked about the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous. It all started for Wilson by sharing his bottom with another person in the throes of their own despair and in that moment of raw humanity, they discovered grace. Grace is everywhere and lines the pockets of every living soul. It is a currency that never depreciates.
A catalyst for transformation might be getting fired, a divorce, an arrest, being caught in a lie, hurting a loved one, an illness, the death of a friend, getting into trouble or the painful recognition that one is materially rich and spiritually bankrupt. Any relationship challenge or crisis can become a critical turning point in our belief system. When we fearless inventory our part in a fiasco, we often find our own egos skulking in the shadows — trying to convince us that we are victims and not responsible. Pain leads to humility. Humility leads to surrender. Surrender is followed by the revelation that we simply do not have all the answers or control. The recognition that there is a God and we are not him/her leads to a thirst for a theology whose principal tenets are anchored in serenity, humanity and tolerance
A soldier once said, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Most of us have bargained with God for intervention or relief from a problem and usually reneged on promises once the crisis passed. Yet, sometimes a bargain sticks. Every religion is filled with examples of faith found in the midst of fear. It can take a crisis to shake us out of the illusion that somehow we’re exempt from life happening to us. “Life,” John Lennon said, “is what happens while you are busy making plans.” How we react to life — and whether we take life on life’s terms — ultimately determine our progress as human beings.
Ultimately, a bottom is a good thing. If for no other reason, we are taught to appreciate the peaks of our existence. Be of good cheer and remember that we never get dealt more than we can handle. Strife, pain and low points also allow us to know who our friends are, confirm our values and see that life can be so much more than we might see in our limited view. Travail shakes us from her chrysalis and we eventually take flight as butterflies — lifted on the gentle breezes of forgiveness and redemption.
It is Springtime and a time of rebirth. It is a time to remember, however low we go, we can always find grace. Enter Dr. Seuss, “…On and on you will hike and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are…and you will succeed? Yes, You will indeed (98 and ¾ guaranteed)…and oh the places, you’ll go!”