THE RIPTIDE OF LIFE
“If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.” Sydney Banks
It was around 7am when I heard the crash of the ceramic beaker hitting the tiled floor in the upstairs bathroom with an almighty crash. I stopped still and listened momentarily, like mothers often do, before calling my son’s name and, “Are you OK?”
When no answer came back, I ran upstairs to investigate. My husband and I reached the locked bathroom door at the same time and we called out again to our son. A few moments later a dazed and distressed teenager managed to unlock the door. He had vomited, lost consciousness briefly and fallen backwards hitting his head against the bath and skinning his shoulders and arms. That was the first sign we had that the bang on the head he had sustained the day before and played down at dinner that night in front of his girlfriend, had in fact caused a concussive brain injury which would take months to heal.
Witnessing my vibrant, active teenager struggle to wake up even after 18 hours of sleep and to miss all social activities and weeks of school with important exams looming, resulted in a significant amount of anxiety. When he collapsed for a second time my anxiety went through the roof as I waited at home with my daughter while my husband took him to the hospital.
I read a lot about concussion and brain injury over the next few hours and days and through the filter of my worry for my son, it did not make pleasant reading. Bizarrely the subject seemed to keep cropping up everywhere – a newspaper article, friends with horror stories to tell, a segment on a radio 4 programme about a woman who lost years of her life to it. Some helpful friends even sent me links to a Ted talk by Jane McGonigal about the suicidal depression she suffered as a result of her severe concussion and its subsequent impact on her life. It’s ultimately an inspiring talk but did nothing but fill my head with scary future scenarios! I started to feel low as well as anxious as I projected a myriad of potential outcomes. Inside my head it really made sense to worry – that’s what good parents do isn’t it?
At some point my husband looked at me, taking in my pale face and dark-circled eyes from lack of sleep and asked if I was OK. It was not a casual, routine question or an overly solicitous one but filled with love, genuinely listening for the answer. Exhibiting physical signs of stress has not been my normal in recent years. And when I responded that yes I was really OK, just experiencing some very scary thinking, we both knew that was true. Suddenly I could breathe fully again and see that the level of anxiety I had been experiencing was not telling me anything useful about my son’s condition or the future. Peace of mind was restored.
What learning about the Three Principles has allowed me to do is to be essentially OK with whatever experience I am having without trying to get rid of it. I know that any feeling I have is not really telling me anything helpful about the situation I am in. And I know that it will pass. Any resistance to any feeling state or suffering just adds another dimension to it and potentially serves to hold it in place.
It’s a bit like being caught in a riptide: the more you struggle against it, the more exhausted you get and the more danger you are in. The thing to do is not to swim against it, do what you can to stay above water and, if you can, swim parallel to the shore until you are clear of the current. It is counter-intuitive and even if you have been taught what to do it is very easy to panic in a riptide and get overwhelmed. The more you understand about the mechanics of the situation you are in the better.
Similarly, understanding that my feelings are coming directly from the thoughts I am having in any given moment and that they are in no way coming from the situation, however unlikely that seems at the time, makes it all easier to cope with and navigate.
The reason I wanted to share this is that many people who already have an understanding of the principles have been reaching out recently when they have been lost in thought and suffering, seeking to be rid of whatever it is they are struggling with. Reaching out is never a bad thing and often all people need is some compassionate listening and a gentle reminder of where their experience Is coming from. It is also helpful to be reminded that it is built into the human system that we fall, over and over again, for the illusion that our experience comes from something outside of us. Remembering over and over again is the antidote to falling for it as hard or as often and helps us to navigate back to equilibrium when we do.
However, I have also heard people talking about how their situation is different because they have real problems in their lives, so I wanted to share a real-life situation. I was genuinely scared when my son was ill; felt stressed, felt low. That’s normal. That’s how life works. I wasn’t in control of that. How could I be? If I had been, I wouldn’t have made myself suffer. The situation was real enough but in the moment that I remembered I was essentially OK, I remembered that my son was too even though nothing on the outside had changed. My son was still unable to function and no doctor could tell me if that would last days, weeks or months. He might not be able to take his exams, let alone pass them. He might not recover. The key point to emphasise here is the 100% nature of the Principles in action. There are no exceptions to the fact that nothing outside of us has the power to make us feel anything at all – only the principle of Thought can do that.
When I consider that fact, I see deeper into the miracle of life and wonder in awe of the illusion which makes it look so different. And that’s when I see that there really is nothing to be done except experience life in all its glorious messiness, with its successes and failures, high points and low points, ease and hardships. As Sydney Banks says
“Wise people find happiness not in the absence of hardships, but in their ability to understand them when they occur.”
I remain a student of the three principles, deepening my understanding as life itself reveals to me a little more of its mystery every day. Every twist in the road, every hardship, brings fresh learning and helps me navigate more wisely when the going gets tough. An understanding of the principles does not mean we will never get caught in the riptide of life, but it can really help us find our way back to shore.