Some people who’ve had near death experiences recall crystal clear visions that occurred to them in an instant. People talk about seeing an all encompassing view of their entire life, with amazing insights into unresolved conflicts, mistakes, the pain they caused to others, the choices, the regrets, the “resolutions” and “conclusions”, the missed opportunities, even the quiet dignity of people they often thought weren't worth their attention… A flash of understanding that’s so profound, and with an unmistakable element of certainty. Certainty that time’s up, and there’s nothing you can do about these anymore. Until now, it was something that happened to others. Now, it’s my turn, and this is what I see, before the darkness engulfs me totally, perhaps! All of it packed into that split second of awareness that seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the classic book “The Tibetan book of Living and Dying”, Sogyal Rimpoche writes at length about this. Specifically, he highlights how so many of us are totally unprepared for the most certain aspect of life, death!
And how’s it like, to then miraculously turn back from what seemed like a complete full stop? To suddenly realize that perhaps here’s a second chance to take a look at what emerged from that understanding? That even as everything around seemingly stays exactly as it were, a few insights emerge that can completely change the course of your life.
It doesn't necessarily have to be about coming face-to-face with being dead and gone alone! Relationship failures, loss of jobs, a massive health scare… so many of life’s cataclysmic upheavals can lead to a catharsis that’s equally revealing, and potentially transforming. Maybe, it’s true this happens because your hand is forced so suddenly, rudely and unexpectedly. “Don't fix it if it ain’t broke” might have worked well for you all this while. What seemed like a safe space, an equilibrium of sorts in your mind, with assumptions, beliefs and attitudes, is suddenly disturbed big time.
Look around you, and observe how some people have picked up the pieces and went back to painstakingly script a change in direction, and not just revive their lives, but also add more meaning to it. Of course, they deserve all the applause that’s coming their way. The more important point is, why wait?
If such a re-scripting is possible even in the midst of extreme chaos, what prevents us from connecting to the same understanding at other, “normal”, “quieter” times? The School of Hard Knocks is always ready to serve up some lessons you hadn't anticipated!
What stops you from defining that “Second Chance”, right now? What would you like to change now, so that you can get working on the second chance right away?
Maybe, life has been going according to certain set patterns all this while. And you’ve been diligently playing your part too. How does it sound, if you were to yourself disrupt this so-called calm, stability, and predictability (pleasant or otherwise!) in life on purpose, and see how far you can go?! Like a test drill of sorts. Instead of waiting for dire experiences, how about doing an early audit or QA check? To understand how well you can recover? And maybe even go further, and spot a few opportunities too, that can make it worth all the pain!
The exercise can be unsettling at times. But, let’s see how we can make it a bit easier!
Let’s look at three attitudes that can help you get going with this process. I call them attitudes rather than tools. It makes sense to give time, and allow these attitudes to grow on you. And over a period of time, you’ll develop your adaptability muscle too. And that’s a huge bonus for now!
Active Acceptance and Acknowledgement of Hard Facts
Alright, some of life’s sudden changes definitely do come totally unannounced. Not all, though! Signs, indications, hints, signals, gut feel… the terminology isn't the point. You do get to know, in advance that is!
Do we listen enough?
Or, do we allow the patterns of life, the pleasures, the frustrations, and numerous experiences and their interpretations to drown out these signals? Don't get startled. Nobody is asking you to embrace an ascetic life to tap into these questions. Actually, often there’s nothing deep about it! Some of the signals are so in-your-face, that you only need to stay awake! But, the openness to acknowledge these hard facts is vital, and that too with thoughtfulness. And that’s where my vote is for active acceptance. By active acceptance, the idea is to acknowledge the facts of the situation, but not to then wallow in self-pity and hopelessness. Rather, to find out ways to keep moving ahead for a different set of outcomes. By accepting the facts, you are not resigning to the status quo! You’re merely taking note. And conserving your energy for the change that is the only way out.
So, be it an impending crisis in your career, a wilting relationship, financial woes. or a ticking health-time-bomb… Ignoring the signs can be extremely dangerous. Sure, that’s obvious. But why do we still get those “nasty” surprises?
The answer may lie in how well we are tuning and maintaining our “radar” for the signals. Getting lost in a life of “busyness” is the easiest way to get your radar reasonably fogged out! Spending at least a few minutes in contemplation and reflection on a daily basis can help. Making notes about your observations without “concluding”, “resolving” and “labeling” them can also help. So that you don't cry wolf unnecessarily!
The principles here are actually straightforward. You just need to develop a discipline to be able to tune in to this radar, and be forewarned when needed. And from then on, identify actions and changes that you can implement starting from wherever you are, at the moment.
Know the Image, the Bubble and Reality!
While processing the signs and signals, you can do yourself a big favour by resolving to travel light! Our modern urban lifestyle often puts us in a bubble of sorts. An entire lifetime can be spent in conforming to a certain image that we wish to project to others and ourselves. Nothing wrong with it as such.
But, when we take the image and the bubble as the full picture, it is easy to misread the signs and signals. It can be scary to look outside of the bubble. We may infer things that aren't fully grounded in reality. Maybe, develop a false sense of security. Or imagine that we have a vibrant support system, when the fact is that they (the denizens of this system) are living in their own bubbles and image traps! And in the end, it doesn't count for much, when you actually want to adapt to change.
Well, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for what you just read. You’ll have to figure out a way that works for you. The ability to prioritize and discard what isn't helping is critical. Your likes, dislikes and pet hates… that’s a good area to work on as well. Holding on to some of these can itself limit you in many ways. That’s why it helps to “travel light”!
Learning from others, and observing them can help to an extent. Authentic conversations with sorted folks can also give you access to information about what’s really happening. That could mean investing time and energy to develop a good social support system. A good social support system is one where people know each other at deeper levels.
- What is the overarching purpose that drives you?
- What are your long term goals and dreams?
A social support system where people care to find out the above and more is just what the doc ordered! Go for variety, and ensure you don't fill it with people like you. Sanitized group-think is the last thing you want!
It’s true that many are unable to change the narrative easily, even when there is a decent support system. Presence of mind is what you need, so that you can free yourself from many not-so-helpful patterns. When you’ve already experienced successes in life, these patterns become even more hard-wired in your brain. And soon, a stage comes when it’s so temping to pretend that you can simply keep applying some formula you picked up a while back.
These patterns can limit our ability to cope with drastic change. What’s worse, we may get irrationally scared of even simple and inevitable change. Like the tendency to black-out the inevitability of death for instance, we may show up without any preparation, and then keep struggling! You can choose to regret or stay contented when change has run its course. That’s a choice you will get for sure!
What can we do about it?
Identify the qualities, attributes, attitudes, skills, and values that will help you in taking charge of the change process. What needs to be discarded? Not in a slow and incremental manner, but in a positively disruptive fashion. Because, that’s often the only way to go for the kill!
These changes can’t happen overnight. It’s important to take a few actions in each area, in a consistent manner. And build up your reserves of strength over a period of time. Additional benefits may include greater resilience, a recalibration of priorities and an increasing sense of leading a life with more meaning.
Embrace these attitudes, and keep questioning the status quo whenever it feels very comfy and cozy out here! That’s a clear signal that your level of readiness needs some reinforcing!