There are a lot of out-of-the-ordinary things going on for many of us right now, so many it could make a person's head spin. Losing a coveted position after a pre-COVID buy-out, a partner's acute medical emergency (on top of demanding project deadlines and COVID), a young adult's deepening depression, exacerbated by physical separation. Broadening your awareness of coherence can support meaning, even in the face of severe hardship.
No, it is never a good thing be diagnosed with a serious illness. Experiencing the fatigue, fear, discomfort, and existential loss changes one's life forever. And yet... what might you also gain? Perhaps a lived sense of why being deeply present in the moment matters, or a broader understanding of the importance of wisdom traditions , or a growing awareness about the meaning of a loving community who surrounds you with dinners and distance tea in your yard. Your life experience may become more textured and can create opportunities for you to become a wiser teacher.
And no, it is never a good time to watch a child suffer. Walking next to someone you love, when you are unable to relieve their deeply itchy discomfort, is not something I would wish on anyone. And yet... what might you also gain? Perhaps an appreciation for your child's resilience, for the deep reserves of the child's innate wisdom that eventually comes to the surface - like a buoy - keeping them from drowning. And perhaps you learn that your child will survive without you, when that time comes. Your life experience can become more nuanced and it can create opportunity for you to be a more empathetic physician and leader.
Our lives are filled with opportunities to learn and our lessons often come in unwelcome packages that seem too large to hold.
Looking for coherence is a matter of choice. It is a discipline. It is a practice.
Here are two questions to consider as you look for coherence in your own journey.
What meaning and purpose are possible in this lived experience? It is easy to see the obvious - depression is soul sucking, infertility involves a ton of loss and repeated cycles of grieving, being laid off from a 30 year career can be extremely demoralizing. And what else is possible? The depression can be your internal wisdom saying "stop, reevaluate, consider...", all critical elements of living a healthy life. The infertility may make you appreciate life more deeply than ever before, helping you make decisions that bend towards what is really important to you. And being laid off can provide space to pause, to feel gratitude for what was, to rethink what is important for the next 20 years, and innovate. These are opportunities to gather lived wisdom that can't be learned any other way.
How can I use my increased awareness to benefit others? As a leader, as a physician, as a mom, as a friend, as a daughter or son, as a teacher, as a public figure, what you bring to the table matters for your students, your clients, your patients, your children, your constituents. The richer your lived experience, the more you have to offer. Period. Who will benefit from what you have to offer? Look around and give freely.
No one is promised a life free from hardship. Whether and how you make meaning is up to you.
As always, it is reassuring to remember that how I frame my experiences determines my actions, and those, aligned with my values, support my optimal health.