12 Most Shocking Realizations After the Accident
There are moments in life — unexpected and pivotal — that somehow change you forever. I’ve had several such moments.
In the movies, life-changing moments are often cinematic and laden with computer-generated images and dramatic sweeps of music. In real life, the most powerful epiphanies are often inspired by the most seemingly mundane occurrences. For example, on two separate occasions I saw someone simply walk in front of me and had an instant epiphany that improved the way I see and experience my life from that point forward.
Even though some epiphanies can be painful in the moment, if they bring you closer to the truth of who are, then — in the long-run — they prove enormously helpful in daily life.
Marianne Williamson once remarked that after the age of 40, one no longer has the luxury of a “5-year detour.” Every realization you have that helps you to remember who you truly are, can save you from a 5-year mistake of going down a side trail that might lead you away from your life purpose.
Sometimes, though, life-changing moments can occur from startling external events. Last year, I witnessed a dear friend have an accident. Though the details of the accident itself are not the point of this particular article, I will say that it was an accident that could happen to anyone, and yet still, was quite unexpected.
I find it a bit irksome to even refer to it as an “accident,” as it really was more of a growing opportunity: in the days following the accident, all of these ideas — ideas that I had been flirting with for a few years — crystalized and became deeply and profoundly real. In other words, what had been a slow-burning intellectual and philosophical awareness before the accident, transformed — almost overnight — into an integrated part of my psyche after the accident.
I share these realizations with the hope that they might offer you increased clarity and direction in your own life. I encourage you to use the realizations that seem helpful or illuminating, and simply leave behind the ones that seem not to fit your unique life’s trajectory. I believe, passionately, that we need these sorts of insights in order to keep on our life path so that we can fulfill our life purpose.
It’s always challenging to take an experience that was mind-blowing for you, and then try to reduce it into words and sentences so that others might understand. There are some things in life that just can’t be shared accurately in words alone. I’m going to try to describe to you now the 12 most shocking realizations I had immediately following the accident:
1. People are inherently lovable
I realized that I absolutely adore people. Even with all of our wounds and fractures, our abrasive edges and acting-out, each of us, at our core, is made from the stuff of love. I realized that it’s almost always possible to see past someone’s bad behavior and into their inherent lovability.
2. People either enhance your energy, or drain it
I once heard Caroline Myss calmly state that people either enhance your energy or they drain it. “It can be no other way,” she explained, matter of factly. After the accident I was able to see clearly that this is indeed the case.
3. It takes strong hands to hold a paradox
Just because I love people, doesn’t mean that I have to welcome every person into my environment — this is what I realized.
I don’t have to solve the mystery as to how I can like someone, yet still identify them as someone who is not a good match for me personally. A paradox is when two seemingly contradictory ideas are each true. Not every paradox needs to be solved by me. I can just accept the mystery of it with grace and ease, and move on.
4. We live in peculiar times
You know that analogy of the frog in the pot of water? The water heats up so slowly that the frog doesn’t notice it, so he doesn’t bother to hop out of the pot once the water reaches a boil.
After the accident, I was able to see things about our culture that I wasn’t able to see as clearly before the accident. The world is changing faster than we can process it. We are like the frog.
“…conversations seem to now require an odd concision
that often defeat the entire purpose of conversing”
5. My context is first-world
I began noticing that many people are not able to sustain an authentic interest in other people’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Then I wondered, is this just because I’m American? Or, even more specifically, because I live in California? For generations, people have migrated to California in hope of a better life — but often, it’s really ourselves we’re trying to run from.
It’s in the gene pool, here.
You can see this in conversations. If someone starts to speak, the other person is immediately thinking of what he’s going to say next — instead of being fully present and actively listening with his whole self.
Increasingly in conversations, people seem to listen only long enough to hear a “keyword,” after which their brain pings and references a memory from that keyword, and they begin their own free association — often missing the subtext of the communication. For instance, Mary tells Alice that she enjoyed the blueberry pancakes she had for breakfast, but now she feels bloated and tired. Alice responds that she found some amazing blueberries at the farmers market last week and that she hopes the same vendor will be there this week so she can pick up some more.
On the surface, Alice seems to be on-point, but somehow an opportunity has been lost. Our minds have become so chattery, and we believe ourselves to be so time-constrained, that our ability to simply listen has been compromised.
Conversations seem to now require an odd concision that often defeat the entire purpose of conversing.
After the accident, I often found myself about to communicate some important information to someone else, only to realize in the same moment that I was unwilling to boil it down into a catchy bulletpoint as if I were introducing a segment on Entertainment Tonight.
6. It’s okay that I enjoy my solitude
After the accident, I just accepted that I am an introvert, and that that’s okay. While extroverts get their energy from being around other people, as an introvert I recharge my batteries by being alone. Even though relationships are what matter most to me, I’d rather have depth and quality, than quantity.
7. Everyone has a big secret that they keep from themselves
This is one of the dynamics that I suddenly saw so clearly after the accident. Almost everyone has at least one big secret that they are actively keeping from themselves (and sometimes, entire families collude, unconsciously, to keep one big secret from themselves and each other).
8. It’s okay to let reality in, in small manageable doses
Anxiety is the big game of life. We all have different ways of managing anxiety, and hopefully as life progresses we’re able to discover healthier ways for metabolizing life’s low-level, everyday anxiety (and over time, we can substitute those healthier methods for the less-healthier ones).
If we were to let reality rush in on our minds all at once, our psyches would snap. We let reality in, in small doses, so we have time to process it, and to get stronger before we let in the next small dose. And that’s perfectly okay, as long there is some movement (even if it’s tiny baby steps).
If movement is progress — even in taking small steps we’re actively growing and exploring our internal worlds. (On the other hand, unfortunately, complete repression doesn’t work; when you repress something completely and for too long, you end up activating it in the unconscious and this often leads to acting-out and can produce unwelcomed side effects.) So I realized that on the journey of personal growth, we can all pace ourselves according to our individual needs and unique abilities.
9. I don’t have to squeeze 300 lives into one lifetime
Because the spouse and I chose not to have children, we’ve been able to move around a lot and try different careers and adventures. After the accident, I realized that I no longer needed to experience every single adventure in this one lifetime. I feel less frantic, more calm: I’m now content to focus my creative energies on helping others integrate new, positive healthy habits into their daily lifestyle.
10. It’s between me and something higher
I know this is kind of an intense thing to say, but after the accident, I realized that the standard American adult friendship doesn’t really meet my relational needs. I mean, it doesn’t even come close. I love my friends — in fact, I like people even more now than I ever have before — but I have an extremely rich internal world, with more material than any one person could ever bear thoughtful witness to. The way our culture operates on the day-to-day level, it’s difficult to achieve (over the occasional cup of coffee or phone call) true intimacy and that quiet confidence that a deep friendship creates. After the accident, I was able to accept this calmly.
Now, I get my strokes from nature. I like going for long walks by myself, and appreciating the simple brilliance of the natural physical environment that is Earth. And, I have an active dialogue with a power that is higher than me. Call it a divine energy, call it God — I don’t want to offend anybody; I’m just saying that I depend on my spiritual relationship (with what I imagine to be an Infinite Field of love, intelligence, creativity and compassion). I also like to imagine that I have a spirit guide who has my best interests at heart and who keeps me company.
11. Setting healthy boundaries is an essential life skill
Before the accident, I used to sometimes offer people constructive feedback. After the accident, I focus only on keeping my own side of the street clean (if someone asks for feedback, I will usually offer my thoughts — as long as I can provide feedback with a loving kindness and without any expectation of my own).
Underneath it all, I’ve always been deeply interested in other people. I could listen — rapt — to someone talk about what they had for breakfast, or what they dreamed about the night before, or their secret hopes and fears, or their favorite movie — anything, really! Since the accident, however, I cannot endure listening to anyone talk about themselves unless I feel certain that they’re as interested in the minutia of my life and as able to reciprocate with active-listening. Otherwise, the exchange of energy is inequitable and it’s simply not healthy for either of us.
12. Enjoying life is a good thing!
Man, oh man, do I love to laugh! My spouse and I spend much of the day figuring out goofy ways to make the other laugh. At night, after dinner, we watch comedies. Good ones, bad ones, romantic ones, silly ones — I’ll give any comedy a chance, because I know that laughter is (literally) good for your body and brain. Since the accident, I don’t follow any televised news shows or watch crime procedurals.
Since the accident, I’m no longer afraid of being ordinary. I’m influential in my own particular way. I vote. I participate in Nielsen ratings (when asked). I spend at local mom-n-pops (whenever possible). I create a job (when the budget allows for it). More important than all of the above: it’s how I treat people when I leave the house each day. I don’t honk my car horn or treat the grocery cashier like a robot. The older I get, the more I realize it’s up to me to demonstrate kindness and grace. (I have a lot to make up for: I was a wild youth!).
One of my friends was a zen monk for two years in an extremely remote mountaintop monastery. He explained to me that he had so many questions about life before he entered the monastery. When he left two years later, he still had those same questions, but the difference, he says, is that he’s okay with the not-knowing. He can now more joyfully hold the space for the mystery of life. He now gives himself permission to simply enjoy a basic moment within a basic day, minus the neurosis. When he has an hour break between clients, he runs down to the beach and — if no one is around — he rips offs his clothes and jumps in! He’s one of the happiest guys I know.
Bonus Realization: How to “Stack” Joy Modules
Sometimes daily life seems essentially to be a process of trying to make the unconscious, conscious. The twist is: we’re often ambivalent about the pace of that process — we’re always trying to speed it up or slow it down, depending on our moment-to-moment anxiety.
After the accident I was able to see — with crystal clarity — that I had been overcomplicating my daily life.
Now more than ever, I am a passionate believer in voluntary simplicity: I encourage you to identify those activities or people that enhance your energy and bring you the most joy, and “stack” them — fit as many of those joyful activities into your day (or, at least: your week) as you can. This is a recipe for inner peace and a way to make your overall life more delightful… and more meaningful!
What enhances your energy? What brings you peace?
Featured image courtesy of Nanagyei licensed via Creative Commons.