Humans grow through crises. I am one of those who definitely and intensely resisted the crises I had to face and the sacrifices I was forced to make as I struggled along my path of personal growth. I recall having a joking-but-serious conversation with what I imagined was my Higher Self: She had the crook of a cane in the corner of my mouth, pulling at my cheek, saying in a Groucho Marx sort of tone: “We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” So far, it seems to be a mix of both. It seems that crisis is a path to growth, and recognizing that may help us maintain some poise as we navigate the crises that punctuate our lives.

The burning ground

The burning ground burns, indeed. Human growth happens under the great law of sacrifice, and that law is associated with pain. Interestingly, it is said that in other places in the universe, sacrifice means bliss; but for us here on earth, it surely, unmistakably, and quite unavoidably, means pain. The best lessons in life are usually the least comfortable. Keeping this perspective keeps me grounded when I sit with clients who are truly suffering. It also helps when I’m in the midst of personal struggle.

Yet as much as crisis is awful and unavoidable, there can be moments of utter bliss – even during times of deepest despair. I can’t speak for everyone, but this certainly has been the case for me. I wonder whether we may all have experienced a strange mixture of bliss and pain that exemplifies the point – and points, perhaps, to a blissful future.

Transcending emotions through sacrifice

One of the greatest struggles that we humans face is loosening the grip of our emotional bodies and becoming more poised, more mindful, more grounded. This is not to say we should try to kill our feelings. It means that we feel deeply, compassion and pain, joy and heartache, bliss and boredom. But we don’t let those feelings drive our decisions and run our lives. Because when we do, we will find the ugly and unmanaged ones can destroy our relationships, our inner peace, and our reputations.

The law of sacrifice always means the death of the lower forms, whether they are the subtle bodies, like our emotional or astral body, or the physical body. These little forms are sacrificed to the evolving Self which we really are. There are human examples of this law of sacrifice playing out in triumph, of form being sacrificed to Life, and we can turn to some of the more famous of these examples when we need a little fortification. These exemplars include the Christ and the Buddha. The Christ demonstrated sacrifice and physical death, and the Buddha demonstrated sacrifice and death of desire.

Another example comes from the life of Vivekananda, who founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894. Some of his letters survive today. In April 1900, he wrote to one of his friends and supporters, saying that “I am very well indeed” yet “the glamour is off life. …Things are losing all their relative proportions to me, my body among the first…” About a year later, Vivekananda deliberately and consciously left the body, attaining the mahasamadhi (15:13).

Treading the Path

So, as we are called to make our sacrifices, let’s remember the example of those who have trod the path before us, and take heart, keep the faith, and keep thinking things through. Once we have endured the ordeal and the burning ground has done its work, the light, love, and will of the soul, with its group focus, will shine forth, the lower giving way to the higher. In the meantime, we face the fact, again and again, that crisis as a path to growth.

These are important points for us to remember as we tread our path, and it is also helpful always to remember that we are parts forming a whole. Indeed, humanity as a whole seems to be teetering on the brink of an expansion of consciousness. Clearly, just as it is difficult for the individual, so it is difficult for the collective, made up of these individuals.

There are examples of this everywhere. The news brings us stories of upheaval and tragedy around the world. It is probably not by accident that in parallel with our increased intercommunication, the impulse to help and to alleviate suffering is strong and growing. The whole idea of human suffering becomes less theoretical and more real when we see the faces of those who suffer.

Crisis as a path to growth

While crisis leads to growth, unresolved trauma can also temporarily trap people in a cycle of pain and despair. Fortunately, energy psychology tools are helping to resolve these traumas and free people to once again journey along their path of growth. This is particularly important because in the case of PTSD, simply shining the light of the mind on the problem is not effective; in fact, it is often retraumatizing. On the other hand, involving the body and energy systems is helpful indeed, and energy psychology tools do just that. Energy follows thought, and in this case, it seems that emotions and thought also follow energy in a virtuous upward healing cycle.

Trauma can be acute, like the kinds of events that we typically associate with PTSD – war, car crashes, rape, assault. However, the effects of adverse childhood experiences, or childhood trauma, tend to be more long-lasting, and they can be as devastating as they are insidious. They play a role in a lot of the problems and dysfunction that drive our fellow humans to do the dysfunctional, counterproductive, and pain-inducing things they do. People with a high rate of childhood traumas (such as poverty, violence, abuse, neglect) end up more likely to have relationship problems, health problems, obesity, addiction, poverty, depression, anxiety, and even have a higher chance of developing cancer.

Crisis in the collective

Although these problems are personal, in another sense their cause is collective, and I suspect the best solutions will happen at the collective level as well. As we look for solutions, we come back to the group: humanity continues to evolve, we will eradicate the problems of poverty, as well as the problems of neglect and abuse. In the meantime, as more people heal from their traumatic experiences, they will be free to progress again upon the Path of growth, and the collective will move ahead.

On this hopeful note, let’s wend our way back from the mundane to the sublime. Under the Law of Sacrifice, the lower always gives way to the higher, and we experience it often as crisis, suffering, and pain. This is the hallmark of life on Earth. Crisis is a path to growth. For us, it will be soul love, which is group love and which is what we really are, that allows the light of progress to stream in. As we tread our paths, passing through the harrowing experiences that spur us to grow, let’s rely on the love, strength, and clear thoughts of our higher Self and our fellow travelers to sustain us. We struggle up toward the mountaintop, sometimes lending a hand, sometimes needing a hand, but we never travel alone.

Author: Sarah Murphy, LPC, ACP-EFT
Sarah Murphy is ACEP board secretary and communications committee chair. She is a counselor in private practice and specializes in working with people who have serious illnesses.