Ten Behaviors for Coping with a Crisis, An E-book by William Harryman

Photo by William Harryman

To paraphrase Harryman, sometimes, stuff just happens. How we respond determines whether we use that stuff to grow flowers or just end up smelling bad…

As good as his word, William Harryman delivers ten ways to respond to a crisis, which he sees as arising from getting “stuck in the process of change”, somewhere between who we were before the crisis happened and who we are afterwards.

I have been an avid reader of one of Harryman’s blogs, Integral Options Cafe, for a couple of years now. What I enjoy so much in the blog is amply present in this, his first e-book: clearly presented spiritual and psychological wisdom, a synergy of integral and Buddhist philosophy and practice, along with scientific research and cultural and political perspectives, all crackling with intelligence and awareness.

The first behaviour, basic to the nine to follow, is “Start where you are” (also the title of a book by the eminent Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]). This short chapter reminds us that pain is a part of life, and opening our hearts to it and allowing it to “move through us” is the most effective and quickest way through. This may sound pretty abstract to someone in the midst of grief, but Harryman has been there:

When my father died I was thirteen years old and there was no one around to teach me how to mourn properly. The pain moved through my body very quickly, but after a few minutes I shut it down, not knowing how to be with that level of grief. Because I shut it off and did not let it move through me as it might have otherwise, I suffered for many years with anger and depression, both of which became a filter through which I viewed the world.

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Letting the pain and emotions move through is easier said than done. It is hard to trust that you really do have all the resources you need to get through the situation, and not fall into depression and helplessness. It can be helpful to develop a certain distance to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed, a place from which to observe what is going on inside you. Chapter two explains the growth of an “Observer Self”, a part of us which can step back, see what is going on inside us and place it within a larger story. It allows us to stop identifying with the painful feelings as “me” and “relate to our pain, our fear, our anger […] not relate from it.” A guided exercise, adapted from Wilber and from Assiologi (the founder of Psychosynthesis) leads us through the process of recognising, and experiencing, that “I have a body, but I am not my body; I have feelings, but I am not my feelings; I have desires, but I am not my desires; I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts”. This leaves us with a spacious feeling of freedom and awareness.

Next up, chapter three, “Our Lives Are Long Narratives”, encourages us to look at events in our lives as a part of a “meta-narrative”. There is a fascinating discussion of the hero’s journey, and rites of passage in various cultures. The structure of rituals is seen as a fruitful way of understanding transitions (a process of separation, liminality, or in-between space, and return). This may be especially vital for people from Western cultures which no longer observe rituals around life-changes, and may be unnecessarily tense around them as a result, seeing them as a threat to some imagined stable structure, or “me”. Once more a practical exercise starts us off in the process of actively writing the stories of our lives.

Further chapters stress the importance of “finding an ally” — someone with whom to name what is happening and ease the isolation often felt when in the “in-between space” — learning to meditate, finding a form of creative expression, spending time in nature and keeping physically healthy. Finally, the process of crisis, or unwanted change, is considered as sacred — having not only the meaning it has in itself (and Harryman is careful not to dismiss the experience itself or replace it with something “more meaningful” or positive) but also the depth of sacred meaning. It is a transition from which we emerge, having suffered loss, but somehow new, more complex, with a different perspective.

Lastly, Harryman urges us to be compassionate towards ourselves and allow ourselves to feel whatever it is that we feel without berating ourselves for being despairing, or furious:

To be truly self-compassionate, we must acknowledge our pain when change disrupts our life, and we must not resist the feelings that come with that pain. We can become fearless by opening our hearts and being compassionate with ourselves.

The sense of opening our hearts and finding a source not of brokenness but of fearlessness and strength inside, is powerful. Amidst all the wisdom in the practical suggestions here, and the placing of them in a wide, deep human context, what I find the most helpful is the trust Harryman conveys in the basic warmth and fearlessness of the heart.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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