The Creative Use of Pain, Crisis and Failure in our Global Situation

The Creative Use of Pain, Crisis and Failure in our Global Situation - Blog by Diana Whitmore

“Experience is not what happens to a manIt is what a man does with what happens to him.”  Aldous Huxley

In troubled times, our capacity to make or create ‘meaning’ is a poignant human capacity, that provides us with a ground to stand on and a context to bring more coherency and light to our predicaments.  Globally, in the face of the coronavirus, at this very moment, what are we being ‘called’ to do or to be?  In psychosynthesis we value the creative use of pain, crisis and failure.  Assagioli taught us that our goal could be that we are the same in triumph as we are in failure – I then think about the incredible creativity, generosity of spirit, inventiveness, capacity to love and cherish, to create and live by our values and to make miracles in our own life and the lives of others.  Following that, I think of the fear, the pain, the isolation, the rage, the loneliness and suffering of humanity. From a psychosynthesis perspective: how can we find equanimity whilst making peace with this current world situation without turning a blind eye, but also without getting overwhelmed by the pain of the world?

Can we extrapolate the principles of psychosynthesis to the current global issue?  Originally this blog was going to be about the environmental situation, but obviously the current COVID crisis takes its place momentarily AND a side effect is its impact on the environment.

  • At this moment, how can we live our life, from what ‘context’ can we be in the world?
  • How can we understand what the mystics and the saints throughout the ages have said, of the fundamental alrightness of the universe?
  • How can the transpersonal and our values ground us in these troubled times?

Perhaps asking these questions is just, or even more important as finding the right answers, for it leads us to disidentification, to equanimity, as well as a wholehearted embracing of our existential reality.

 "To know suffering and to find joy" Roberto Assagioli

The psychosynthesis model of the integration of transcendence and immanence

As a way of framing what the Self is and who I essentially am, I have always valued the concepts transcendence and immanence as one unified whole, two sides of the same coin, a unified context of human experience and I have strived to make this unity in my life and in my way of addressing our human predicament.

To me, it is useless to separate these two phenomena into a duality that can torment our individual as well as our collective lives.

Let’s take a look at this.  Transcendence according to the Oxford dictionary: “Exceeding usual limits, extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience, beyond the limits of all possible knowledge, experience, being beyond comprehension”.

We have all experienced moments when we rose above and transcended it all.  Moments when we may have been stuck in the contents of our psyche and suddenly popped through, or saw from a higher perspective, to another mindset on reality or a right sense of proportion.  These moments often seem to happen during seemingly negative times, times of crisis, conflict, trauma or loss.  Many years ago, my strongest moment of transcendence was when I was held at gun point in Dallas Texas.  Additionally, in moments of joy and beauty, or Maslow’s peak experiences, or through spiritual practice we have transcendent experiences where we revel in the beauty of the Superconscious, of Unity and Connectedness.

As Assagioli said, of course there are levels of transcendence and the ultimate level of transcendence is not manifested in time and space – the pure and total experience of Being – of Grace.  However, most of us experience degrees of transcendence, a relative continuum of seeing from a wider perspective or rising above or beyond.

On the other side of the same coin there is immanence: “to remain in place, remaining or operating within a domain of reality (of what is), inherent, existing in consciousness – not outside it”.

So, what does to see the Self as immanent mean? It means that the Self is here and now, everywhere in everything, all the time!  Each moment contains the opportunity for Being our Self, no matter what the content of our personality is experiencing and contains the opportunity for conscious cooperation. Here we experience the transpersonal in everyday experiences – the moment of sharing with a friend, watching our children play or washing the dishes.  A colleague who had 4 children once told me that when she scrubbed the kitchen floor, she felt like she was scrubbing the floor of a cathedral.

So what?

So why am I linking this to our topic of the global situation of the coronavirus today and why am I linking this to the topic of the creative use of pain, crisis and failure?  We will only come to terms with this situation if we both embrace the reality of what is – people are dying, many are suffering, we are impotent in the face of the virus – but without getting overwhelmed by the pain of the collective or this seeming impotence.  This potential equanimity can lead us to mental and emotional stability and composure; to some degree of equilibrium that empowers us with our capacity to act, to make choices as we embrace the situation, as well as what actions we would value taking. Disidentification leads to Self-identification which enables, without hindering, composure, poise and evenness of mind in an incredibly stressful situation – the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience (this too shall pass); but without undermining the reality of the now and choices that we are called to make. It is the ground for wisdom and the protector of compassion and love in the midst of the storm. However, every time we talk about Vision, we have to acknowledge Reality – otherwise our Vision can become a lie.  It is more honest and the Vision lacks meaning without first acknowledging the darker side of reality.  Otherwise we run the risk of a Pollyanna positive ‘stinking’ in the face of the way things are in the world.

"Pain breaks the shell of our understanding" Gibran


Psychosynthesis contains some simple principles or working hypotheses that we could apply in the face of the coronavirus.  Those of you who have done this training module, or already practice psychosynthesis in your personal and professional lives will know these principles well and also, will be familiar with how utterly challenging it is to apply them.  It is only with the use of our will that we can break from the chains of victimization, impotency and despair.  Hence the importance of disidentification and accessing that well spring of Will which can create the vehicle for our liberation.

Principles of psychosynthesis to apply

The principle of acceptance, of collaborating with the inevitable, of blessing the obstacle: 

Rather than occupying ourselves with useless rebellion, or reactive emotional discharge, or being stuck in our impotency, we can reframe what is happening.  With the corona virus, as well as the horror of the illness, we can see the impact it is having on the environmental situation, on people’s good will and collaboration, on the coming together of nations – but most importantly on requiring us to revisit our lives and what is precious and meaningful to us.

"Without contraries, there is not growth" W Blake

You cannot always change the outer, but you can always change the inner 

Depending upon the attitude we have towards the situation; on us becoming conscious of our psychospiritual response to the situation and the changing contents of our consciousness. We actually do have choice about what feelings and emotions we

empower – we come back to Disidentification and Will again- which can free us to do something about the situation.  An example is how we choose to use our time during this coronavirus period can create a transmutation of energy of a horrendously negative reality towards a meaningful period of creativity, inspiration and Soul searching.  Please note that I say ‘move us towards’.  I am not suggesting this as a magic cure all or form of positive thinking.

Pain has a purpose

The Yoga Sutras tell us that ‘all pain and sorrow has to do with the spiritual man identifying himself with his objective forms’. It is the word ‘identifying’, that is of most value to us here. We know that when we disidentify from something, we do not lose or erase it, but rather liberate ourselves from the prison of identification.  When it comes to the coronavirus, the objective forms of our work and daily life have been removed through no doing of our own.  This tragic loss leaves many of us with a sense of bereavement for the life we previously had.  To recognise that who we essentially are has very little to do with the forms of our previous life and work, can lead us home to the Self.

Although worthy of noting, but similar to the other principles of psychosynthesis in the face of the corona virus is the principle of Acceptance.

Assagioli framed the principle of acceptance as a psychospiritual technique, an attitude to develop and to choose to apply. He said that acceptance is: ‘not passive, sad resignation but a positive and serene acceptance of a negative situation and elimination of useless reaction and rebellion’. Acceptance is truly an act of will – not passive and resigned, but an attitude of not trying to repel – get rid of – but hear the message, understand the cause and learn as much as we can from it.  Consequently, I invite you to reflect on what yourself personally, as well as humanity collectively can learn from this global crisis of the coronavirus.  Again, we come to the right use of will.

"Pain breaks the shell of our understanding" Gibran

Higher consciousness is not tied to any particular state or situation

The Self is not conditionally alive!  Being who we really are is not dependent of any particular situation, circumstance or event.  Who we essentially are is a drop of the divine, limitless, boundaryless, timeless and pure essential Being.

At the moment, globally, and especially in the West, humanity is being confronted with the loss of our collective ways of living – we experience the pain of a collective identification being exposed as dysfunctional – the way of modern life is no longer serving us – most of our structures are disintegrating and as with any major identification – at some point it becomes a limiting prison that imprisons us rather than giving meaning and wellbeing.

On a collective level, could we hypothesise this global crisis as this?

Hypothesise:  what’s the creative potential contained within this?

We psychosynthesis folks have learned that the transpersonal is ‘immanent’, that meaning and transformation live within our darkness, our challenges, our shadow as well as in the light.  We have been trained to hypothesise by asking ourselves the question: What’s trying to emerge?  What potential is seeking to be born? What’s my next step here? What old forms am I attached to? What’s the creative possibility contained within this challenge?

This reframing of pathology has been shown to awaken a sleeping giant of potential transformation in us – empowering us to shift the context of our lives from being wounded and damaged – to being on a rich journey of unfoldment that has challenges and obstacles to meet in order to fulfill our purpose.  To this we can add: that journey and purpose are a part of a larger plan and overall scheme of the universe.  We are all intimately connected to the coronavirus crisis and our response to it matters…

“Imagination is more important than thought” Einstein

I offer this blog as food for thought and of course, the highest value of psychosynthesis is “this is not the Truth”.  We each must find our own way to embrace and to respond to the reality of the coronavirus and I am certain that no one way is the right way. But let us include our psychospiritual embracing of this existential moment, our undeniable and inescapable interconnectedness, our place in the larger whole and the power of our response to the global situation.

Be safe and be well!