Friday, April 3, 2009

Creative Illness and our Collective Quest

What comes to mind as you read the following questions: ” “How bad is it?” “How bad will it hurt?” “How worried should I be?” “How much worse will it get?” “How much time do we have?” “How did this happen?” Do these seem by any chance like questions that someone who has just discovered that he or she is ill might ask? And does it seem to you that these kind of questions are getting asked a whole lot these days? It does to me. One definition of disease is 'a lack of ease,' and the escalating threats of a dying planet and seriously ailing economy are most definitely making many of us more than a little uneasy (and leaving some of us quaking. )

In “The Discovery of the Unconscious,” historian Henri Ellenberger described a process whereby illness in addition to being painful, debilitating, and frightening can also be evolutionary and transformative. He called this phenomenon, ‘creative illness.’ Serious Illness and dis-ease often lead us to confront issues that we haven’t truly faced before, and to ask the kind of questions that seldom (if ever) have easy answers. Today, many of us are earnestly asking questions that we’ve long avoided such as, “what will we need to do differently, more efficiently, sustainably and now as we face global warming?” and, “how must we behave, think, and live differently in order to survive the harsh new economic realities?” Ready or not, we have been launched on a quest -a quest that threatens, challenges, and frightens us.

Quests by definition are initiated by questions, some of which have the potential to distract and overwhelm us, particularly those that are all too often accompanied by complicated and even contradictory answers. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke advised us to love questions, while another poet, Mary Oliver, suggests that there is ultimately only one question that we need to ask ourselves and that is, “how to love this world?”

It’s my belief that the outcome of our collective quest will have a great deal to do with the quality of the questions that we ask ourselves along the way, and I am dearly hoping that through the questions we ask and the courage and integrity required in not only seeking, but then living the answers, we will in the end be stronger, deeper, wiser, and more creative, and that through our questing we will be both transformed and redeemed.

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