Have you seen those sinkholes in Florida – huge gaping spaces where houses and cars used to be? They look as if some giant had poked a huge hole in the ground. It must be incredible for the owners to find that all they had taken for granted has just gone.
Sometimes we experience personal sinkholes of our own. Usually our thought patterns just toddle along the well worn paths of routine, hemmed in by the prickly hedges of anxiety and fear but for the most part comfortably predictable and then one day – wham! A sinkhole opens up in the mind when something we had taken for granted is just gone. The causes are multiple – your partner tells you she’s having an affair, your job is wiped out due to a merger, you get a diagnosis you had long feared and suddenly your way of thinking is revealed for what it is –a mode of coping with the mass of unknown experience.
But when the sinkholes happen they can prove useful for considering how we have lived so far. Each one of us greets experience with our own thoughts, stories and beliefs. The beliefs are the hidden structure of the stories and our thoughts usually lend unreflecting support. And so the man in the paragraph above who considered himself an irresistible lover, a good provider and in excellent health may well fall apart when his sinkholes appear. I would not recommend going up to him five minutes later and saying something like ‘ It’s ok mate – this will pass’ as such advice would be inappropriate in the moment and I might find myself on the sharp end of a violent rejoinder. But it’s true.
It’s estimated that of all the species of life in the long history of this planet only one percent have survived. We survive. And although the sinkhole can seem like the end of the world it can also herald a new way of being. Once you have seen how fragile life is and how contingent your thoughts, stories and beliefs are then you can take a gentler more accommodating approach to the world. This is not to imagine that you’ll welcome sinkholes in the future but you may well get to feel as if they are part of experience and not the cataclysmic ending they seem to be. Being open to change has made us what we are.