You've successfully subscribed to Thrive In Asia
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to Thrive In Asia
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Billing info update failed.
Surviving Personal Crisis

Surviving Personal Crisis

How can we face fear and endure the pain in the midst of the darkness?

Site Assistant
Site Assistant

by Michael Heng

There is Life After The Darkness

It was a cool August morning in 2001. I will never forget that inner voice telling me: “so you only lost your wife!” during a quiet meditative moment alone in the Rex Hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  It was the beginning of an international consulting assignment for the International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, to the Government of Vietnam which would return me regularly to Vietnam and also to China, Cambodia and Hong Kong over the next 8 years. Rosie succumbed to breast cancer on May 1999 after we fought the scourge for 2 years. That hot summer day in 1999 at the end of her life triggered the darkest episode in my life.

With son Timothy, who was only 5 years old then, we wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of grief and pain to engage life one day at a time as best as we could. The fear of losing a loved one had been the most dreadfully frightening, and the eventual loss of one was utterly painfully unbearable. With no one to talk to and none to comfort by, I took to writing poetry as a therapy.  An early poem reflected:

“On life’s pathway we journey on alone.

When the road seems long, and temptation strong,

We remember how you press on,

Keeping the faith to finish the race.

In the evening, as the moon shines brightest,

Our strength seems almost gone.

Our souls cry out in thirst and our hearts gasp for warmth,

As Tim’s little hands reach out to grasp your embrace;

We wake up in a parched and weary place

Where memories lingered, never forgotten,

Of your love that endures forever.”

A year later in 2002 in the same Rex Hotel, I received news of my Public Service Medal Award by the President of Singapore in recognition of over a decade of voluntary community service. I wondered then who to share the news with among the many intimate friends, but found none particularly special or significant. It was shockingly my loneliest moment.  I realized then that true loneliness is when you have no one to share your desired moments with.  It was another epiphany at the same Hotel.

The journey into my dark soul through the tunnel of grief lasted nearly 3 years of psychological loneliness and emotional pain.  And as I emerged from the darkness, I was no longer the same man who did not know that he was trapped in a reality pattern which was no longer relevant or applicable to my life.

The world looks different after the darkness inside the grief tunnel. The darkness did not kill me.  Neither did it make me stronger.  It led me through into the light, again. Not the old light. Only different this time round, my learning in the darkness has stripped me of the delusions and superstitions of philosophies, man-made truths, myths, folklores and religions. Gone are the immutable sense of the surroundings, of temporal acclaims, of empty accolades, of meaningless awards, of empty crowns and superficial relationships. Victories and disappointments are revealed as imposters, and the Gods and their gods exposed to be basically immaterial and irrelevant to human existence.

I did not become stronger. In the deep abyss of grief and loneliness, I had the courage not to take my own life.  Instead, I confronted directly the pretentious darkness to take the next best way out of this life rather than ending it. Only the Truth of multiple realities in the omniverse awaits all who enter and want to survive the inevitable darkness in life. My journey into the dark of my soul yielded one valuable lesson - no one returns from the dark side of life.

Only the Truth matters now.  It has been a while since I passed through the dark side of life.  That darkness has moved on, never to return.  Today, I engage life in full awakening to the truth of multiple realities which illuminate my understanding into all things temporal and impermanent.  This is the wonderful and profitable lesson I want to share with one and all.

The epiphany in the Rex Hotel room in August 2001 pointed me to a larger alternative reality. Only on the previous day, I had mingled and engaged with my warm hospitable Vietnamese hosts and many quickly became my friends.  I listened with empathy their long history of foreign subjugation and oppression, and marveled at their inherent resilience and strength to defeat not one, but two superpower nations within a quarter century. I was challenged to reconsider lugging around the unbearable burden of my grief baggage from Rosie’s demise.

In that epiphany, my conscience was awakened to the daunting challenges faced by the Vietnamese in their nation-building efforts when compared with the “loss of my Rosie”, tragic no less.  My mind-eyes quickly envisioned the reality of their challenges, and my heart demanded “what are you going to do about them?”  Rosie’s gone, has been for a while now; and these people need me now. The option choice was plainly clear – the old reality was long past and gone, and the new reality must be embraced or my life will remain stuck in the prison of an outdated reality now irrelevant, unreal and unproductive. In Vietnam that August 2001, I met the new life which was awaiting me.

The successful impact of the UN-ILO consulting work facilitated the rollout of a 3-year US$2 million ILO Project on Industrial Relations and Collective Negotiations in Viet Nam, covering 70 companies in 7 Provinces. I remained its International Consultant. The phenomenal Project impact later extended the Project by another 3 years in 2004.  In November 2002, the ILO Project became a part of the World Bank’s Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy (CPRGS) in Vietnam, which is a 10-year US$370 million multi-agency total initiative aimed at education, health, job creation and infrastructural development.

The awakening of new realities to meet the needs of others led to other humanitarian and community building projects in Timor Leste and Nias (near Aceh) in Indonesian, as well as disaster relief work in Pakistan.  My life after the darkness is never the same as before.  In 2012, I married the wonderfully beautiful Pingping, who enjoined the rest of the special women in my life.

Are you Stuck in the Darkness of Life?

Get Out to The Life Awaiting You.

Why is the darkness around you? For many obvious reasons, I guess.  Mostly from a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. You do not like your appearance; your career sucks; your boss is not sensitive or understanding; your lack of progress in relationships; have no close friends; no boyfriends or girlfriends; cannot afford that dream car or dream house or dream gadgets; cannot have what other people have; unhappy most times; unloved rest of the time; no one to love all the time; loneliness; depressed; want more of anything; want less of others; don’t like being sick or weak or medicated; having to depend on the unwilling; trapped in an unhappy marriage; stuck in an unhappy home; abused; beaten; hungry; cold; poverty; wars; diseases …. an endless list.

Your reasons for change can also be mundane and personal. You want to look better, more desirable and more beautiful. Modern marketing of personal and life-style products makes you feel too fat, or too thin, or too tall, or too short, or facial features non-symmetrical; eyebrows too natural, eyes not at same level, nose not in the middle of your face, your ears unbalanced, one foot bigger than the other, one leg longer, another arm too short, one hand bigger, mouth not aligned with face, unshapely body, breasts too high or too big or too small or too ‘different’ or not enticing enough … well, just look at Nature where beauty flourishes in diversity, differences and NOT symmetry or same-ness. Remember you were born an original, why strive to become an imitation, just because the advertisements and product magazines say you should?

Choose your New Reality

The most difficult thing to do as you stumble within the dark of life is to let go and forget your future in this life, and to reach out for the life that is waiting for you. Imagine the many alternative life realities which you desire and want to have. Know that there is no past, present or future. The past, present and future are concurrent and constant. The future is not what will happen. The future is what is happening now. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are just markers on a time horizon which is common to everyone. If yesterday were a different day, and tomorrow yet another, is the future therefore in front or behind us?

Perceive the many potential “future” realities and select the most delightful possibility, then shift the present forward to make the ever-present your future. Leave “behind” all and every past baggage as you embrace the selected future reality pattern in the continuous present without them. Your selected preferred alternative reality should have the alluring power of influence to inspire you to act with the strength and courage to accomplish something positive, that it is worth getting out of bed for and doing it now.  You are empowered by the change you want to become. The secret in surviving a personal crisis is the conscious knowledge that reality is immanent and malleable, and to realise that you are the principal architect of your own becoming.

Change happens. It has nothing to do with time. Our grasp of the applicable reality is created by our perception and “sense” of it. The darkness of life is in reality a “dark tunnel” which has formed around us by the confluence of multivariate elements of events, people and the environment. The “grief tunnel” is an example of a “dark tunnel”.  You are not responsible for the darkness now enveloping you.  The dark patches of life are always there for everyone to stumble into for all the wrong reasons and the right timings.

When you are stuck in the darkness of life, be awaken to realise that you are entrapped in a changed reality pattern. Overcoming the unique challenges is the struggle in facing the new reality paradigms. Determine the baggage that must be let go in exchange for the risks of new relations and objects that will be created in the new desired reality. Believe you can influence events and people, in spite of seemingly powerful forces behind the counter-currents in your new journey.

The new reality is created. It is imagined by you, and materialized into reality when you are willing to work and sacrifice for it. Some people dream, others imagine while many more simply just face the realities happening to them. And as you imagine your dreams turning into realities, you will also discover the liberating lights of the new realities as they dispel the darkness to empower your escape from the dark tunnel. Inspired by Jean-Paul Sarte: "because we can imagine, we are free”; I did, and so can you rediscover life after the darkness too.

The secret of true happiness lies in the creation of happiness in the life of others. The personal tools of flexibility and adaptability can engage the human conditions of paradox, ambiguity, chaos, absence and silence when you face the dark side of life.  Affirming yourself strengthens your self-esteem and facilitates the building of close and intimate relationships with those around you.  Self-esteem empowers you to nurture and develop in others a greater capacity for love and for you to receive their love in turn.  When you are at your best self, you will readily share without fear or limit to bring out the best in others as well.  Invariably, you will also discover and rediscover happiness at the end of the sharing of everything ours and ourselves.