Handled positively, crisis frequently portends the unleashing of powerful creative energies. Instead of taking tranquilizers and battening down the hatches when your life seems to be falling apart, it can be useful to begin looking at crisis as a pivot for change - a door to the kind of transformation the caterpillar undergoes. Deeply woven into the silk threads of his cocoon, the creature's body dissolves into white jelly, only to be reformed again in a completely different shape and set free as a butterfly.
A growing number of biologists, psychologists and philosophers believe that our attitude to crisis needs reexamining. They insist (as I, in my own struggle for individual freedom, continually discover) that crisis need not be a negative event.
Of course old attitudes die hard. Most psychologists and physicians still see things as Freud did. They still believe that the unconscious mind is full of dangerous repressed impulses and material that, if you are to remain balanced and healthy, you need to keep the lid on. Freud's assertions, brilliant though they were, were a product of the nineteenth century mechanistic thinking on which he was raised. Freud completely ignored the spiritual dimension of consciousness, believing that such phenomena as visions of angels and devils were always an indication of pathology.
For half a century, other psychiatrists and psychologists - from Carl Jung, who formulated the concept of the Self (the archetypal unchanging center which has both universal and individual characteristics) to Abraham Maslow, who first coined the phrase "peak experience", and Roberto Assigioli, who is responsible for the concept of the higher self, have all insisted that Freud's model of the mind, like the worldview out of which it developed, is too limited.
These men have been instrumental in the formation of new paradigms of consciousness which take in the spiritual dimension of human life. They no longer view the human mind as a static entity, the balance of which must be maintained at all costs. They see each of us involved in a constant process of spiritual growth, and a movement towards wholeness. The twists and turns through which we pass in life, they say, are part of this movement, and each crisis - each molting - is an attempt to bring us closer and closer to being able to live from our own center and experience our own wholeness. Metamorphosis should not be viewed as something to be avoided, they say. It is as common and as natural as birth, growth and death - an essential part of human existence.
Such a notion has long existed in religious spheres, and is echoed in Biblical phrases such as the process of "becoming what thou art", but was completely new to psychology. This new view of consciousness not only recognizes the conscious mind, of which we are aware in our day to day life, and the unconscious mind, which directs the basic psychological activities and instinctual urges and which encompasses archetypal energies, but also what is often referred to as the super-conscious or transpersonal mind. The transpersonal realm is described as the domain of higher feelings and capacities, including intuition and inspiration. It is called transpersonal because it is more than personal in its nature. It also taps universal consciousness, crossing over barriers of culture to connect us with the universal energies.
The acknowledgment of the transpersonal realm by psychologists closely parallels findings in the new physics, which emphasize both the interconnectedness of all life and the all pervasive universal stuff of consciousness.
Frequently a woman undergoing a major crisis finds she has tapped into this universal consciousness and is experiencing other dimensions of being or even other times and places. When this happens, it can bring about quantum leaps in personal growth and creativity. It is then that crisis becomes transformational.