Linda: Ultimate limit experiences are situations that must be faced consciously with courage and resolution, and that push us to the limits of our endurance. Examples are illness, failure, divorce, disgrace, betrayal, situations like facing our own death or loss through death of someone we love, other losses, aging, extreme oppression, crushing poverty, rightful resistance or rebellion, revolt, guilt, absolute failure, danger, facing death in a combat situation, uncontrollable fear, abandonment, madness, confinement, and suffering of all types. Such severe experiences wrench us out of the life that we have known. An ultimate limit experience approaches our edge of living in terms of its intensity and its seeming impossibility.
In The Journal of Adult Development 7 no 4 (2000 242-243), Juan Pascual-Leone Mental Attention Consciousness and the Progressive Emergence of Wisdom says, “Wisdom is defined as an expectable but often missed outcome of adult development.” He goes on to explain how life’s most difficult challenges can accelerate the development of wisdom, but how only a select group who use the opportunity for rapid advancement. To take advantage of a limit situation, the person in the midst of the unwanted and overwhelming circumstances that cannot be avoided or easily resolved, must meet situation with awareness and resolve. Every experience of challenge, where we persist in the face of our fear of failure, gives us a chance to endure and grow stronger.
The more devastating the challenge, the greater is the opportunity. Such challenges will push us to our absolute limits. A person in tough circumstances will learn from the experience as long as the person does not give up. For this reason, life’s hardships that are endured with awareness can lead to accelerated and remarkable growth. Ultimate limit situations that cannot be easily addressed and are nonetheless faced with consciousness and resolve lead to the natural emergence of a highly evolved self, if they do not destroy us first.
The opportunity exists within the crisis, but not everyone who goes through a life crisis becomes wise as a result. Some succumb to depression, while others turn to drugs or alcohol. It is sad that there is such a wasted opportunity when the one who suffers has such rigid character structure that they can’t open to the learning that is laid out before them. Many people are so determined to have social recognition and acclaim, that they are committed tot keeping their image in tact. These people succumb to the script that they were given by others, and are therefore inhibited from turning inward to discover what is true for them, and what they want their life to be about. There are multiple forms dysfunction can take, complete with defense mechanisms that prevent development, but they all result in maintaining a more limited self. Because of the severity of the life challenge, more reflection and evaluation is demanded. For those who can use the opportunity of the trauma to their system, the catalyst will force the person to design a more efficient way of living, and thus prompt the making of wiser choices.
Ultimate limit experiences certainly are the kinds of life events that can break people down, but are also the kind of experiences that can bring wisdom. Such experiences are sometimes referred to as the dark night of the soul, which is a type of dark, yet mystical experience. Previous conceptions of reality are so severely challenged, that our prior belief system is exposed, and if examined can give way to a new form. Such strong experiences push us to the edge of our beliefs. Such “edgework” goes on to test the limits of the previously ordered reality.
It is a fascinating question why some are so damaged by adversity, experiencing on-going post-traumatic stress and others experience post-traumatic growth. It would appear that those who fare the best in desperate situations are those who are flexible and open to learning. To be prepared for the blows that life will inevitably hand us at some point, we are wise to begin to open to learning of all kinds when it is coming toward us.
Severe experiences will confront us with our ideas about how successful we can be, and will challenge us to redefine our self-imposed upper limits of how happy we can be. It is the very severity of the ultimate limit experience that blows the lid off the upper limit of who we think we are and what we are entitled to experience. The option is available to those who go through difficult circumstances to transcend them and be happier, wiser, and more successful than those who have not endured such terrible hardships. There is some choice involved in how we use the circumstances that life presents to us. What choices are you making?
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