We seem to be living in a time of perpetual crisis. Significant upheavals of every kind seem to surround us, starting right outside our front door and spreading outwards across the globe. Economic crisis, environmental crisis, political crisis……if we attend to the News too much it can start to feel that there’s nothing but crisis in our world!

And on top of that we all have experience of crises at a more personal level, often regularly throughout our lives: financial, relationships, work, family etc. We all know the territory. In fact, most of us will have gone through an emotional crisis of one form or another, serious or minor, quite recently.

Perhaps it’s happening in your life right now?

It’s worth remembering that the very word ‘crisis’ actually doesn’t mean what we normally think it does.

Quite apart from the negative aspect of the word, so beloved by news journalists and editors — in which it tends to mean ‘desperate situation’, ‘disaster’, ‘upheaval’, ‘trauma’ — the true meaning of the word can give us surprising insights into our own experience.

‘Crisis’ entered the English vocabulary from Ancient Greek by way of the Renaissance. Its Greek meaning originally was: ‘a decision’. Through time, the word has picked up at least five distinct shades of meaning (according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary), some more common than others but all accurate and to some extent in use.

Medical professionals will know of course that a crisis can be: ‘the point in the progress of a disease which is decisive of recovery or death’. Closely related to this pathological meaning, the OED tells us that the word also has an ancient astrological root: ‘…a conjunction of the planets which determines…the course of events’. More figuratively, it means ‘a turning point in the progress of anything’, and, going back to its Greek roots, it can be used to mean ‘a judgment or decision’. Poetically, it can mean ‘a criterion or sign’.

Notice how the negative connotation, the bit so frequently implied in the media today (‘death’ for example), is only one aspect in the menu of meanings, and by no means an essential ingredient. In fact the general emphasis is much more on ‘deciding’and ‘progress’.

I often encourage my clients to view their individual crisis in this way — not as a disaster or trauma, but simply as a turning point in their lives. What’s to learn? What opportunities are there?

And yes, our crises may not be pleasant experiences, there may be pain and great stress involved.

Crises hurt, of course they do. That’s the point — they make us sit up and take notice.

What matters is WHAT you notice. Where are you looking?

In crisis, great changes for the better can occur, at an individual or a collective level; the foundations of real progress can be established; choices can be made which allow us to move on from the past and into a wiser, more fulfilling future.

Understanding crisis from that perspective can be illuminating and extremely rewarding. We can view it as a means of progress, rather than purely as an obstacle.

A personal or professional crisis ALWAYS carries within itself a powerful way to change something for the better. So try to stop focusing on the negatives; instead pay close attention to the real reasons behind what’s happening and to what opportunities there are coming towards you.

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