When Things Go Wrong

Oct 17, 2023 | Virtues of the Heart

Things never go quite as I plan them. Sometimes, things happen that test every ounce of my fortitude, which opens the door for my ego to take control—or take things out of control; it’s more like it!

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when my wife and I were headed to Canada for a short vacation and to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with my family. We drove, which is about a 10-hour trip, but we are used to it, and parts of the drive are very enjoyable with beautiful scenery.

At about the halfway mark, I received a call from a client (I have a small website service business) who said one of his websites was down. This was serious, so I had to act fast. I stopped at a rest stop and called my head IT person in India and asked him to investigate this ASAP. I expressed the urgency of the situation.

I continued driving, but the tension was building, my mind was on fire, painting a bleak scenario of what could happen. Seconds felt like hours while waiting for word from my IT person. He sent a text on WhatsApp that simply said, “The server has been hacked.” This was a new experience for me. A feeling of dread set in.

So began a long process of trying to find out the extent of the problem and how we could resolve it. Many calls and texts went back and forth throughout my drive, leading me to a state of stress that I had not experienced in quite a long time. This was supposed to be my vacation.

I could see that the stress was building as time went by and that it was consuming me. I did not like being in a position where I was responsible for resolving a problem that was affecting one of my clients. That responsibility seemed to weigh on me in a disproportionate way. The tension was palpable, and my wife was a witness to my disposition spiraling downward.

I knew my IT person was doing everything he could, but it seemed to be taking forever. My ego was only too willing to offer me doom-and-gloom scenarios that supercharged my stress levels.

This would continue until we reached our destination, and it would not be resolved for the next several days. I learned that more websites had been affected. I was constantly in communication with my client and team while visiting my family.

It did not escape me that I felt like I was emotionally losing control. I was on vacation and did not want this to ruin my time with my family. I had to do something to bring myself back to center. I could see clearly that I was operating from an out-of-control egoic emotional place. I knew better, but that was no consolation; I was too far gone.

All of this was happening against the backdrop of another war unfolding in the Middle East. It was painful to watch. My problems seemed insignificant as I witnessed the unspeakable brutality and suffering of war.

After many attempts to focus on the six heart virtues and with the help of my wife’s wise words, I began to release some of the tension. Not much at first, but I persisted and applied compassion to myself as much as I could.

I was doing everything I could possibly do to move toward managing the problem in conjunction with my team.

My stress and tension were magnified by old beliefs that the worst thing for me is to make a mistake, to not be good enough, to screw up, and to be viewed as disappointing or a failure in the eyes of others. These old beliefs are now unconscious, built up since I was a young boy. So, they are invisible until a situation like this shows up, and then they manifest as painful emotional turmoil.

My wife knows me well and reminded me “to have compassion for myself. This is part of life; life can be hard sometimes, and that is okay. Do your best.” She is aware of the old patterns in my life and reminded me that they were rising up like old, unwanted intruders from my past as emotional discord, fear, and pain. I could see that I didn’t need to add the extra emotional weight of being critical of myself because of an old pattern or belief. Slowly I was taking the compassion in. I was thinking more clearly, which helped me manage the problem. A small step forward.

This enabled me to focus on the other virtues. I asked to understand how my past could influence my present moment. I wanted to free myself from these old beliefs. This deep self-inquiry takes courage to look, to be vulnerable, and to admit my error. Humility and forgiveness welled up inside me. I began to feel more confident and capable of handling the situation. I felt appreciation for this situation, as difficult as it was, for giving me the opportunity to see a limitation I had been carrying all my life. It was only through the experience that I could see it, meet it, in order to free myself from it.

The problem persisted for several days before it was resolved, and new steps had to be put in place to avoid another incident like this from happening in the future.

If I had not been able to manage my emotional state, it would have been a very painful, prolonged, and stressful experience for me. At times it was more than I thought I could take, and I did not know where my breaking point was.

Things go wrong, and they will again, and maybe it will take me time to pull myself together again, but it will be shorter because I can see the choice much clearer now: giving it to my ego and letting the old beliefs take over to resolve it or letting my heart guide me. The latter is a much better choice because my emotions are self-managed, and the heart and mind can work together to solve the problem in more creative and meaningful ways.

It is hard to apply this in difficult times, but I love this quote, it gives me confidence:

“Accept each moment, whatever happens, and act like you chose it.”

–Eckhart Tolle

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