If you drive a modern, automatic car you can afford to be unaware of all the hidden inner workings that make it possible to move. You need know nothing about how fuel burns to create rapid expansion of hot gases, or how the resultant force is transferred into the turning of the wheels. You don’t have to know how the car shifts gears (or even, for most of the time, that there are gears at all). And you don’t need to know what a carburettor does, or even that such a thing exists.
You can assume, quite safely, that your car is straightforwardly a going-machine, that requires your guidance through wheels and pedals, and that’s about the sum of it.
All of this, of course, is rapidly called into question when you’re stranded on the side of the road with a breakdown. Many aspects of the car’s workings will be revealed to you, even if simply that you find out what it is that’s broken. And if you’re prepared to learn about what’s happened more deeply, you can open up whole worlds of possibility that were unavailable to you previously. Most notably you can give yourself the newfound capacity to get yourself moving again without waiting hours for an expert to assist you.
And, not surprisingly, most of life is like this.
In the face of a breakdown of some sort – an interruption to your plans or intentions, a disruption in the smooth, transparent workings of life – new aspects of the world are always revealed, if you’ll care to look. And new skills, which, if you took them up, would greatly expand your ability to take action. For some kinds of breakdown, whole new kinds of understanding of yourself and others appear.
But you can’t step into a breakdown if you pretend it isn’t happening, if you deny your anxiety, if you won’t admit that this difficulty is new and that you’re confused. Many of us, in fact, invest a lot of energy in avoiding the possibility that we’ll ever have to face a breakdown at all. Whole organisations orient themselves this way.
Of course, nobody can avoid breakdowns completely, no matter how hard we try. And it’s in them that our best opportunity to transform ourselves and our lives can be found.
If we can’t stay in the inevitable breakdowns life brings us, we greatly diminish our capacity to grow and to learn. As well as our capacity to respond wisely to all the difficulties that life, sooner or later, is bound to bring us.