Using Tragedy Constructively

The wise have often told us that tragedy is an opportunity. Just as quickly, they suggest we need to cultivate an attitude of letting go.  With all the upheaval in the world and evils perpetrated upon one another,  it might do us some good to re-visit these concepts. How does one seize an opportunity and let go simultaneously?

Renounce and Enjoy

In Eastern spiritual traditions much attention is devoted to renunciation of results for a given action.  If, for instance, you plant a garden, then you plant it without the expectation that your action will yield a harvest. Likewise, if it SHOULD yield a harvest, one does not thereby take credit for the harvest.  In other words, one does what needs to be done without an eye toward a given result. Why should one consider this to be necessary? Because by doing what needs to be done without paying attention to the result, one avoids the trap of ego insisting that it was the reason for the outcome.  Whether the yield is abundant or desolate, the ego cannot intervene and say that it is a good gardener or a bad gardener. A practice of renunciation keeps one mindful–centered in the moment.


What is tragedy but an unexpectedly unwelcome result? The reciprocal of tragedy would be what? A stroke of unexpectedly good luck? Most everyone desires to avoid tragedy, but it seems most people have no qualms with having a stroke of good luck. This proves unfortunate in that tragedy is unavoidable. Something unexpected will happen that is undesirable–it is a matter of when.  If one has little practice with ego dissolving techniques, then one becomes  “stuck” .  When tragedy inevitably knocks on the door, the ego will not be able to let go of suffering.  The person has become acclimated to the good such that when the bad finally makes itself known, they have no means of coping besides to suffer .

Ironically, in this state of suffering, it is impossible to seize new opportunities. It is impossible precisely because the person is stuck suffering.  Yet, if one overcomes this stuckness, then one cannot be molested by either tragedy or good luck. The two will cease to be a driving force. What’s left when these twins fall? Contentment.

Using Tragedy Constructively

Tragedy, then, shows up and increases our suffering at PRECISELY the time we have become too identified with our egos to keep it in proper perspective. When something unfortunate happens and we are stuck years later attempting to cope with it, then we are not in the present and we cannot seize an opportunity. Letting go becomes the ability TO accept and seize new opportunities. Without letting go, it becomes impossible to seize anything.
When our psyches are sufficiently disturbed and stuck, we have various psychological labels we apply to them to signify in what manner they are disturbed or stuck. Severe trauma, for example, might just as well be called “severe stuckness”.  The trauma has overwhelmed the ability to cope. We might call coping the ability to process and let go of. Since the ability to cope has been overwhelmed and letting go has been stymied, the consequence is dysfunction. Like a song stuck in a loop, nothing moves forward. Responding to whatever is happening in the now becomes nearly impossible.


You’d better be mindful to do as this sign suggests. Really.

Tragedy allows us to recognize the importance of letting go, and equally reminds us that though there are things under our control, there are plenty of forces outside of us not subject to our control.  If we do not allow ourselves to be overcome by it, we can use it just as well if not better than we would use our stroke of good luck.

Your Turn!

How have you used tragedy to your benefit? In what ways has it torn you down? Leave a comment or something already!