The Spiritual Heimlich– A Personal Black Swan.

Black Swan Events were described by Nassim Taleb in his book, The Black Swan.

Based on the author’s criteria, a Black Swan Event is one that:

  1. Is a surprise (to the observer).
  2. Has a major impact.
  3. And that is typically rationalized in hindsight, as if it had been expected.

Taleb used the term to consider broad social events. Here, I want to use it to describe personal events such as major illness, death or other significant personal losses. In that light a Personal Black Swan or a Spiritual Heimlich is an event that:

  1. Comes as a surprise to the individual (even where the event was expected such as the death of a spouse with cancer)
  2. Has a major impact on the individual triggering the grieving process (even if the individual remains in denial the remainder of their life).
  3. Is typically rationalized in hindsight, as if it had been expected.
  4. and often,

  5. Triggers a reexamination of ourselves as we search for meaning in light of the experience

I have often said that pain is inevitable in this life but suffering is mostly a matter of personal choice. That does not apply to Personal Black Swans. They often bring pain and even suffering that must be experienced.

I had valve replacement surgery after suffering endocarditis, a bacterial infection inside my heart, several years ago. At some point during the process I decided (unconsciously?) that the whole experience was more than I could handle and somehow managed to turn off my feelings. I didn’t even notice until I left the hospital and came home. I felt nothing, no relief, no happiness nothing. My feelings didn’t return until I took an imaginary trip back through the experience and recorded my thoughts my feelings and my fears. I also discovered a number of positive experiences I’d missed: The home made cards from my cub scout den, and from my children’s grade school classes. The visits from coworkers, friends and family. The hot shower the first day after surgery. Walking a mile before breakfast four days after surgery.

At their worst a Spiritual Heimlich is a trip through Hell. You can, consciously or otherwise, choose to remain there as I nearly did. The theological word for the exit from Hell is repentance. The Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner defines repentance as coming to your senses. He says, “True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying I’m sorry than it does to the future and saying Wow!” In this context repentance is not something you do so much as a change in who you are and how you experience life.  It’s easier if you believe that everything has a purpose but even if you do not, there is much to be gained from these events.

One Comment on “The Spiritual Heimlich– A Personal Black Swan.”


  1. […] Page: Personal Black Swans Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Explore posts in the same categories: Be here now., […]


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