We can't afford to Freak out or be Overwhelmed when there's Real Danger
A few times I've been in life-or-death situations, as when I was driving on the highway during a winter storm with my wife and (at the time) young sons. Our car suddenly did three 360° spins on a busy highway. Everything occurred in slow motion, silence - no self-talk, complete calm, as I tried to slowly correct for the spin with my steering. It was only after the car came to a complete stop, safely off the road, that fear / anger arose - "what if ...?" Our sons burst out laughing in the back seat, thinking I'd just pulled off a great Dukes of Hazard stunt. Meaningless things - like Halifax drivers who only signal to celebrate the completion of a turn - still bother me.
I've also seen a number of people who tend to behave badly, become really centered and wise when they're in serious trouble eg diagnosed with cancer, or when a loved one dies. Then after they get over the traumatic event, they're back to being their "old selves".
Hard times do seem to bring out the best in us. Ajahn Chah reportedly would ask his students: "Are you suffering?" and when they said they were, he'd laugh and say "Good!" I'm convinced he did this out of "grandmotherly love."
See also: http://healthyhealers.blogspot.ca/2012/12/if-i-cant-live-fully-now-then-when.html
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