Have you ever thought to yourself, when someone asks you “How are you?”, that you would like to give them a real and truthful answer but can’t? As a rule I am as truthful as I can be without causing harm or insult but the old “How are you?” question does put me in a bind from time to time. Some days I am on top of the world, and sometimes not so much. Some days I have had a great sleep, great breakfast, energising exercise session, and sometimes I am simply wishing for a comfy place to lay my weary head. Some days I am feeling energised, inspired and fulfilled and sometimes I just want to feel sorry for myself for a few hours. I believe this is the case for many people. We all have highs, lows and lots of in between stuff.
But what if you have experienced trauma? What if you have had a tragedy or deep sadness that raises it’s head every time you feel a little low? What if you have had a great loss, been deeply hurt, maybe bullied or abused? What happens in then? Is it no longer possible to feel good ever again? Are you doomed to a life of replaying that old record over and over again and never answering the question “How are you?” with any semblance of truth?
In our last workshop (see video clip above) we talked about people who had overcome great personal pain, failure and tragedy. We talked about many people in this world who have discovered another way of being as a result of the difficulties they have faced. There are throughout our history great leaders who have overcome deep sadness, pain and conflict. There are modern day inspirational teachers who have emerged out of their difficulties with vigor, optimism, love and determination and who now spend their lives sharing this information with others. There is irrefutable evidence that there is another way of being and that we are infinitely capable of overcoming pain and hardship.
Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl M.D. Ph. D. epitomises this message in his life’s work and especially in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He discovered through his own life experience and research that people had a huge capacity to overcome trauma and loss as long as they assigned meaning to the experience. This is an excerpt of his work:
“… We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory….”
This shows us clearly how even in the most dire and distressing circumstances, people have the capacity to move beyond the immediate and obvious pain and suffering and into a state of joy. It is a confronting example but how many times today have you had a choice about whether you feel bad or good about what is occurring in your life?
Throughout history it has been demonstrated to us that the single most powerful tool in our control is our interpretation of the event. It is not what happens to us in life that defines us. It is who we choose to be as a result and what we choose to focus on as a consequence.
What are you choosing today?
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“From Bullied to Brilliant”
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