This is a guest post by Prudence Sinclair.
How are you doing? How are you really doing?
Life is so hard right now for so many of us. Most people I talk to are having a hard time making ends meet. They are scared they are going to lose their jobs, scared there will be bare shelves in the near future, scared of another pandemic, scared of a nuclear war, and on and on. I have been on this planet a while now and have lived through some dark periods. But I must say, this is perhaps the darkest of all of them.
But here is something I learned during my battle with cancer: that which does not kill us does in fact make us stronger! That isn’t a cliché, it is a rule like gravity. And you don’t have to take my word for it, science is now pointing to this phenomena.
When most of us go through something traumatic, we recognize negative outcomes from the experience. For example, we recognize that after a divorce, we feel bitter and distrustful. Or after a major car accident, we feel anxious and vulnerable. Other life experiences can make us feel depressed, lower our self-esteem, and call our beliefs into question.
But not many people recognize that right alongside these negatives are positive outcomes as well. These positives are what psychologists are now calling post-traumatic growth. Yes, while the initial reaction to a traumatic life event can seem painful and negative (depression, anxiety, rage, self-doubt etc.), the event also was a catalyst for personal development. It is from hardships that we gain inner wisdom and strength, and discover new skills and abilities we never knew we had. It is from being thrown into the fire and pits of despair that we gain a deeper level of awareness and a sense of spirituality.
It is from something really “bad” happening that we gain confidence and a new appreciation for life. Boy did I gain confidence and a new appreciation for life when I beat stage 4 melanoma years ago. I also became far more compassionate to the suffering of others and had a deeper understanding of intimacy and tenderness. I would not be the person I am today were it not for my immense struggle facing death years ago.
The Ultimate Emancipator of the Spirit
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was no stranger to suffering. For much of his life he found himself suffering from debilitating migraines and stomach pains that incapacitated him for days. At the young age of 35, Nietzsche was forced to retire from his career as a professor at a university due to his poor health. He would live the rest of his life in isolation. He never married, was ostracized by his intellectual peers (because his ideas were “too out there”), and was a failure as an author. By age 45, Nietzsche had a complete mental breakdown and spent the last ten years of his life in a catatonic state, living with his mother.
Any sane, rational person learning about Nietzsche’s life wouldn’t blame him one iota for being depressed or anxious or having a major self-pity party. But Nietzsche always believed his suffering was beneficial to him. In fact, he was quoted as having said that suffering was “the ultimate emancipator of spirit.” Nietzsche believed that when a person goes through a traumatic experience, they are “as though born again, he has a new skin,” with a “finer taste for joyfulness.”
Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, said something similar when he wrote, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” I read these words during my battle with cancer and, I admit, I rolled my eyes when I did. I then read them again after I beat cancer and had a new lease on life. After my struggle, my heart, mind and spirit were able to recognize the truth in these words.
You Don’t Have to Like Suffering
None of what I have said in this post is meant to suggest that you should love and welcome the hardships that you and your family are experiencing. And you certainly should never go looking for trouble in an effort to emancipate your spirit.
But what I am suggesting is that when you are experiencing something in your life that is hard or traumatic, be aware that the experience is an opportunity for growth. It is a chance for you to increase your awareness and compassion, build confidence, identify new skills and abilities you never knew you had, and deepen you sense of spirituality. And, it is ultimately what will allow you to experience joy as you’ve never experienced it before!
As the world around us continues to unravel, or at least seem to, and as you find yourself dealing with really hard situations, feel whatever emotions you need to feel. But also have a recognition that you are growing as a human and as a spiritual being.