“There are only two things that pierce the human heart. One is beauty. The other is affliction.” Simone Wiel. Beauty and affliction, and the meaning we give these two inevitable parts of our journey, will ultimately determine the quality of our life.
Beauty: those moments of delight, love and incredible joy. When we are captivated, held breathless, at peace and feel fully free. Laughter, fun, friendship, love and intimacy. We feel alive.
Affliction: those moments of despair, grief, pain and suffering. When we are betrayed, hurt, let down, abused or walk through the valley of death. Tears, loneliness, shame, isolation and loss.
Both beauty and affliction will be part of our journey in life. We will all walk through both, and they will impact our hearts and lives more than anything else. Beauty is easy to hold onto, affliction we try to avoid, but how we embrace and walk through affliction is most important of all. The meaning we give to our suffering and affliction is critical.
“Every epic tale that inspires us will usually follow the journey of a hero, their plight for greatness, their quest for restoration and their fight for freedom. This journey will almost always lead them through suffering, wounding and sacrifice. Often in this wounding the true hero is found, and the real adventure begins: The adventure of the soul.” (Richard Rohr, from Falling Upward)
I have learnt that hope, learning and new meaning could be found in the midst of suffering. One amazing example I can across was from a concentration camp survivor called Victor Frankyl who helped his fellow prisoners to find meaning in the midst of severe suffering. He realized that no matter the circumstance in life there is the ability to: find something to hope for, turn suffering into some type of accomplishment or learning, change oneself for the better and even take some responsible action. Suffering and pain are a real part of life, and for some of you reading this you may very well have experienced significant trauma, grief or pain. This thought does not minimize that pain, it gives hope in the midst of it.
There are many other stories similar to Victor’s that testify to the fact that there is always potential for new growth and understanding – even in the midst of heartache and trials. Its stories like this and others that led to me believe that it’s never an event or experience in your life that is going to shape your future; it’s the meaning you give to that event that will ultimately create your outcomes and results.
But it’s not just big events that derail a person, it’s often the meaning we give small events that dictate and shape our actions. Ten people could all go through the same experience, let’s say they fail an important exam, and all of the ten people could give that experience a totally different meaning. One form of meaning might be: I am stupid, I am not good enough, I will never understand this, or I can’t do this. The other might go like this: I really didn’t study enough, need to put in more effort, this has shown me some areas I need to work on or I really need to get some help in this area. These meanings will determine the response and outcome of your experiences.
We are the ones who decide on the meaning; it’s totally our choice. I have had clients that have walked through the most traumatic experiences, but have experienced beautiful freedom by simply applying a new meaning to the same experience, and allowing that meaning to determine their results and outcomes. Seeing the beauty in brokenness, the strength in suffering, the growth in grief and the potential in pain. Perspective is critical. Sounds simple doesn’t it, and in many ways it is. We do choose the meaning we give to our experiences and what I have noticed is that the meaning we often give a hurtful or difficult experience, is negative and unresouceful. We tend to hold onto the negative emotion and make it about us, instead of the positive learning, and there are always both in almost every experience. This can take time, and of course it is easier to say than do sometimes, but it is really helpful to consider.
Trust this helps you in your journey. Brett